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Thinking about the Kelly Johnson-for-Aaron Hill swap

Aug 23, 2011, 6:00 PM EDT

Aaron Hill Getty Images

Ahhh, the elusive challenge trade.

With just five weeks left in the season, the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays opted to swap second basemen Tuesday.  Toronto received Kelly Johnson and sent along Aaron Hill, also including shortstop John McDonald in the bargain.

That all three players in the trade are free agents-to-be makes it an especially odd deal.  Only Hill is under control for next year, but there’s no way the Blue Jays were going to pick up his options worth $16 million for 2012-13.  The Diamondbacks won’t, either.

So, what’s the motivation for both sides?

- The Diamondbacks are hoping that Hill will get better with a change of scenery and figuring that even if he doesn’t, they’re at least getting a better defensive shortstop in McDonald than they had previously.

- The Blue Jays get to take a look at Johnson to see whether he’ll be worth the offer of a 2012 contract while also positioning themselves to get a draft pick if he leaves in free agency.

Toronto’s side is easier to see.  The Blue Jays were done with Hill, and while he and Johnson are both set to be type-B free agents, it certainly appears that they had decided they weren’t going to risk offering Hill arbitration because, as poorly as he’s played the last two years, there was a good chance he just might take it.  Johnson is someone who intrigues them as a possible 2012 regular, and it’ll be easier offering him arbitration this winter.

McDonald was the extra piece it took to get the deal done.  It wouldn’t be any surprise at all to see him re-sign with the Jays as a free agent this winter.

Arizona is taking the bigger risk.  Johnson has hit just .209/.287/.412 this year, but that’s still quite an improvement on Hill’s .225/.270/.313 line.  Johnson was also far better than Hill last year, hitting .284/.370/.496 to Hill’s .205/.271/.394.  Hill was the vastly superior player in 2009, but that’s a pretty distant memory now.

Defense is interesting.  Hill looked like a legitimate Gold Glove candidate in his mid-20s, but his defense has definitely dropped off the last two years and there was some talk of him moving to third last winter.  Johnson’s defense rates from average to significantly below depending on whom is asked.  For what it’s worth, Baseball Reference’s WAR gives Hill a modest advantage the last two years, while Fangraphs’ data gives Johnson a big edge.

I’m not buying that there’s much of a defensive advantage either way, and I’ve seen enough ugly at-bats from Hill recently that I don’t see him outproducing Johnson the rest of the way.  Still, this could work out OK for Arizona.  McDonald would likely be an upgrade at shortstop from Willie Bloomquist if the Diamondbacks give him a chance to play regularly, and Johnson really was playing terribly of late.  I’d have rather taken my chances with Johnson and surrendered a prospect for a shortstop upgrade, but since the Diamondbacks probably weren’t re-signing Johnson, there’s nothing here to be up in arms about.

  1. proudlycanadian - Aug 23, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    So the Jays will get a sandwich round pick out of this trade! AA covets those sandwich round draft picks. McDonald had been delt once before by Toronto for a PTBNL who turned out to be McDonald. Most people expect that he will be back in Toronto next year. He acts as a mentor and coach for the younger infielders and his long term future is as a coach. By trading Hill, AA does not have to formally decline his option for next year. As far as I could see, Hill still plays well at second base. One other benefit for Arizona is that the 2 of them are familiar with eachother. As far as the talk about Hill moving to third base, the only person who was talking was Hill. He knew that Lawrie was playing second base in the minors and could eventually take his job. Instead, Lawrie was moved to Third. Next season, Lawrie could be moved back to second with Escobar going to Third and Hechavarria moving up from the minors to play short stop.

    • joshnorman - Aug 23, 2011 at 6:51 PM

      Lawrie probably won’t, and definitely shouldn’t, play 2B at the major league level. He just doesn’t have the kind of range required, and is still seen as a bit of a project at 3B. There was serious talk that he might have to move to the outfield, though that seems to have slowed quite a bit this year.

  2. cur68 - Aug 23, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    While I don’t like the idea of Escobar to 3rd much, the rest of this infield looks real good providing Hechavarria is who we think he is. As for YE to 3rd: hope not. Don’t wanna mess with Yunel’s mojo. Maybe Hechavarria could play 2nd? Athletic enough for SS is athletic enough for 2nd IMO. Lawrie is pretty good over there at 3rd I think, I’d want him to stay.

    As for a closer: Jansen for set up and, if his numbers in rehab stints remain consistent, McGowan as closer or some combination thereof. If it’s either of Storen or Wojciechowski in 2012 as closers then I hope it’s Storen. “Wojciechowski” is ridiculously hard to spell.

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 23, 2011 at 7:09 PM

      I was speculating there about the infield lineup. In his last game Lawrie showed great range at third. He is a very good athlete and I do not understand why some people diss his play on the field. Hechavarria is said by more than one observer to have the potential to be the best short stop in baseball. The Jays will figure out who goes where.
      Storen would have been a first round pick if he had not been injured. I believe that he was a closer in college. Nobody knows how well he will recover from the injury and when he will be ready for the majors.

      • jimbo1949 - Aug 23, 2011 at 7:16 PM

        Storen??

      • proudlycanadian - Aug 23, 2011 at 7:24 PM

        Sorry! We ment John Stilson who was a 2011 draft pick. We were continuing a conversation from another thread.

    • saucepaws - Aug 23, 2011 at 7:15 PM

      If anything, it’s Escobar who moves to 2B and Hechavarria takes his place at SS. PC is right, his glove is going to be his calling card, no sense putting him at the position with lesser defensive valuable. I think it’s unlikely we see McGowan out of the bullpen.

    • Mark - Aug 23, 2011 at 7:17 PM

      The Doctors have said it’s better for McGowan to start. Something to do with it being worse for his shoulder to pitch in back to back games than for 6-7 innings over one period. At this point I’d have to go with what they say, as keeping him healthy is priority #1.

      I don’t like the idea of pushing Escobar to 2B either, but if Hech can hit (and there’s no guarantee he can) then he’s likely the better defender of the two.

      I vaguely remember hearing that KJ is close to a type A, so I wonder if that is still the case.

  3. dirtyharry1971 - Aug 24, 2011 at 10:31 PM

    Like i said before Matt deleted my post, every guy in this trade is terrible so who cares? I mean look at their numbers!! Only proudly would be bragging about such a deal and only matt would bother to even write about it!!! Yikes!

    • Matthew Pouliot - Aug 24, 2011 at 11:00 PM

      Wasn’t me, but if your post was deleted, I’m guessing it was profanity related.

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