Tuesday August 23, 2011
Rob Bland (Intern- MLB reports): The Arizona Diamondbacks are in the middle of a pennant race in the National League West, and yet made a change with their second baseman, Kelly Johnson. Statistics show that Johnson had been underperforming this year, and GM Kevin Towers said he wanted better defense and infield depth. With that in mind, Towers got a hold of Toronto Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos to inquire on super utility infielder John McDonald. McDonald can play 2B, SS, and 3B at an above average level, although he doesn’t do much with the bat. With regular shortstop Stephen Drew lost for the season due to injury, the D’Backs have been forced to start Willie Bloomquist the majority of the games in his absence. That led to talks involving Toronto’s longest tenured player, second baseman Aaron Hill. The end result was Arizona acquiring Aaron Hill and John McDonald, with Kelly Johnson going to Toronto.
Aaron Hill had a terrific start to his career, which so far has peaked in 2009 when he hit .286 with 36 home runs and 108 RBI. He was an All-Star and a Silver Slugger winner that year. He plays good defense and is a well-liked guy in the clubhouse. His contract situation is an iffy one, in that he has 2 option years left worth $8M each. By the end of 2009, it would have been a lock that those options would have been picked up, however, 2010 and 2011 have not been so kind to Hill. Last year he hit .205 with a walk rate of only 7.1%. He at least was able to club 26 home runs, which are numbers he has not been able to replicate this year. Hill in 2011 is walking in 5.4% of his plate appearances, and has only 6 home runs to go along with his paltry .225 average.
McDonald is arguably the most beloved player in Toronto, after Jose Bautista. He routinely gets standing ovations, and this writer can proudly say one of his favourite moments in MLB history was watching McDonald hit a home run in his first at bat after missing a few games. The significance was that his father had just passed away, and McDonald promised to hit a home run for him. So on Father’s Day of 2010, McDonald crushed a home run over the left field wall. The teary-eyed McDonald crossed the plate and was embraced by every member of the Blue Jays. McDonald is a phenomenal defender, often used as a pinch runner in key situations, but doesn’t hit much. In his 13 seasons, he has only 21 home runs, with 12 of them coming in his last 3 seasons. His value comes as a player that will give everything for his team, playing every position imaginable and making highlight reel plays.
Johnson is only a season removed from a .284/.370/.496 slash line, and although scouts often say his defense is sub par, the advanced metrics tell a different story. His UZR was 7.1 last year, and 3.9 this year, where 0 is average. Johnson’s production, like Hill, has fallen off the table. He is still hitting home runs; 18 this year compared to 26 last year. He takes walks, just under 11% for his career. But his main problem has been the strikeouts. This year has been worse than usual, as he has struck out in over 27% of his plate appearances. Johnson’s line drive rate is just a tick below his career numbers, so his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) being 50 points lower than his career average is probably a good indicator of why his numbers are so low.
All three players are free agents at season’s end. McDonald and Hill both said during their press conference today that they are very open to returning to Toronto in 2012. Until then, the Diamondbacks will look to add to their 1.5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants with this move. Should they be propelled to the playoffs, it is likely that an infield of Hill, McDonald, Lyle Overbay, and Ryan Roberts (all former Blue Jays) could face off against another former Jay in Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series.
This deal seems strange from a Diamondbacks perspective, as Hill is a downgrade from Johnson, even with the poor season Johnson has been having in 2011. The amount of upside the Dbacks get from having McDonald over Bloomquist at shortstop is completely negated by this downgrade. However, the Dbacks get two great clubhouse characters, who will surely help the club defensively and in teaching the younger players. For the Blue Jays, this trade makes complete sense. Johnson is currently set to be a Type B free agent at the end of the year, and with a hot streak, could become a Type A. As a Type B, he would net the team a supplemental draft pick if he signs a major league deal with another team. But if Johnson reaches Type A status this offseason, he will also net a first round pick on top of the supplemental pick. The Jays can use this time to better evaluate Johnson, and by showing him what the organization has to offer, Johnson may sign with the team at the end of the year.
Aaron Hill and Kelly Johnson were two players that have been coveted by each team for the last couple of years, but no deal could have been struck. However, with both players struggling so badly this year, both players were in need of a change of scenery. A fresh start could do wonders for Hill as he could get back into the groove he was in before the 2010 season, while Johnson could return to his 2010 form.
So at the very worst, the Jays get an extra draft pick as part of this trade, and in many people’s opinions, they will also get McDonald back in 2012 to be their utility infielder. For the Dbacks, Hill’s production could seriously limit their offense and push them out of a playoff spot. Both teams are facing risks, but I believe Toronto’s level of risk was much lower, as they are not in a pennant race. The upside potential of this trade for the Jays makes them the winner in my books.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback. You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook . To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.