The Alex Anthopoulos Off-Season Nailing It Tour continued today, as the Jays opened up three roster spots for players who aren’t completely useless, as Brian Tallet and Dwayne Wise became free agents– after refusing outright assignments to Triple-A (because, I mean, once you’ve got a taste of White Vegas, the real one pales in comparison– though, of course, not literally)– while Edwin Encarnacion was picked up on a waiver claim by the suddenly-splashy Oakland A’s.
And… OK, calling those guys useless is beyond unfair. Tallet was extremely effective in 2008, uh… somehow, and was called upon to start 25 times in 2009 (holy shit, that many???), which he did almost passably. And we probably wouldn’t think nearly so poorly of his 2010 performance had he not been seemingly setup to fail constantly by good ol’ manager Fuckface McSenile. Plus, Wise is totally useful as a defensive replacement fourth outfielder who you can call on to start a handful of times.
And then there’s Encarnacion…
We all know the upside on this guy: he hit 21 home runs in just 367 plate appearances this year, his career .790 OPS is within just six points of Adam Lind’s career mark, and is better than Aaron Hill’s .752– and even the .771 OPS Hill sported before the complete disasterfuck that was his 2010.
And yet Encarnacion never came close to endearing himself to fans the way those two players have. There are a number of reasons for that– the butchery at third, the fact he hadn’t shown flashes of his upside over long stretches the way Hill and Lind have, his lack of grittacular scrappiness (*cough * *cough*) — which, at this point, probably aren’t really worth delving into. Especially since the front office is almost certainly right to have decided to go in a different direction.
What’s really interesting to me, however– and this has been something I’ve brought up a couple times over the last few months– is what this means for Aaron Hill. Or, specifically, whether fans are ready to grapple with what I think it means for Aaron Hill.
There has already been talk of moving Hill to third, to either accommodate the arrival of Adeiny Hechavarria when the Cuban prospect is ready, or for another second baseman– the Jays were twice reportedly linked to generally high-OBP second baseman Kelly Johnson this season (ostensibly as an outfielder when he spurned them last winter to sign in Arizona).
It kinda makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If the Jays are willing to allow Encarnacion– admittedly, neither as good a fielder as Hill, nor as productive a hitter at his best as Hill at his best– to be claimed on waivers, where are their heads at regarding Hill, as he heads into what’s essentially a contract year? (The Jays, remember, must decide on whether to pick up his options for 2012 and 2013 after next season, assuming that they don’t pick up options on 2012-2014 this winter– which almost certainly they won’t.)
I certainly don’t think Hill is as bad as he showed in 2010, and that this is a low point at which to be evaluating him, which is somewhat unfair. But the fact is, Hill and Encarnacion are somewhat similar players.
There was quite a bit of discussion about this on Twitter today, and here are what I thought were the key points:
Via @jonwalsh we know that over the last four seasons, when factoring in the extra 45 games Hill played during that span, Hill’s WAR was 9.1 to Encarnacion’s 5.8. However, @eyebleaf tells us that over 652 career games E5 has a .344 wOBA and 108 wRC+, while Hill, over 771 games, has a .327 wOBA and 99 wRC+. So, that gap is largely because of defence, and while, granted, Encarnacion is a fucking butcher at third, does all the additional value Hill has from his second base defence translate over if the Jays move him to third?
I’m gonna go ahead and say that it probably doesn’t (although, to be honest, I’m really just guessing at that– maybe it does!). But whatever the case, you’re simply not that much better off with Hill at third than you are with the guy the Jays just let walk for nothing. And that’s partly why my gut tells me that, strange as it may sound to some, we may have already seen the last of Aaron Hill here.
That’s completely just a hunch, of course, and I’d love for him to stay and to see a return to his 2009 level of production next year and for everyone to live happily ever after, but… there’s also the issue with his on-base percentage. Save for a six-point uptick in ’09, it’s gone steadily down from a career high of .349 in 2006, his second year in the majors. And while it would almost be impossible for him to continue that downward trend after 2010′s abysmal .271 mark, the fact is, even at his best, in that ’09 season where his power went through the roof, he only got on-base at a 33% clip.
New manager John Farrell stressed the need to get on-base on his first day with the club, as it was a glaring weakness on Cito Gaston’s watch, and one can only assume that Alex Anthopoulos– smart guy that he is– concurs. Hill is hardly the only culprit when it comes to Jays hitters making too many outs, but his lack of on-base skills, in addition to his bat not playing as well at third, plus with his team-friendly contract holding a lot more value now than if he goes out and sucks again, and Escobar and Hechavarria seemingly being the future of the Jays’ middle infield, I kinda have to think that Hill is most certainly in play this winter.
Maybe his horrendus 2010 has so devalued him as a commodity that nobody would offer enough to satisfy the Jays, but I don’t think so…
MLB Trade Rumors this afternoon included the Jays among their list of potential suitors for White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who, according to Yahoo’s Tim Brown, Chicago will be taking offers on. While there are similar issues with getting on-base as with Hill, and while Beckham is also coming off an abysmal season, he can play third, he’s four years younger, under control for longer, and has tremendous upside. (Keith Law, for example, said in a mid-season chat that he liked Beckham better, long-term, than Dustin Ackley, who he said in his most recent chat was a top 10 prospect in baseball– though he also said, of the rumours Beckham was being shopped, that it “felt very unlikely to me – all I’ve heard from CWS and people plugged in there is that they love him. And they should. Given how they stuck with him this year when he was struggling, I have to think that what I’ve heard is true.”)
Based on what Law is hearing, maybe it’s a moot point. And, of course, there’s no reason, at least until Hechavarria is ready, that having Hill precludes the Jays from making a play for another infielder. But Beckham sure sounds like exactly the kind of guy Anthopoulos would target, and whether it’s him or someone else, I suspect that Hill is going to be the one making way for an acquisition like that. And with his contract possibly ending after this season, my money is on it being sooner– the way the front office has shown us they value Encarnacion makes me think so even more.