When the Toronto Blue Jays signed Yunel Escobar to a multi-year contract extension over the weekend, it might not have been all genuine handshakes and back pats in the Jays clubhouse. No, the team’s shortstop isn’t hated by his teammates or known to cause any of the chemistry problems he was accused of in Atlanta. The new deal merely represents something for his double play partner at second base to worry about as his own contract in Toronto will potentially come to a conclusion at the end of this season.

If the Toronto Blue Jays value Yunel Escobar’s contribution to be worth $5 million annually (and they do, based on the dollar figures of his new contract), there is no way on God’s green astroturf that the organization should be willing to pick up Aaron Hill’s $8 million team option at the end of this season. Even without the team’s recent valuation of its other middle infielder, the team would be hard pressed to justify spending $8 million for another year of Hill’s sub .300 OBP and far below league average wOBA.

Despite his ongoing struggles, the one time heir apparent face of the franchise is still remembered fondly by casual Jays fans, more for his 36 home run season in 2009 than his subsequent disappointing years in 2010 and so far in 2011. In fact, I’d guess that the most often asked questions and highest number of speculative comments on our weekly live streams revolve around Aaron Hill’s future with the Blue Jays.

For those who think about baseball in more realistic terms, there’s little question, now that the team has locked up Escobar, that the Blue Jays would be willing to pick up their option on Hill. But here’s where things get tricky. Hill, buoyed by his 26 home runs last year, currently ranks as a Type A free agent among American League second basemen, shortstops and third basemen according to the Elias Rankings.

As you’ll remember, Type A free agency means that once that player is offered arbitration and he refuses, any team that signs him that finished in the top half of the standings must give up their first round draft pick to his previous team, while any team that finished in the bottom half gives up their second round pick.

Even if Hill falls down three more places in the rankings and secures Type B status, there’s no guarantee that he’d reject an arbitration offer that would guarantee a raise from the $5 million he’s making this season. If he finishes the year as a Type A, Hill is even less likely to reject an arbitration offer from the Blue Jays, because he’s less likely to see a free agent offer coming in from a team willing to a) pay him more than $5 million a season; and b) give up an early round draft pick to sign him.

It’s a strange scenario, much like the one Toronto found itself in with Jason Frasor last year, where it would almost be preferable for the player to require less compensation than more from his future team. Elias ranks players in that middle infield / third base tier according to plate appearances, batting average, on base percentage, home runs, runs batted in, fielding percentage and total fielding chances at his position over the last two seasons. Hill remains an excellent fielder with home run and RBI totals from last year that could keep him near the upper echelon. However, his sinking AVG and OBP could also continue to drag him down.

I wonder if the Blue Jays would consider manipulating his plate appearances in an attempt to drag down his free agent status, possibly doing a favour for both themselves and the player.

If Hill finishes the season as a Type A, the Blue Jays should 1) not pick up his option, 2) offer Hill arbitration, 3) hope that negotiations prior to an arbitration hearing go well, because he’s likely not going to reject it. This isn’t the worst outcome imaginable. With no middle infielders knocking on the door in the Minor Leagues and a total lack of awe inspiring free agents at second base, Hill could be useful as a stop gap measure until another option arises.

If Hill finishes the season as a Type B, the Blue Jays should 1) not pick up his option, 2) offer Hill arbitration, 3) hope he declines and that the lack of strong second basemen on the free agent market work in their favour and he signs elsewhere giving Toronto a compensation pick; or 4) if he doesn’t sign a contract, float him an offer.

During the last offseason, only two second basemen signed multi-year free agent contracts: Orlando Hudson’s deal with San Diego for two years at $11.5 million and Juan Uribe’s ridiculous contract with the Dodgers for three years at $21 million. Both players were coming off back to back threeish WAR seasons at a slightly older age than Hill, while the Jays second baseman will most likely be coming off back to back oneish WAR seasons (depending on what defensive metrics you use to calculate wins above replacement).

At the moment, a more apt comparison in last year’s free agent class might be Bill Hall. The former Red Sox second baseman negotiated a one year deal with the Astros for $3.25 million this winter (and was subsequently released) after a 0.7 WAR season in Boston. Hill is better defensively, but both players have a 35 HR season on his resume. Hill has, before this season, shown a little more consistency with his power than Hall, but will that consistency be worth more than $5 million on the free agent market this offseason?

It’s a risk that the Blue Jays can take with a worst case scenario being a slightly overpaid stop gap measure kicking around the team for another season, and the best case being an early round draft pick. Sadly, this is what our once promising face of the franchise has been reduced to.

Comments (37)

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong but can the Jays threaten to release Hill during spring training and only pay 30 (or 45, I don’t quite remember) days of his contract? I’m nearly certain arbitration salary’s are not guaranteed and that’s what happened with Reed Johnson being cut for Shannon Stewart.

  2. So, the other question, is where did 2005-2007 Aaron Hill go?

  3. Yep. They can certainly do that. I would be surprised if that happened though. It doesn’t exactly help create the type of reputation that Anthopoulos has talked about in the past. And there is still a need for a second baseman on this club if they get rid of Hill.

  4. Hitting fly ball home runs in 2009 killed that young Aaron Hill.

  5. Don’t pickup the options. Sign him to a one-year deal, go from there.

    There is no replacement middle infielders in the organization right now, so they should keep around for another year, maybe even two.

  6. You get a glimpse every so often and you think Hill is just maybe turning things around and getting back to his 2009 offence form but then he falls back to popping up etc. Frustarating as a Jays fan to watch him and must be equally frustrating to the player himself. Lind has turned it around after his down year last year but i cant see Hill doing the same. In the field he has been fine but if the Jays are to contend in the next few years they need to get much better production from their 2nd baseman .

  7. I think he’ll be back because he wont be getting picked up for anyone if he remains a Type A free agent. I also heard the market isn’t strong for a second baseman next year, so it’s either Hill or AA makes a trade for one.

  8. Could you not see him getting moved at the deadline? Still a pretty team-friendly contract; surely there are contending teams that would be interested in a guy like him; and he still might not be far enough removed from his breakout season to get a good prospect back. If one assumes the team is wlling to tread water with a McCoy/McDonald/Nix infield platoon in a non-contending season, you’d have to think they’d be shopping him (especially if a Lawrie call-up is imminent too).

  9. Good post – certainly one of the more interesting issues we’ll be discussing over the next six months or so.

    I agree that declining and the options and Hill coming back on a somewhat cheaper 1-year deal is probably the most likely outcome.

    At the same time, especially with the expected added wild card spot next year, and possibly even realignment of some sort, you wonder if Anthopoulos and co. will want to make somewhat of a contention push this offseason. Not to say that they’ll go crazy and sign Jose Reyes or anything, but they could certainly look to find some long-term, more stable hands at 2B and CF.

    Of course, finding that kind of deal could be be tough, but you have to imagine it’s something Anthopoulos would like to accomplish, with no real 2B prospect anywhere close in the farm system. Would they be comfortable having Hill back at that $5-$6M salary and turning him into a utility player in the event they can find a good upgrade via trade?

    I guess it’s really the arbitration issue that complicates it, as if not for the draft-pick compensation game, they could otherwise look into trades and then re-sign Hill in December or so if nothing develops, like they did with Encarnacion this year.

  10. Aaron Hill=Ed Sprague. Top prospects who never panned out except for a single flukey 36-homer season at age 28. The career slashlines are eerily similar too.

  11. @mike You think Hill has ANY value right now? I’d give the M’s a call about Jack Wilson before I traded a decent prospect for Hill.

    The Jays could definitely bring him back, but trying to squeeze something out of the compensation game seems risky. Better to just let him go, then see if he’ll take $1-2M on the open market.

  12. @dougiejays I don’t think he has MUCH value, but he doesn’t have zero value either. I guess my point was that if you do want to call up Lawrie at some point, you would presumably move one of Hill, Nix, McCoy or McDonald. If Hill’s not in your plans anyway, then maybe you get something now rather than wait for his crap season to play itself out further.

    Anyway, just a thought.

    • I don’t really see the benefit. Hill, as bad as he is, is still an above replacement player. You trade him at a low value right now or wait and hope he brings back compensation. I think it’s much more likely he brings back a better comp pick as a Type B than a prospect at the deadline.

  13. Of course, it’s probably just as easy to release Nix or demote McCoy. I just think that if you’re gonna cut bait on Hill eventually, I don’t necessarily see it as more beneficial to see if you can still get him for cheaper in the offseason, while not doing much to upgrade at the position in other parts of the organization.

  14. Aaron Hill provides above-league average defense, with occasional pop, solid baserunning and yes plummeting avg. and obp. But as said earlier, we have zero 2B prospects and the free agent market is pretty bare…I really don’t think one more year of Aaron Hill at 8M would be an albatross for the blue jays but it would be nice if they could pull an Encarnacion type maneuver and decline his option and bring him back at a cheaper rate, but if another team beat our offer we’d be left in the dark at 2B till Adeiny comes up to the big club, unless AA pulled off a miracle transaction

  15. This article is very intriguing but I think it completely ignores some very unusual peripheral stats for Hill this year. 2008 we can all agree on simply can not be used because of the concussion, but if you consider his 07 and 09 years back to back thats 7.7 WAR over two years.

    The question obviously becomes what happened last year and so far this year. Last year he had a league worst .196 babip which led to a significantly skewed avg based mostly on luck of where the ball fell. His .196 babip last year was 100 points lower than his career norm, which had been quite consistent. The rest of his stats are really strange as well from last year. He posted a better bb/k ratio despite striking out almost 2% more, and while his iso dropped from his career year in 2009, it was his second highest of his career, 30 points higher than a 3 WAR season in 2007.

    Which brings us to this year where his stats may be the most puzzling. His linedrive percentage is the exact same as it was in his career year in 2009, and he is hitting significantly fewer groundballs this year than he did in 2009. The only logic could possibly be is that he has lost strength since 2009 and is simply not getting the ball out of the park the way he did in 2009. His current HR/FB is the second lowest of his career, and almost 5% lower than his career average. All this seems oddly strange when you consider we are talking about a 28 year old and not a 38 year old.

  16. I hope we arent talking about this for six months. We all hope he rebounds and returns to that all-star level in the second half. The team sure needs him to step up. He is a mess at the plate. Zero pitch recognition.

  17. He needs to go back to the player he was in the minors and his first couple years in the majors. It’s not a great player, but a player who hits in the .280 range with some plate discipline and some doubles power (and good defense) has a lot more value than someone who hits 30 homers with a .250 on-base.

    His minor league slash line was .294/371/.421. I’d gladly take .270/.350/.400 at this point.

  18. http://www.fangraphs.com/comparison.aspx?playerid=1012356&playerid2=6104&playerid3=&position=3B&page=8&type=full

    If no trade presents itself, you have to decline the options and offer arb. If he accepts, fine. Otherwise, stick Nix there and get similar production for 500,000. Use the savings elsewhere then.

  19. BABIP with hitters doesn’t work the same way as with pitchers. It’s not merely a matter of luck, they can actually control to a degree where the ball goes off their bat. I’m not ignoring his low BABIP, as we’ve discussed many times before.

    I love what Jon Hale says here (http://bjays.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/an-open-letter-to-espn-about-babip/):

    I’d like a word or two with some of these scouts, because anyone who watched the Jays last year knows that Hill wasn’t getting unlucky in the slightest. His contact SUCKED. His whole season was one weak pop-up, head down, jog to first after the other. Hill looked like a completely different hitter, his beautiful compact line drive swing gone long and loopy – and a little deeper delving into the numbers agrees: his fly ball rate soared from his terrific 2009 (41.0), past his career average (41.4), to insane heights (54.2). His line drive rate also fell from 2009 (19.6) past his career average (18.5) to untold depths (10.6). His infield fly percentage (one of my favorites because it’s a 100% guaranteed out – like a hidden strikeout, but still included as a ball in play) rose from 11.6 to 12.9. Spraying balls like this will clearly and provably lead to a consistently much lower BABIP. And so the numbers actually overwhelmingly agree with what the old-timers would say: Hill’s swing went to hell last year. Luck had nothing to do with it.

  20. I would make Hill option B this off season, they should make a real good run at Jose Reyes see if he would play second or move escobar to short. he’d be a great fit for the jays, he would be a real nice lead of guy too!

  21. Aaron Hill is, theoretically, barely a Type A, but the problem lies within who else is up there. The only Type A that Hill will pass is Scutaro, and some of those Type Bs could catch up.

    It’d be nice if he became a Type B, and we go that route.

  22. @erix, no you can’t. it’s not that easy. to waive a player, you have to have a replacement that is playing significantly better. otherwise the player would file a grievance if the team did that and they would lose.

  23. I can’t believe the lunacy of these comments. Why in the world would you want to offer hill arb and end up paying him 5 mil+? he clearly would accept arb. he’s not going to get a 2 year deal anywhere. this is a player you clearly don’t want and yet you offer him arb just to get a pick? you can stick mccoy or nix there and pay 400k. then use the 4.5mil savings on a free agent. mccoy has a higher ops than hill and nix despite a lower ops, in half the ab’s has the same number of walks, more home runs, 4 fewer runs scored and 12 fewer rbi’s. that’s how bad hilll is. hill is really a uitility player right now because he’s no better than nix or mccoy, so why would you pay a utility guy 5 mil? and in case you didn’t notice, hill is playing WORSE than last year when he was horrible. Hill is the last of the JP stiffs we need to get rid of.

    • @Mudpie: Reading over, that wasn’t clear. Sorry. My point is that if Bill Hall can sign a one year deal for $3.5 million, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Aaron Hill gets offered $5 million. He doesn’t need to get a multiyear deal through FA, just $5 million or more for a year to make it worthwhile to him. The Blue Jays also have a history of offering arbitration to players that they don’t want to keep. An arbitration offer isn’t nearly as far fetched as you think.

  24. @dustin, I think you have a misunderstanding of the chronology of events regarding arb. the player can’t accept arb and shop himself as a free agent at the same time. It’s one or the other. The team has to first offer arb. If he declines then he’s a free agent. If he accepts, as frasor did, he’s not a free agent. If he declines he gives up the 5 mil guaranteed in arb on the hopes that he would get more as a free agent. Ask yourself a simple question, if you were opsing .629 would you give up 5mil guaranteed? If the jays really want him back, they should not offer arb and then offer him a free agent contract in the 2-3 mil range. But like I said, why would you do that when you have nix/mccoy?

  25. Forgive me if i am wrong but if you offer arb and the player declines i believe you cannot sign that player until May 1, which means essentially that the player is gone. I think they offer arb pretty much no matter what.

  26. I think people are nuts if you don’t think Hill will get offered 5+ on the free market. As much as we have seen a lot of him over the past two years, mostly in a negative light, there are certainly GMs out there who see this as a diamond in the rough the same way AA sees a lot of players. Here’s a second basemen who is average to above average depending on the season defensively, with decent plate discipline and has had a lot of power throughout his career for a second basemen. At 28 thats the kind of guy we have become accustomed to AA drooling over – I still think it can’t be much more than a few changes to his swing, because he still has games where he flashes the brilliance we were used to seeing.

  27. Let him walk….
    I’m delusional but I’m still hoping for the signing of Fielder and Reyes ! Yunel can play 2nd and is probably better suited their anyways.

  28. The only optimistic thing with the whole can we sign fielder/pujols debate would be that there are so few teams that could afford either and have first base open for them. In theory the following big market teams would be unlikely to make an offer at either.

    Yankees, BoSox, WhiteSox, Tigers, Phillies. Then there are the two big teams that could afford them but hopefully remain in ownership turmoil being the Mets and the Dodgers. Then theres teams like Cincy who have Votto, and the Rangers who very unlikely could afford another big contract. The Giants have Belt/Posey destined for first long term. And in theory if these guys both walk then you can cross off St. Louis and Milwaukee from the contenders list.

    While its unlikely that we would target one of these guys given Lind’s bounceback year, it certainly will be an interesting offseason if neither the brewers or the cardinals are able to lock up these sluggers.

    • The Rangers can very much afford a large contract. Remember the TV deal they signed with FOX Sports South West? I also wouldn’t count NYY or BOS out as both have questions at DH, though admittedly less in Boston with Ortiz’s year so far.

      I have a very hard time justifying any of Pujols, Fielder or Reyes for the Blue Jays.

  29. dougiejays: did Aaron Hill’s wife steal a gold medal from a Canadian Olympian too?

  30. @dustin, bill hall ops’d .772 in 2010 with 18 hr. Those are far better numbers than hill so I don’t know how you justify hill getting 5 mil. what is this history? frasor? frasor was at least pitching well. tampa didn’t offer arb to carlos pena for this exact same reason, he might accept.

  31. Correct me if I’m wrong but Pujols is probably very unlikely to accept a move to the DH spot, he’s always been an excellent defensive 1B and a move to DH also decreases his value in free agency. With NY and Boston completely set at 1B I don’t see how either of them pursue Pujols. As for people suggesting we acquire Reyes or Fielder, all I can say is ugh lol, did watching JP Ricciardi fail for 8 years trying to get this team into the playoffs not teach you anything?

  32. @josh correct me if I’m wrong but did JP ever bring in someone of the caliber of Reyes or Fielder during his 8 years. Were talking about top 3/5 guys at their respective positions in Reyes and Fielder. JP’s issue was that he could never convince or sell any top 3/5 guys to come play in Toronto. I think AA might have a bit easier time making a sell to a player to come join Lind and Bautista than JP ever did trying to woo AJ and BJ

  33. @dustin they certainly do have that contract with fox, but their is also the issue that two of their best players in Hamilton and Cruz need to be extended long term still which is not going to happen easily. Plus they need to work out deals soon with Andrus and Feliz or the two of them will kill them in arbitration. Plus the fact you have 32M left on Young’s contract at the end of the season and nowhere other than DH to put him if you were to sign one of those guys long term, and 16M is a lot of money for an aging DH.

    I think the Cubs are the huge wildcard for either, it just comes down to whether or not either player would take the money despite the bitter rivalry. Pujols and Fielder would go from fan favourite to public enemy #1 immediately.

  34. I expect we’ll see Hill recover somewhat during the second half. He hasn’t looked as bad as his overall slash line suggests, his LD% is back to above-average, but he’s still suffering from a low BABIP and a career-low HR/FB. His contact % and o-swing% are also marginally better this year. He’s not going to get back to 2009, but I expect a league-average player going forward.

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