Even before the Toronto Blue Jays traded Aaron Hill to the Arizona Diamondbacks, it was incredibly unlikely that he would be back with the team in 2012 without first testing the free agent market. Prior to his arbitration years, Hill signed an extension with the Blue Jays that guaranteed him $12 million over four years that would take him straight into free agency with options given to the team for 2012-2013.
The deal appeared to be a stroke of genius merely a year into the contract, when in 2009, Hill blasted 36 home runs and accumulated more than four wins above replacement. A low walk rate and high home run to fly ball ratio was a telling sign that Hill’s dream season was more of a mirage than something to be repeated, but 30 plus home runs from a second baseman will always be an appreciated contribution no matter what the peripheral statistics suggest.
The next season, Hill maintained something of his power and actually raised his walk rate, which on the surface would seem like a step forward. However, his reputation preceded him at the plate where he began getting less pitches in the strike zone from pitchers. Instead of further developing his eye, Hill began swinging more and because of his obvious talent, made contact on bad pitches that he probably should have laid off. The results were a sub .200 batting average on balls in play and a horrendously low .271 on base percentage.
Despite a good run to close out the year, this past season brought more of the same, except this time with a massive reduction in power. Over the last three seasons, Hill’s ISO has gone from .213 in 2009 to .189 in 2010 to .110 in 2011. He adopted a more patient approach at the plate, but as his reduced walk rate will attest, that patience was on display more with pitches in the strike zone than pitches outside of it. He was taking strikes and continuing to chase pitches outside of the zone. This resulted in bad counts, shortened swings and the lowest fly ball rate of his career.
The fastballs that he was turning on and sending over the fence in 2009 were being taken for strikes in 2011. Interestingly enough, this approach worked out well for him when he changed leagues. After being sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in August, National League pitchers, likely unfamiliar with the Hill of more recent times, threw fewer fastballs overall, and even less that ended up in the strike zone. The results were inverted because instead of falling behind in the count, Hill was suddenly ahead.
Over the small sample size of 142 plate appearances, Hill had a .382 OBP and a .492 SLG for Arizona.
Despite these numbers, it was an easy decision for the Diamondbacks to decline his $8 million option for 2012 and make Hill a free agent for the first time in his career. It also makes sense for the team, considering how shallow the free agent second baseman market is this off season, to offer him a contract at a reduced rate. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The terms of the deal are said to have a deadline attached to them, likely corresponding to when the team must make an official arbitration offer, and Hill is expected to take his time and gauge the interest from other teams. If I’m Arizona, I’d offer Hill a two year deal at a rate just below what he’s likely to get from arbitration for the upcoming season.
Because his success at the end of 2011 has the small sample size attachment to it, he’s hasn’t been looked at very favourably as a free agent option by the pundits. It seems unlikely to me that very many multi year deals are going to come across his agent’s table. There’s also no guarantee that a deal on the open market will net him more than an arbitration raise. And who’s to say that NL pitchers won’t figure Hill out next season and further reduce his rate in the 2012 off season when he’s a year older?
Using the term “wait and see” always seems like such a massive cop out when writing, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of that this time of year. Aaron Hill’s future, whether it rests in Arizona or elsewhere, isn’t any different.
And The Rest
There are some doubts as to whether or not Japanese/Iranian superstar pitcher Yu Darvish will even be posted at all this off season.
MLB Network’s Brian Kenney talks about stats and broadcasts.
Frank McCourt isn’t done trying to ruin things quite yet.
Taxes, or more specifically, jock taxes, play a massive role in free agent decision making.
Viva El Birdos asks what the St. Louis Cardinals will be looking for in a new manager. Aside: Terry Francona interviews for the position today.
Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux has removed his name from consideration for the open Red Sox manager position, but will still interview with the Cubs over theirs.
Lenny Dykstra claims that he never agreed to fight Jose Canseco. And I believe it, because when I think of Lenny Dykstra, I think of integrity.