Friday, August 27, 2010

Alex Anthopoulos' First Real Decision

Alex Anthopoulos inherited quite a situation. Tasked with trading his team's best player, AA did about as well as one could ask. A tough chore but not a tough choice. Signing John Buck and Alex Gonzalez? Wise decisions but not especially trying. Acquiring Fred Lewis and Yunel Escobar? No brainers. Contract decisions aren't easy with so many moving pieces but that doesn't make them tough the way I'm thinking about them.

As Jeff Blair and Mike Wilner discussed during Prime Time Sports Thursday (look for it on iTunes as it isn't on The Fan's site proper. 4 o'clock hour, second segment), Aaron Hill's contract options are now far from a forgone conclusion. Hill's deal contract calls for $4 mil this year and $5 mil next. The next three years are club options; three of which can be activated at the end of this season with only two available at the end of 2011.

Blair intimates that Blue Jays high-ups considered re-jigging Hill's deal at some point this season, sewing up the option years to avoid the ugliness. Aaron Hill's precipitous 2010 dropoff pretty much silenced all that talk in a hurry. Wilner goes as far as to suggest he might be a non-tender candidate were the contract situation a little different.

For a little perspective on how bad/shocking Hill's line continues to be in 2010, continue this comparison:
  1. .208/.280/.386/.292 wOBA
  2. .231/.274/.435/.301 wOBA
Player A is of course Aaron Hill, while player B? None other than waiver-clearer Rod Barajas. Barajas seems like a jovial lad but his offensive contribution amounts to 20 home runs and that's it. That is a scary company for Hill to keep, as I don't think the offensive skillset that excited us all was "all-or-nothing replacement level catcher."

Wilner and Blair both agree the team almost certainly cannot pick up all three option years, a thought which mildly shocked me. Is this a road AA and the brain trust want to go down? What kind of fallout can we expect if the Jays tell Aaron Hill to prove, in no uncertain terms, that 2009 wasn't a fluke.

That isn't especially fair, since 2009 was almost certainly a fluke. Not a lucky fluke but a once-in-a-career, unrepeatable fluke. He can still pull himself together and have a fine career but 36 home runs again is a pretty tall order.

As Stoeten pointed out, the Jays seem to send out very mixed messages (via their manager) when it comes to veteran players. "Come to Toronto, we'll let you play!" might not be the official mantra of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club, but the implication exists in the minds of Jays watchers. While I'm not above requiring young players to earn their large cheques, the Jays politely asking one of the franchise cornerstones to play it out and show that he's worth it can only disquiet the next generation of talent.

Hill is sure to say All the Right Things in the press, talking about earning his contract and understanding the official position. I don't know that this kind of pressure is the type that all players thrive under. Hill performed beautifully with his deal in hand last year. Will putting him under the gun help or harm that?

There are a lot of questions arising from Hill's off year. How Alex Anthopoulos and his cohorts handle this sends a loud message through the clubhouse. Will a guy like Travis Snider (should he ever get any at bats again) be less inclined to a sign a similar deal, preferring to take his chances or demand guaranteed years? You can bet Kyle Drabek's agent is watching this whole situation very, very closely.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife


  1. Well what's the point in asking for team options if you can't decide not to exercise them?

    However while Hill won't repeat 2009, he probably also won't repeat 2010. I say wait till 2011 and then decide whether or not to pick up the two years instead of the 3 right now. Less chance of looking dumb either way the situation plays out. 26M is a risky amount of money to commit on such limited and inconsistent data.

  2. If Jose Bautista is an incredible benefactor of Cito's swing-for-the-fences approach to hitting, it looks like Hill's an incredible victim.

    Hill's LD% is 10.6. Last year it was 19.6.

    His FB% has climbed from from 41 to 53.6.

    Hill's BAbip? A hilarious .198

    Hill will be better. I'd take the option for all three years, and tell whoever manages next year to help Hill return to the line-driving doubles machine he was before he hit those 36 dingers.

  3. Though Cito was around last year for Hill to put up those numbers.

    @Alex - I agree but only to a point. Especially when you consider the team was ready to buy up those options and get something concrete done, makes me think a lot of the team option stuff was gladhand "don't worry about, we'll look after you" type stuff.

  4. From a fan standpoint, this years performance hasn't been enough for him to receive the amount of ire that Wells had to undergo last year. Picking up the 2 year option seems to be the best plan right now, and probably the safest of the options AA has to deal with.

    Is there a chance that Hill has a minor injury, similar to what Wells had to deal with last year?

  5. well if they make promises outside the contract then that's on their own conscience whether to honour them or not. If I were Hill I would take not one cent less because of those types of promises. I don't think his agents would fall for that sort of thing.

  6. It's true, Cito was around for both sets of numbers I quoted. Sometimes my aggravation with Cito makes me jump to blaming him. I try to fight it, but I don't always win.

    Anyway, the fact remains that Hill's FB% is unusually high this year and his BAbip is unusually low. The are problems that can be fixed. I'd take the gamble and take all three option years.

  7. @anon - I wonder about fatigue more than an injury. He was so good last year after missing all the time in 2008. Maybe he just needs a lie down?

  8. With that BAbip so low, I would be inclined to take the 3 year option now rather than waiting a season, but I'm not AA. If this guy is a cornerstone player and you think this year is an anomaly, then lock him up for 3 years (4 including next year). If he's not really part of your long term plan (he might not be), wait a year and see how he performs. If you only get three more years of a good Hill, take the draft picks when he leaves as a FA, or trade him for prospects during another good year.

  9. Not all BABIPs are created equal. Look at Bautista - his BABIP is really low too. But they both hit so many Fly Balls you can't expect anything approaching a league average number. Both their expected BABIPs are in the .250-.275 range.

  10. That's partly what I was getting at: Hill's hitting too many fly balls and that seems, from a quick look at the numbers, to be the main problem.

    I wonder, did he change his mechanics this year?

  11. I know that Hill changed his mechanics a bit last year - there were plenty of articles about it at the time talking about how he started pulling his hands back just before swinging forward to generate more power, and his swing being more of an upper-cut than it was in years past. At the time the adjustments were subtle, but it's possible - and probably likely - that he's exaggerated then this year in an attempt to match last year's power, which could be a big factor in his ridiculous fly ball percentage.

  12. I would have traded Hill last off-season, so I wouldn't have had to deal with this problem :)

    In all seriousness, if Hill was a free agent after this season, which would you prefer to give him, a 4 year deal for $28 million, or a 1 year deal with a 2 year option? I'm thinking the latter, therefore the Blue Jays shouldn't exercise the 3 year option now.

  13. Since the contract was signed before his 'fluke' 2009 season. I think the onus is on Aaron to prove that 2010 is the fluke, at this point in time there is no way we should exercise the 3 year option - let's see what 2011 brings and if all goes well then exercising the 2 yr option IMO wouldn't be a problem.

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  15. When he signed the extension in early 08, Hill was almost embarrassed by how much he was getting--he said something like "how much can you possible make"--and that's with the contract being considered a big steal for us. I think he's a pro and he'll understand if we only pick up the 2 options. He knew what he was getting into when he signed the deal: "We didn't want all the options at first, because nobody really likes club options," Hill said. "But the way it's set up is actually a lot in my favor. The fact that they have to [pick all three years] up and they get one shot at it is great. That and the fact that they can't go year to year."

    It definitely looks like he's been pressing this year to get those 3 options but I think it's all on him. I'm not even going to blame Cito's approach. People cite BABIP, but I don't think BABIP tells the whole story. BABIPs only tell you about luck on balls in play but not how those balls are put in play. If Hill is putting shitting swings on shitty pitches (for him) then he's going to make weak contact, which is exactly what he's been doing, as evident in his LD rate.

  16. I think it started to fall apart for Hill when he decided to try to take walks. He walked 13 times in May, and the knock against him in 2009 was his low OBP. He has only 1 other month in the last 3 years with double digit walks, May of 2007. I don't think he was ready to hit his pitch, maybe trying to work the count, and then, with his timing disrupted, everything started to fall apart. Just a guess.


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