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August 23, 2011

Transaction Analysis

The Challenge Trade

by R.J. Anderson

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American League
National League

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Traded SS-R John McDonald and 2B-R Aaron Hill to the Diamondbacks for 2B-L Kelly Johnson. [8/23]

Consider this the sequel to Alex Anthopoulos’s deal last offseason for Miguel Olivo. Toronto’s motivation then was to add a draft pick using Olivo’s Type B designation (they did: Kevin Comer), and their acquisition of Johnson has some of the same vibe.

Johnson is a free agent at season’s end, and MLB Trade Rumors’ latest Elias Rankings projection has Johnson with a high Type B designation. Depending on what happens over the rest of the season, Johnson could move up to a Type A rating. Things will get really interesting should that happen, as Johnson would have to 1) decline an arbitration offer and then 2) find a team willing to forfeit a first- or second-round pick for the right to sign him. Anthopoulos now has a few weeks to work out a handshake agreement in order to secure a surefire arbitration decline.

In addition to potentially getting a better draft pick than they did with Olivo, the Jays also gain Johnson’s services for the rest of the season. Johnson is the best player in the deal if you look at his performances since 2009, however it is hard to ignore the -0.6 Wins Above Replacement Player he has offered this season. Factor in that Johnson has not had consecutive seasons of consistent play since 2007-2008, and there are concerns about his performances volatility. Put it this way: if you had to bet on one player in this deal being worth the most value over the next two or three years, then Johnson is probably the one to gamble on, but it’s impossible to know what he will do over a single season or a month.

The Jays will take a hit for trading McDonald, a fan favorite, but neither of their outputs in this trade was likely to be on the 2012 roster. Therefore, being able to trade McDonald and Hill for a potential first-round pick as well as whatever on-field value Johnson can muster looks like a nice enough trade for the Jays, and even McDonald’s most ardent supporter can shrug the tears off and root for him to reach the playoffs.

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Traded 2B-L Kelly Johnson to the Blue Jays for SS-R John McDonald and 2B-R Aaron Hill. [8/23]

The Diamondbacks have needed a true shortstop since losing Stephen Drew to a season-ending ankle injury in late July as the lack of in-house alternatives left Willie Bloomquist as the de facto starter. A lineup change should be in order with the addition of McDonald.

McDonald and Bloomquist have almost identical OPS since 2009, but Bloomquist has a sizeable advantage in on-base percentage. Even so, McDonald’s defense leaves him as the better option at short over the miscast Bloomquist. McDonald is no longer the defensive heartthrob of the past, but most defensive metrics still have him as a decent-to-good defender at the position. Consider it another upgrade if McDonald takes Cody Ransom’s roster spot.

It’s possible that McDonald and Hill will reform Toronto’s double play combination from earlier in the decade in Arizona, but it is no guarantee with Bloomquist and Ryan Roberts also kicking around. Still, Hill and Johnson’s inclusions provide a nice challenge trade subplot to this deal. Factor in the similarities between Hill and Johnson (both are unpredictable, are in the thick of a poor season, and currently hold Type B designation) and it has the makings of a delightful challenge trade.                                       

As good as Hill looked during the 2006, 2007, and 2009 seasons, each day that passes makes it look less and less likely that he will reach that status on a consistent basis. In fact, the only consistent thing about Hill lately is his woefulness, since he currently projects to finish in the bottom-five of second basemen TAv for the second-straight season. Hill has three* club options remaining on his contract, but it would be difficult to justify giving him $8 million next season given his recent track record of disaster seasons.

McDonald is rightfully the key to this trade, but Hill could make it close should he remember where he placed his power before the end of the season. The Diamondbacks do look to have improved with this trade, and that should help their likelihood to remain in first place.

*Per Hill’s contract, if his team does not exercise his 2012-2014 options by the end of the 2011 season, then they only hold control over the 2012-2013 options.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Kelly Johnson,  Aaron Hill

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