Monday, 14 November 2011
D-Back's Re-sign Aaron Hill's Warm Corpse
The Arizona Diamondbacks have signed former Jay Aaron Hill to a 2 year, $11MM contract for some reason. Hill provided a month long offensive boost for the snakes down the stretch, despite being below league average offensively for the last two seasons. I am left shaking my head. If this was something like 1 year $4MM guaranteed with an option for a 2nd year, I'd be totally fine with it, because that's all Hill deserves. Instead, despite putting up 5 solid weeks of baseball in the last 24 months, Hill gets 2 guaranteed years, at slightly above market value.
Thanks to Hill's fangraphs profile, we can see that he's been below average offensively, more or less, for his entire career, save for 2007 and 2009, and those two seasons are performances that he has been miles away from in the last two seasons. Hill will be 30 years old at the beginning of this coming season, which is right around the point in time that the prime years of a typical player's career end, and the decline begins. It's tough to imagine Hill's best days are in front of him.
Hill was once thought to be an elite defender, and is certainly still good defensively, but I'm beginning to wonder if his offensive struggles and defensive decline are related in some way. Hill's UZR's since the 2008 season: 1.1 (55 games), -4.9, 3.7, 0.7 (-3.4 and 4.1 pre and post-trade, respectively). Certainly not the elite defense we saw out of him in his first two full seasons in the league, and really, a combined 1 run above average over 4 seasons isn't exactly anything to run up and down the streets about. I will give him a pass for his defense this season, since he needed to cover more ground with Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion playing 1B and having little range.
Jack Moore of Fangraphs looks in to this Hill signing, and says that he likes it from both perspectives, and certainly, Hill doesn't really need to be all that good for the D'backs to get their moneys worth. With the price of a win on the free agent market being in the neighbourhood of $5MM, Hill can go ahead and perform the way he has for the last two years and be pretty close to breakeven for the D'backs with a bit of luck (say, in the HR/FB ratio or babip departments). Hell, he was worth 1.7 WAR in the 33 games he played in Phoenix after the trade. Forgive me if I don't entirely believe that a trade to an extremely hitter friendly environment with inferior pitching isn't enough to convince me that he can replicate his career years moving forward. He needed that 33 game stretch of magic just to get back to a positive WAR total, not to mention an OBP of just .299.
Basically, the point I'm trying to get across here is the amount of risk the Diamondbacks are taking on with this contract. Hill was good for a 33 game stretch last season, with the odd flash of decency in Toronto as well. He's never put together a season in which both his power numbers and on-base numbers were good; he's either raising his OBP and sacrificing power, or hitting for more power and getting on base at a well-below league average rate. This past season, save for his stint in the desert, both of those categories suffered, and he was in the middle of his worst fielding season yet.
Even in a weak market for second basemen, Hill is the exact kind of person that shouldn't get a multi-year contract. The argument going around is that it's not very hard to produce the 2 WAR and change needed to break even, but I really think that there is some flawed thinking with that argument. I'm not saying that he's guaranteed to flop, but there's a little too much certainty that he's going to return to his former self, or even a league average producer. Jamey Carroll has put up more WAR in each of the last two years, gets on base more often, and has recently signed for much less money. It's pretty easy to find a 1WAR player, especially one who won't cost $5.5MM a season.
Teams with a whole bunch of money can go out and overpay for players and if it doesn't work out, who gives a shit? Arizona isn't one of those teams though; they were one of the lowest payrolled teams in the league last year, and don't have a whole bunch of extra money kicking around to sign highly volatile players to multi-year contracts (though the John McDonald and Willie Bloomquist signings would lead you to believe otherwise). Having that extra payroll room essentially allows you to make mistakes and remain successful.
By assuming that Hill can be worth a WAR per season, which is a fair assessment, people are saying that the value Hill provides will be enough to validate the contract given. But what if he doesn't provide that 2WAR over the contract? He's certainly shown that he can be below replacement level. Hill has been worth exactly 2 fWAR (1.3 rWAR) over the last two seasons, his age 28 and 29 seasons, the years that he's supposed to be peaking as a player, and it took a 33 game hot streak to get there. We were all so certain that he was going to bounce back after his disastrous 2010 campaign, but his '11 offensive numbers for the first 104 games of the season were considerably worse than his '10, and he was below replacement almost immediately, and for the first 3/4 of the season.
If some people are allowed to assume that his production will be at least 1WAR per season, then I think I'm allowed to at least speculate that Hill could possibly be less productive than that, especially given his last two seasons. Arizona doesn't appear to have the flexibility to withstand Hill being below replacement -- they're not going to just straight up release him, and he'll have no trade value with another $5MM season left on his contract. This won't be franchise crippling, but that's not the point. As a GM, especially one with a tight budget, your job isn't to seek out players and pay them what they're worth; the job is to buy wins on the cheap, and try to get a surplus in value from your players. Arizona did such a fantastic job of that last season, getting more for less than any team not run by Andrew Friedman. Now they're taking 3 guys and tying up $9MM a season to get right around 1WAR, while locking up 3 roster spots. The Hill signing is probably the best of the three recent D'back contracts of the offseason in a vacuum, but combined, there's something really ugly going on here.