Buried in this post by Nick Piecoro is a paragraph about the Arizona Diamondbacks having preliminary discussions with second baseman Aaron Hill about a contract extension. Hill, who we ranked as the sixth best second baseman in baseball earlier this morning, will turn 31 in March and is making $5.5 million this year, the second year of a two-year contract signed after the 2011 season. Hill initially signed a four year, $12 million contract with club options for the 2012-14 seasons with the Blue Jays at the beginning of 2008, but all of the options were declined by the Diamondbacks after the 2011 season.
Hill is a frustrating player, as I talked about at length this morning. 2012 was a career year for him, and he's looked like a different player in the 189 games he's played as a Diamondback, posting an .881 OPS with 28 homers. His home/road splits aren't even that extreme, as Hill's career OPS at Chase Field is just .919…not exactly a huge difference from his overall OPS with Arizona.
But Hill's inconsistency is what drove the Blue Jays to trade him to Arizona for Kelly Johnson in August of 2011. He signed that four year extension after a 17 homer, .792 OPS season at age 25. 2008 was a lost year due to injuries, and 2009 was just what Toronto expected for their money (4.1 fWAR, 36 homers). But in 2010 and 2011, Hill was putrid. In those two years with Toronto, he combined to play in 242 games, homering 32 times while hitting .213 and amassing just 0.4 fWAR. You can blame an awful BABIP in each of those two years, but the fact remains that it was a terrible way to end his career in Toronto.
It's not just all a BABIP spike that has helped Hill succeed with the Diamondbacks, though. In 2012, Hill hit the fewest groundballs in his career, beating the ball into the ground just 34.3% of the time. That will certainly help with getting more solid hits, as the corresponding increases in both line drive and fly ball rate are both positive marks. Hill also upped his HR/FB% to 11.2%, a more acceptable mark in line with the average rate for Diamondbacks players at Chase Field (11.4%), Hill also tweaked his approach at the plate, swinging less and making better contact.
While all the signs are pointing towards Hill's rebound being something that isn't a flash in the pan, the Blue Jays got burned once by giving him a multi-year extension. We're now five years removed from that extension, and Hill is an older, more experienced, more fleshed out player. But the thing about giving Hill an extension is that, quite frankly, it's unnecessary. Hill isn't going to be the prime second base free agent on the market next winter. This isn't a situation like this winter, where Marco Scutaro was the best middle infielder available and teams were tripping over themselves to throw money at them. Next winter, Hill will be joined in the free agent market by Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Omar Infante. And to look at things from the other side of the coin, Hill might not necessarily need to sign an extension. Those three free agents are playing for the Yankees, Phillies, and Tigers, three teams that have money to play with. If Arizona gives Hill a lowball offer, something in the range of three years and $30 million so, I wouldn't think there would be any reason for Hill to even listen to a proposal like that.
I don't think a contract extension between Aaron Hill and the Diamondbacks is going to get done, at least before the season. If Hill has a great first half though, I can definitely see the Diamondbacks perhaps trying a bit harder to get things done, but by that time, Hill and his agent Casey Close will be seeing dollar signs. There are just too many factors at work when it comes to Aaron Hill to think that an extension between him and the Diamondbacks is imminent, let alone practical for either party.