General manager Alex Anthopoulos continued the make over of the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday when American League club traded veterans Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In return, the Blue Jays received second baseman Kelly Johnson.
“Obviously I know from the fans this will be a tough one,” Anthopoulos said during a hastily called news conference Tuesday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
The GM noted that both Hill and McDonald are very popular both in the clubhouse and with the team’s fan base.
But both players are also eligible to become free agents at the end of the season and Anthopoulos said that future uncertainty helped him decide to go through with the trade.
Anthopoulos said it was also an opportunity to ensure a soft landing spot for both players, heading to an Arizona team that is in the thick of a playoff battle heading into the final month of the regular season schedule.
Heading into play on Tuesday, the Diamondbacks were clinging to first place in the National League West with a 69-59 record, good for a one game bulge over the San Francisco Giants.
The Blue Jays, in fourth place in the American League East with a record of 65-62, are obviously setting their sights on next season.
“This was a deal that made sense for the Diamondbacks, it made sense for us and more importantly it made sense for these two players,” Anthopoulos said.
Anthopoulos also did not rule out the possibility that both Hill and McDonald could be back in a Toronto next season via free agency.
This season has been a major disappointment for Hill, 29, who is batting just .225 with six home runs.
The second baseman hasn’t been the same player since 2009 when, coming back off a concussion, belted 36 home runs and drove in 108 runs and was elected to the all-star team.
Hill has spent his entire career in the Toronto organization since being selected 13th overall in the 2003 draft.
“This is a little tough obviously,” Hill said. “This is all I’ve known.”
McDonald, a utility infielder who quickly entrenched himself as a fan favourite after the Blue Jays purchased him off the Detroit Tigers following the 2005 season, said leaving Toronto will be bittersweet.
“I’m kind of conflicted, I don’t know what to say,” said McDonald, who is batting .250 this season in 65 games.
The defensive specialist said he was thankful for his time in Toronto where he established himself as a major-league player.
But he said the chance to go to an Arizona team that is contending for the playoffs takes some of the sting away from the trade.
“It’s an opportunity I wake up every morning thinking about,” McDonald said. “It’s kind of what every baseball player wants, you want to try and play in the post season. I’m extremely excited for that opportunity.”
Both Hill and McDonald said they will give serious consideration to signing back with Toronto for next season.
In Johnson, the Blue Jays are getting a second baseman with six years experience at the major-league level.
The 29-year-old, who is also a free agent at the end of the season, has also struggled offensively this season, with a .209 batting average. But he has some pop with 18 home runs.
Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays will use the rest of the season to evaluate Johnson to determine if he fits into the teams plans heading forward.