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Toronto Blue Jays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos talks on his cell phone as he looks at his watch during baseball spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette)
Toronto Blue Jays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos talks on his cell phone as he looks at his watch during baseball spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette)

Jeff Blair

Jays' GM Anthopoulos playing hardball Add to ...

So that's what evil Alex Anthopoulos looks like. Getting a bundle of prospects in a trade forced by Roy Halladay, making off with Brandon Morrow, foisting Vernon Wells's contract on another team and signing Jose Bautista - you could say the Toronto Blue Jays' general manager has been on a roll, no?

Then there he is at a news conference Friday, pawing the floor with his foot and going all "gosh … gee" when someone tells him that Paul Beeston says Anthopoulos reminds him of a young Pat Gillick.

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"I don't think it's … to be honest with you, I think it's nuts," Anthopoulos said.

That there was a palpable sense of excitement surrounding the Blue Jays heading into Friday's opener owes much to Anthopoulos's work and his ability to sell a vision to a city too used to losing. So it was appropriate to wonder Friday how Anthopoulos would handle the sensitive matter of deciding whether to exercise multiple option years on Aaron Hill's contract.

The Blue Jays decided not to exercise the options, which would have guaranteed Hill $26-million (all currency U.S.) starting in 2012. Under the terms of Hill's deal, the club can decide at the end of the season whether to exercise options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons at $8-million a season or just pick up the 2012 option … or let him walk as a free agent.

Just business, you understand. Hill sounded like somebody who'd expected the move, parrying suggestions that it was at least a wee slap in the face until he finally gave in, sighed and said: "I know what you're saying. But I know they want me here. There's no reason we can't continue to talk throughout year. Alex asked me if I was okay with it and I said, yeah, I'm open to it."

J.P. Ricciardi was general manager of the Blue Jays when Hill signed his deal on opening day 2008, but it was Anthopoulos who did the contract, which bought out Hill's arbitration seasons after a 2007 campaign in which he hit .291 with 17 home runs and 78 runs batted in. Hill played just 55 games in 2008 after sustaining a concussion, rebounded to hit .286 with 36 homers and 108 RBIs in a 2009 all-star season in which he broke Roberto Alomar's club record for homers by a second baseman halfway through the season, then fell to a .205 batting average in 2010, when he hit 26 homers and drove in 68 runs.

Hill injured a quadriceps muscle this spring and played in just eight games. Hill's deal came about at a time when the Blue Jays were offering free-agent deals to the likes of B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett and doling out huge, gut-busting albatrosses of contracts to Wells and Alex Rios. Hill is a remnant from those days.

"We certainly have until the end of the season to talk," Anthopoulos said. "And there's always the ability to extend beyond.

"We see Aaron as a core player. This is just in light of the fact he was banged up last year and in the spring … and because of the season he had last year, it made sense for the organization to have him play and make that determination one way or another knowing that, at a minimum, we have the ability to keep him for two years beyond."

Now, this does not necessarily mean that Hill's days as a Blue Jay are dwindling. Brett Lawrie is still a third baseman; he's not moving to second. And as Hill himself noted, Anthopolous isn't one of those GMs afraid to make a deal in-season. These are two simpatico individuals, as apt to talk about new fatherhood as they are about baseball. There is a bond.

"I feel I can have a big year, nothing to do with the financial part of it," Hill said. "I just want to do it for myself, not for any other reason. I want to get back to where I was."

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