Shea is a Jay

Wednesday, January 12 2005 @ 05:15 AM EST

Contributed by: Jordan

It's official: the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Shea Hillenbrand from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Adam Peterson. Hillenbrand presumably becomes the Blue Jays' full-time DH, spelling Eric Hinske at 1B now and again. And except for a few million dollars that may or may not be spent in the next several weeks, that's your 2004-05 Blue Jays' off-season.

I suppose we should start by noting that Hillenbrand is not chopped liver. He posted a healthy .348 OBP last season, a mark due almost entirely to his robust batting average (since he draws a walk about once every couple of weeks). He also has decent pop, good for 35-40 doubles and 15 homers a season. And as I noted in an earlier post, he was one of the few players last year to produce more extra-base hits (54) than strikeouts (49). Not striking out isn't a virtue in and of itself, but not striking out while driving the ball into the gaps and over the wall indicates that there's some talent there. Now, will all that make him and his circa-800 OPS the 5th-best DH in the American League in 2005? Actually, probably it will.

The cost? Adam Peterson throws hard, but he was beaten soundly in a rushed promotion to the majors last year and fared even worse on a subsequent demotion to Syracuse. He was old for Double-A last season, his command is wanting, and he has thrown just 140 innings in his minor-league career. That said, there's been no indication he can't be an effective short reliever down the road, and if he finds his control, he could be a solid closer. The Jays presumably figure that they have plenty more arms where Peterson came from, and of course they're right. Is the risk of what Peterson might become worth one year of Hillenbrand's production? That's what we'll discuss here.

We'll also take this opportunity to discuss the off-season as a whole. I think that even the most optimistic observer would have a hard time calling this winter a success for the Jays. Matt Clement eluded their grasp, Hillenbrand was the best bat they could conjure up via the trade route, and the team looks like it's going to have a lot of trouble scoring runs. If there's an upside, it's that the core of the team's young talent remained unscathed: any deals that would have cost the Jays players like Alex Rios or Brandon League would have been self-defeating and worse. And to be realistic: with the defending World Series champion and a $200-million juggernaut in their division, 2005 wasn't going to be the year the Jays snuck into the playoffs anyway, Carlos Lee or no. One never likes to write off a season in advance, but in 2005, Jays fans might best be advised to set their expectations on "Medium" and keep tracking the development of the youngsters.

Do I expect the Jays to be more than a .500 team next season? No. Do I expect them to play hard and play smart, and to maximize the playing time and learning opportunities for the future core of this ballclub? Yes.