TORONTO — Although it’s farewell, it might not be goodbye.
“I have not ruled out either player being back here in 2012,” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said after announcing on Tuesday that second baseman Aaron Hill and infielder John McDonald had been traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for second baseman Kelly Johnson.
All three players can be free agents in the off-season.
“This is all I’ve known, this has been my family,” Hill told the media at Rogers Centre before the Blue Jays game with the Kansas City Royals.
“Like Alex said, I’m very open to coming back next year. This isn’t the end.”
Added McDonald: “I’ve had a lot of conversations with Alex recently about just that, about continuing to be a Toronto Blue Jay and that excites me too.”
The 29-year-old Johnson, long rumoured to be an Anthopoulos target, has appeared in 114 games for Arizona this season, posting a .209 average with 18 home runs, 49 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
A first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2000, Johnson is a career .260 hitter with 89 home runs and 326 RBIs in 758 games.
“He has the ability to get on base, draw some walks and he’s got power to all fields,” Anthopoulos said.
“He’d be the first one to tell you, I’m sure, he’s not performing the way he expected to, especially off the year he came off of last year.”
Players must clear waivers to be traded after July 31 and Anthopoulos said all the Blue Jays players cleared early in August as a matter of club policy.
It was at that time that talks with the Diamondbacks on a possible deal started to take place.
Hill has struggled the last two seasons with the Blue Jays, but said he will cherish his time in Toronto, noting the club’s bright future.
“This team will win. The way they’re going, the direction they’re going, with Alex and everybody, I do believe this team will win,” Hill said. “Whether I’m a part of that or not I’ll be rooting for them because this is a special place.
“Not only are you playing for the city of Toronto but the country of Canada. It’s a very special place and it will be missed.”
Both McDonald and Hill will have a chance to play in the post-season with Arizona in contention for the National League West’s title.
“We owe it to them to give them this type of opportunity if it makes sense for both sides,” Anthopoulos said. “This is a great opportunity for them and it made sense for us to do it for them.”
Blue Jays manager John Farrell said that the two infielders will be missed.
“They were guys that cared,” said Farrell. “They were guys that came ready to play and compete whether they were known to be in the starting lineup or whether they were there to be ready to be on call. True professionals. Just very good teammates, very good players.”
Anthopoulos said the deal presented a chance for Toronto to get an up-close look at Johnson.
“It’s a chance for us to get a look at him and see how he does here,” Anthopoulos said. “A very talented player who’s had a lot of success in the past and maybe he comes here and plays well.”
While the Jays have acquired what could be their second baseman of the future, the trade also represents a terrific fall from grace for Hill. The 29-year-old was an all-star in 2009, blasting 36 homers and driving in 108 RBIs to go along with a .286 average.
He hit 26 home runs last season, but batted a paltry .205 and was unable to recapture his form in 2011 either, hitting .225 in 104 games with just six home runs and 45 RBIs.
In seven seasons with Toronto, Hill posted a .265 average with 96 home runs and 409 RBIs.
Anthopoulos said that the move might enable Hill to regain the form he once had.
“We did a lot of things with Aaron to try to get him going,” Anthopoulos said. “I know it’s still in there.”
McDonald, meanwhile, has been a fan favourite with Blue Jays fans because of his hustle and defence.
The 36-year-old batted .250 this season in 65 games with eight doubles, two home runs and 20 RBIs.
The gritty McDonald has played 13 seasons in the majors with Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto, compiling a .240 batting average in 865 games.
McDonald said he appreciated the chance that Toronto gave him to establish himself as a major-league baseball player.
“It’s hard to leave but the opportunity to play in the playoffs right now at 36 years old, almost 37, is extremely exciting for me,” McDonald said “And beyond that, the opportunity to come back here, having that dialogue with Alex.”