Mailbag: Explaining controversial move

Mailbag: Explaining a controversial move

I think the Blue Jays have a fairly tight clubhouse, but I fear that management might have made a mistake with the Shea Hillenbrand situation. Was Hillenbrand that bad, or did Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi and manager John Gibbons just dislike him that much?
-- Ian J., Saskatchewan

At the root of the whole Hillenbrand situation, there is one simple fact: We don't know the whole story. The events that happened on Wednesday were not the only incidents that led to the Blue Jays designating their former designated hitter for assignment.

What we do know is that what took place on Wednesday seemed to be the last straw for both sides. Hillenbrand, who made it well-known that he wasn't happy as Toronto's primary DH over the past two seasons, finally had enough of how the Jays were handling his playing time. The Jays, who let Hillenbrand know exactly what his role would be, finally had enough of his complaining.

Sure, there were other issues involved on Wednesday that set Hillenbrand off on an angry tirade. He was out of town for three days to attend to an adoption process with his wife in California, and he saw that he wasn't in the lineup during his first two games back with the team. Hillenbrand was also upset that the Jays apparently didn't congratulate him on adopting a baby girl.

Toronto insists that it wasn't aware of exactly when Hillenbrand would be rejoining the team after the adoption, and the club was upset that he showed up a half-hour before game time on Tuesday, when the team was already shorthanded and in the middle of an important homestand. Gibbons also insisted that keeping Hillenbrand out of the lineup was strictly a baseball decision -- one based on the fact that he hadn't taken part in any workouts in a few days.

Even with all the "He said, she said" elements of the conflict taken into account, Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays didn't regret having Hillenbrand as part of team. In a season in which Toronto is trying to compete for a playoff spot, though, the club could ill afford to have a player who wasn't happy in the clubhouse.

All that being said, I don't think the situation boiled down to just one side being at fault. Hillenbrand had his issues with Toronto, and Toronto had its issues with Hillenbrand. You're right, the Jays do have a tight-knit clubhouse and Gibbons relates well to the players. Toronto felt that the best way to solve the problem was to give Hillenbrand his wish: a trade to a team that would let him play in the field.

Who will pay the remainder of Hillenbrand's contract? If the Blue Jays are not paying the remainder, do you think the added salary space would allow them to be busier before the trade deadline?
-- Zach D., Ancaster, Ontario

When the Blue Jays sent Hillenbrand and reliever Vinnie Chulk to San Francisco in exchange for reliever Jeremy Accardo, part of the deal was that the Giants would pick up the remainder of Hillenbrand's $5.8 million contract. That prorated amount wound up being around $2 million -- a sum that does give Toronto some added financial flexibilty.

It's not a huge lump of cash, but it's $2 million more than Toronto had with Hillenbrand on the roster, and any extra money always helps. Whether it will help the Jays this season or be added to the payroll next season has yet to be seen. One thing is for sure: Toronto isn't done looking into potential trades, and the added money might help the club pull off a deal.

With Hillenbrand being traded, who will take over the DH role for the rest of the season?
-- Brad. B., Ajax, Ontario

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Toronto has a few options at DH, and the club will have even more to work with once right fielder Alex Rios returns from the 15-day disabled list. There probably won't be one primary DH for the rest of the year.

Before Hillenbrand was gone, Gibbons sometimes used catchers Gregg Zaun and Bengie Molina in the lineup at the same time -- one as the DH and one behind the plate. This was obviously a risk, but the Jays added catcher Jason Phillips to the roster after trading Hillenbrand. The third catcher allows Toronto to use both Zaun and Molina in the lineup without worrying about being shorthanded late in a game.

With Rios out, Eric Hinske and Reed Johnson have spent most of their time in right field. Once Rios is back, Hinske will see time as the DH, and he'll have some action at third or first base if Troy Glaus or Lyle Overbay need a day off. Gibbons also wants to give Johnson more starts in left when Rios is back, which means that left fielder Frank Catalanotto could see time as the DH, too.

Did the Jays get enough out of the the deal with the Giants? I didn't have a problem with getting rid of Hillenbrand, but sending Chulk, too? That seemed like a little too much for a reliever that seems mediocre. Am I wrong?
-- Justin P., Campbell River, B.C.

The Blue Jays are hoping that Accardo is better than mediocre, and scouting reports seem to indicate that he has a lot of upside. The 24-year-old right-hander has a fastball that can reach 96-97 mph, and he also mixes in a cutter and a splitter. Accardo will be used in the sixth and seventh innings to help bridge the gap to setup man Justin Speier.

The deal makes sense when you consider that Chulk was out of options after this season. That means that he would have had to make Toronto's roster next year or be forced to clear waivers. Considering the inconsistency he displayed this season, it might not have been a lock for him to make the roster out of Spring Training next year. If Chulk was exposed to waivers, another team would likely pick him up, and Toronto would lose him without getting anything in return.

Accardo, on the other hand, has an option year left and is controllable for Toronto. Basically, the Blue Jays avoided an inevitable risk involving Chulk in order to gain another young arm with some solid potential. Besides, being able to pocket that $2 million that Hillenbrand was still owed made the deal that much more worthwhile.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.