The past five years
The Hills are alive
Between them, your two hands contain more than one-quarter of all the bones in your body. A lot of intricate little moving parts there, as Aaron Hill is now all too aware. He was hit on the left hand by a pitch from notorious hand-hunter James McDonald on April 9, but initial X-rays came back negative. Indeed, while out of the starting line-up, he had a couple of pinch-hit appearances, doubling in a run off the bench four days later. It wasn't until a week after he was hit that the extent of the injury was confirmed, a CT scan revealing a "slight surface fracture," and Hill hit the DL. Expectations at the time were that he's be back in 4-6 weeks.
Something else Hill likely now knows, is those hand bones can be tricky buggers: it turned out to be 11 weeks post-injury before Aaron played again [in the meantime, Willie Bloomquist broke the same bone. Who knew fractures could be infectious?]. It was just a slow healing process: indeed, the bone hadn't entirely healed right through the end of the season, and Hill wore specially-padded gloves to protect it. There was some suggestion it would require off-season surgery to fix completely, but there had been enough progress by late September ("80% healed," according to Hill) to avoid the need for that.
Five months further on, all should be well, Hill saying "There's no issues. I'm not thinking about it. I'm not worried about it at all," and that seems to have been borne out in the early stages of spring-training. In his three games played to date, Hill has gone 2-for-8 with a walk, and no reported problems, though things will clearly be ramped up over the next couple of weeks. But even after coming back last year, while the hand was still healing, he put up solid numbers, hitting .289/.350/.450 for an even .800 OPS. So, it seems likely he'll be at or near his usual level of production for us in 2014.
It's important he is, because this is the first year of Hill's new three-year contract extension, with his price doubling to $11 million this season. The projections don't think he'll be able to live up to last season's numbers, mostly because Aaron turns 32 later this month, so is now definitely on the downward side of the aging curve. However, in terms of total cost and return, even the most pessimistic, ZIPS at 2.2 WAR, think he'll be decent value for money. On the other hand, ZIPS predicts a full season of Chris Owings (albeit at SS rather than 2B) to be worth only 0.3 wins less, and he will be about $10.5 million cheaper.
That's could be an interesting dilemma down the road. Didi Gregorius wins the shortstop job, but Owings continues to destroy pitching in Reno, humidor or no humidor. With Aaron locked up through the end of 2016, does the team try to trade Hill, in order to free up a spot for the younger, cheaper prospect? Or do we trade Owings, to fill another need somewhere else on the diamond? The latter still seems more likely to me, almost regardless of whether or not Hill is performing: if he is, it'll be hard for Owings to displace him, and if he isn't, it'll be hard for the D-backs to find a trade partner.
Needless to say, I'm hoping for the former scenario, and if Hill can keep his limbs out of the way of fastballs this year, we'd all very much appreciate it.