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Shea Hillenbrand is No Longer a Jay

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Yesterday, as many of us were shocked to find out, Shea Hillenbrand was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays.

First of all, I am in favour of this move, especially considering, from what I've read, that Hillenbrand brought this upon himself. Based on quotes from Hillenbrand and people within the organization, the following events took place:

  • Hillenbrand lost his temper prior to yesterday's game and wrote "This is a sinking ship" on the team's chalk board.
  • John Gibbons reprimanded him in front of his teammates during a closed-door meeting.
  • Hillenbrand's tirade was partly incited by his exclusion from the starting lineup. Moreover, his poor relationship with Blue Jay management, which never congratulated him on his recent adoption of a baby girl, played a part as well. However, he cut off all contact with management prior to this incident, which renders his complaints to be quite hypocritical.
  • Blue Jay management immediately designated Hillenbrand for assignment and now has ten days to either trade or release him.

Hillenbrand has a long history of poor behaviour. This season, he openly voiced his displeasure with being the everyday designated hitter. He also participated in a war of words pitcher Josh Beckett, who pitches for his former club, the Red Sox. Moreover, as a member of said Red Sox, he called Theo Epstein a homosexual, though not in those exact words.

In other words, his swift departure from the organization is not the result of one incident; rather, it's the culmination of a steady stream of irreverent behaviour for which he took absolutely no responsibily. Today's article in the Toronto Sun, entitled "Chalk-board message the last straw for furious Gibbons," cites specific examples that do not shed fond light on Hillenbrand's character. Firstly, here's what specifically incited Gibbons' backlash:

It had a lot to do with Hillenbrand writing: "This is a sinking ship" on the chalkboard where batting practice times are written.

The team was having a players-only meeting, called by Vernon Wells, when in stormed irate manager John Gibbons.

According to one unnamed Blue Jay: "The manager said: 'You're gone! I'll be gone before you ever play another game in this organization.'

"It was as hot as I've ever seen (Gibbons) and that includes all of his ejections."

And here are some quotes that suggest that this was not the result of an isolated incident of poor behaviour on Hillenbrand's part:

"This had nothing to do with him adopting a baby," said Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who added that the breakup was due to, "irreconcilable differences."

"He was a cancer in this clubhouse," another player said. "Shea's day went the way the lineup card went. If he was in the lineup, everything was fine. If he wasn't he'd sulk. Sometimes he wouldn't even come out to hit."

"I got along with him, but his sense of humour rubbed some people the wrong way," Wells said.

Hillenbrand's sense of humour included ripping the Canadian flag crest off the hat that the Jays wore Canada Day in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, according to a team official. Hillenbrand had been taken out of that game in the seventh inning.

Obviously, Hillenbrand's not the most likeable player in baseball, though it's likely that he's not as awful as today's articles will suggest. If he were, the length of his tenure with the Blue Jays would've been much shorter. However, the reason I'm in favour of management's actions in this case is because, once this incident occurred, another course of action would've led to a drawn out, disruptive saga that would've been a huge disruption to the team both now and in the future. This way, the Blue Jays will trade him within ten days, likely for someone of marginal value (to be fair, Hillenbrand was never a large trading chip in the first place). A player of Hillenbrand's value absolutely would not warrant a season-long distraction to the team. Despite a productive first half, he's a fungible commodity, someone who could be replaced within the organization immediately.

Hillenbrand's main strength is that he can hit left-handed pitching. But that's it. He was thoroughly misused by Gibbons, who played him regularly despite his poor numbers against right-handed pitching. But what could Gibbons do? Had he not played him everyday, and instead platooned him with someone like Eric Hinske, who's performed well against righties, he likely would've sulked and complained to an even greater extent than he already did.

With Alexis Rios on the mend and Troy Glaus battling his own problems, the team certainly is short on bats, though not to a drastic extent. Once both are healthy, which should occur within the next couple weeks, the team can field the following lineups:

Against Lefties:

C Bengie Molina
1B Lyle Overbay
2B John McDonald
3B Troy Glaus
SS Aaron Hill
LF Reed Johnson
CF Vernon Wells
RF Alexis Rios
DH Gregg Zaun

Against Righties:

C Gregg Zaun
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Russ Adams
3B Troy Glaus
SS Aaron Hill
LF Frank Catalanotto
CF Vernon Wells
RF Alexis Rios
DH Eric Hinske

Those are very productive lineups, which can easily succeed without any help from Hillenbrand. He surpassed my expectations this season and last, but his departure comes as no significant loss the team.

The Blue Jays should be able to maintain, if not succeed, their production from the DH slot. The league average OPS at that position is .811. As of now, the Blue Jays stand at .817:

Team        AVG/OBP/SLG        OPS
Indians     .316/.441/.628     1.069
White Sox   .296/.412/.609     1.021
Red Sox     .269/.386/.557      .943
Yankees     .249/.354/.469      .823    
Athletics   .237/.354/.463      .817    
Blue Jays   .296/.342/.475      .817
Devil Rays  .228/.331/.453      .784
Angels      .273/.338/.444      .782    
Rangers     .230/.319/.432      .751
Royals      .242/.328/.411      .739    
Tigers      .244/.296/.437      .733
Orioles     .252/.300/.408      .708    
Mariners    .239/.310/.373      .683
Twins       .273/.319/.360      .679

After the top three, who boast Travis Hafner, Jim Thome, and David Ortiz, the DH position is much less productive across the AL than one would think. To be honest, a platoon of Zaun and Hinske should easily keep the Blue Jays' production afloat at the DH spot.