New Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson posted career highs in home runs (26) and RBIs (71) a year ago while hitting .284 with Arizona. He's batting just .209 in 114 games this season. ((Christian Petersen/Getty Images))

Aaron Hill will attempt to regain his power stroke while pushing for a playoff spot in the desert.

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has dealt the struggling second baseman to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with backup infielder John McDonald for second baseman Kelly Johnson. All three players are impending free agents.

Hill and McDonald depart the non-contending Jays (65-62) for the National League West-leading Diamondbacks, a young outfit which entered play Tuesday in the midst of a six-game losing streak and a one-game lead over San Francisco.

At Tuesday's news conference, Anthopoulos said the deal presented a chance for the team to get an up-close look at Johnson, a player whom the GM is said to coveted for some time.

The book on Kelly Johnson

  • Age: 29
  • Hometown: Austin, Tex.
  • Position: Second base
  • Height: 6-foot-1
  • Weight: 195 pounds
  • Team: Toronto Blue Jays
  • MLB seasons: 5-plus
  • Teams: 2010-11 (Arizona), 2005-09 (Atlanta Braves)
  • Drafted: By Atlanta in the 1st round (38th overall) in 2000
  • Contract status: Signed through 2011 season, making $5.85 million US

"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."

Johnson, 29, posted career highs in home runs (26) and RBIs (71) a year ago while hitting .284 with a .370 on-base percentage. The native of Austin, Tex. — a first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2000 — is not considered as strong in the field as Hill.

In 114 contests this season, he is batting .209 with 23 doubles, five triples, 18 homers, 49 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and a .287 OBP.

Hill, also 29, hit .286 in 2009 with 36 home runs and 108 runs batted in, but has never returned to that form and is hitting .225 in 104 games this season with six home runs and 45 RBIs.

Bright future

Hill 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 told the media at Rogers Centre. "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."

On April 1, Anthopoulos elected to take a wait-and-see approach by declining a trio of contract options that would have kept Hill in Toronto through the 2014 season.

The three options would have paid Hill $8 million US in 2012 and 2013, and $10 million in 2014. Arizona could renegotiate a cheaper extension or offer the player salary arbitration and get a pick in next June's amateur draft.

The 36-year-old McDonald, a fan favourite and defensive specialist, will probably share time with Willie Bloomquist at short in Arizona.

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."

Rookie third baseman Brett Lawrie said McDonald was helpful to him at his first major-league camp this year.

"He was very, very good to me," the native of Langley, B.C., said. "He's a guy who's been around the game so long. Everything that's gone on in the game, he's seen it. That gave me the opportunity, my first big-league spring training, to kind of pick his brain. Just little things during the game. He helped better my game.

"Aaron was the exact same. Those guys will be missed for sure. They've been with the Blue Jays a long, long time. I wish them all the best."

McDonald is hitting .250 in 65 games in 2011 with 20 RBIs but will get a chance to win a World Series championship as he joins his fourth major league club.

"We owe it to them to give them this type of opportunity if it makes sense for both sides," Anthopoulos said of McDonald and Hill. "This is a great opportunity for them and it made sense for us to do it for them."

"I'm happy for those guys, they're getting an opportunity to be in a race," added Jays reliever Casey Janssen. "It's obviously sad to see good friends go but it's part of the business, part of being a baseball player that you can be traded. We're going to keep playing, we're going to keep going with them or without them."

In another move Tuesday, the Blue Jays summoned catcher Brian Jeroloman from AAA Las Vegas, where he was hitting .240 in 79 games this season with 26 RBIs and a .330 OBP.

Jeroloman is projected as a backup and would have been a September call-up because of his defensive ability. Anthopoulos said that because he will be the 25th man, it was decided to keep other prospects playing every day in the minors until their seasons are over.

Arizona placed right-hander Jason Marquis on the 60-day disabled list with a fractured right fibula.

With files from The Canadian Press