The Blue Jays pave the way for Luvson’s turnaround by trading Teoscar Hernandez

If there was any doubt that this offseason could be transformative for the Blue Jays, it has confirmed the team’s first major move.

In trading beloved right-hander Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners, recent Wild Card Series foes, the Blue Jays replaced a central member of the core they’ve been building over the past four years, suggesting the front office is intent on trying a different winning formula. Furthermore, this trade appears to set the stage for future deals that address the shortcomings of the Blue Jays in their quest to build a club of league quality.

“Teo has been great for us,” General Manager Ross Atkins said Wednesday. “Since 2017, when we acquired him, the excitement he brought to the court, he’s been a big part of that transition for us, from going from an interesting team to a competitive team.” He obviously (has) a lot of strong relationships here, including one with me, I think the world around him. We will miss him. We got to the point where we felt acquisitions on the prevention side would help us.”

Yes, about this comeback. The Blue Jays received right reliever Eric Swanson and left-hander Adam McCue. Moving on from Hernandez, who is lining up to be a free agent after next season, the Blue Jays have used space from their excess — right-handed hitters — to fill a pressing need, specifically, to swing and miss in the bullpen. And the depth of the youth monument. Meanwhile, the Sailors get a much-needed boost to their lineup by dealing with their crew of sharpshooters.

“There is never an easy trade, and it always comes down to alternatives for both sides,” said Atkins. “Fortunately, it turned out to make sense for both teams.”

Swanson, 29, had a breakout season in 2022, reaching a 1.68 ERA in 57 games with a 34 percent strikeout rate and a 4.9 percent walk rate. He’s no flamethrower, with a fastball averaging close to 94 mph, but he does use his four-string seam combination to succeed against both right-handers and left-handers. The hitting and catching rates in 2022 were above average and it comes with three years of team control. Swanson joins Yimi Garcia, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber and Anthony Bass as late playing options ahead of closer Jordan Romano.

The Blue Jays were so intent on improving their bases early in the season that Atkins said last week in Las Vegas that they were looking to add one or two relievers. Relief prices have been high this winter, and while Atkins said he doesn’t think they need to shop this end of the market, they may not be quite done with building bulls even with Swanson.

“He’ll complement us well,” Atkins said of Swanson, “he can offer us any role in an inning, and the offensive hitting is great.” “This has been talked about a lot, obviously for good reason, it’s an opportunity for us to improve. But at the same time, we’re never done.”

Meanwhile, Mako, 21, is a pitcher the Blue Jays have been watching since he was recruited from Vauxhall High School in Alberta in 2019. He made eight High A starts in 2022, with a 3.99 ERA and 60 strikeouts across 38.1. roles. The Slovakian-born pitcher has yet to make a full season in the minors, but the Blue Jays love his rough stuff. “If we can put him in a position where he can sustain a full season of innings, he can easily become one of the best prospects in baseball, he has the arsenal to do that,” Atkins said.

When two players join the Blue Jays, Hernandez is out after five and a half seasons with Toronto. The outfielder saw his name circulated on social media and the MLB Network, so he was ready to trade. Still, it’s a surprise when that happens. Since word broke, he has reached out to most of his former Blue Jays teammates.

“It’s a little sad that I won’t be a part of them anymore,” he said on a video call. “But for me, it feels like a new chapter for me. And I think I’m going to have fun as best I can and I’m going to give my all for the Seattle Mariners and the fans.”

In addition to meeting pitching needs, the trade also has secondary effects on Toronto, both from a financial and roster-building perspective.

First, it frees up overseas playing time for customization either internally or to future players acquired via trade or free agency. One criticism of the 2022 Blue Jays squad was that despite its offensive quality, its lineup was too right-wing, leaving them vulnerable against some games. By moving a right-handed player outward, the natural tendency is to think that they are aiming to bring in a left-hander. If pursued via free agency – Brandon Nemo, Michael Conforto or Andrew Benintendi might fit – the front office can now better attract prospects with a starting position available.

“There are opportunities to add to our team there via trade or free agency,” Atkins said of their overseas image. “We’re better positioned to do that now from a resource, game time and staffing point of view.”

Internally, the Blue Jays have five players on their 40-man roster — six if you count Cavan Biggio — and feel good about their depth. The move from Hernandez also gives them the freedom to follow quarterback and slide 33-year-old George Springer to right field, a less physically demanding position than center. It’s a change Atkins said Springer would be “open to” if it made the team better.

However, filling right field in Hernandez’s absence isn’t the hard part. Compensation for its aggressive production is. Since 2020, the 30-year-old has 132 WRC+ which ranks 25th among all eligible hitters. His 73 home runs in that span rank 15th. He’s an elite power hitter and the Blue Jays will need to hit between the 25 and 30 hits Hernandez is expected to have in 2023. Some of that may come internally but there will also be opportunities, Atkins added. Others via trade and free agency, as I mentioned earlier, and we’ll exhaust those.”

Financially, the Blue Jays gain valuable flexibility with this deal as well. Hernandez was expected to make $14.1 million in 2023, while Swanson was estimated to make $1.4 million, As estimated by MLB Trade Rumors arbitration. Combined with the $6.5 million the Blue Jays will provide by DFAing — and soon no-bid — Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer, Toronto suddenly has nearly $20 million to work with. The Blue Jays haven’t been shy about spending in recent years, and Atkins said the owners, Rogers Communications, continue to back their team-building vision, but the question has always been how far they’re willing to go. GM said saving money was not a “driving factor” for the trade but “still a benefit.”

“Now that’s the increased flexibility and increased opportunity on our roster,” Atkins said.

Given their opposing strengths and weaknesses, the Mainers and Blue Jays seemed like ideal business partners. The Mariners have asked the Blue Jays before about Hernandez, including this past spring training, said the Mariners’ Justin Hollander. Atkins said the groundwork for that deal was laid last week at the GM meetings in Las Vegas. There were three or four teams interested in Hernandez, but “we’ve worked to get Seattle to put the best bid in front of us,” said the Blue Jays GM.

If all the players involved perform to their respective abilities, it could be a bargain for both clubs, even if, on paper, it feels like Seattle got the leaner side of the exchange. Middle inning relievers don’t get fans’ heart pumping the way pacers do.

However, this is a trade not made in isolation for the Blue Jays. That strongly suggests more moves are on the way in pursuit of a balanced lineup and full team, whether that be through signing free agents or trading from deeper areas (such as the pickup). Just like we can’t judge a work of art based on its raw sketches, it’s like we can’t really appreciate this bargain until the rest of the season is fully colored.

“We’ve had a pretty good idea over the past several weeks of what opportunities will be available via the free agency trade to make our team better as we continue to look for a promotion, to continue to look for a more versatile offense and to complement our defense,” Atkins said.

Still, it’s a big first step and suggests the front office is intent on addressing the team’s shortcomings, even if it means trading a fan favorite who thrived from a post-hype prospect to a permanent Silver Slugger at the center of transforming a team from builder to competitor.

“The thing that was very exciting about Teoskar is the level of joy he plays with and the smile he brings to this game, what that means for the Toronto Blue Jays. What that means for his teammates and for the club has been important. He has also been very productive, especially over the three years.” past,” Atkins said. “It was a huge part of our transition towards competition and it will be missed. In terms of importance to me, I think about it in terms of the organization and what we can do to be better, what we can do to take a step forward, and sometimes you come up with difficult decisions.”

(Photo: John E. Sokolowski/USA Today)


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