The Blue Jays reportedly tried to improve their outfield this past offseason, but the fact that they couldn’t has allowed for an important opportunity.
The very first time that I understood a song’s message still stands out in my memory from my childhood. It was Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers”, and I can still remember my parents explaining the concept to me. Sometimes the best gifts are when we don’t get what we want, leading to something that’s even better.
For me, it was throwing a fit because my Mom wouldn’t buy me a new baseball glove, not knowing there was a better one waiting for me at home to open up in a few weeks for my birthday. The same could go for the Toronto Blue Jays if we look at their work this past offseason. There were plenty of reports that the front office was seeking an upgrade to the outfield, but it never came to fruition. In hindsight, that may have been a blessing.
I say that for a few reasons, and the first would be that Teoscar Hernandez has started this season off on an absolute tear at the plate. Over his first 31 plate appearances he’s slashing .321/.355/.821 with four home runs, six RBI, two doubles, and a pair of stolen bases. For a player that’s been fairly streaky throughout his limited MLB opportunities, we’re seeing the upside of what Hernandez can do. And if the Blue Jays had been able to acquire an upgrade in their outfield this offseason, he may not have had the chance to do it in a Blue Jays’ uniform.
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The 27-year-old will more than likely come down to earth (he’s not going to maintain that kind of slugging percentage forever), but he’s absolutely proven himself to be a threat with the bat since at least the second half of last season. After the All-Star break he slashed a very solid .259/.346/.592 adding 18 home runs, 11 doubles, and 38 RBI over the course of 201 at-bats. That kind of production will play in the middle of anyone’s lineup, and he’s continued the premium hitting into the new year.
Is this the real Hernandez? I do believe that he’s settling in to becoming an above average hitter for a MLB outfielder, and someone that could have a real impact on the Blue Jays both this season and into the future. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time next year, which means the Blue Jays will have control of his contract for at least three more seasons. That could turn out to be an important factor in this rebuild, as he’s currently a total bargain based on his production, and he seems to be getting better all the time.
The reason I say that it could have been Hernandez as the odd man out is because of the structure of the rest of the outfield. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has taken over in left, and looks to be a central cog in the Blue Jays’ core. Randal Grichuk was named as the starting centre fielder prior to tweaking his back, and he’s under contract for three more seasons after this one, which likely would have made him harder to trade this past winter. There’s also the fact that the Blue Jays needed (arguably still do) a defensively capable centre fielder, and while Hernandez can fill in, Grichuk is a much better fit on a full-time basis.
As I looked around the league for upgrades over the winter, it seemed to me that Hernandez would be the one to go if the Blue Jays were able to acquire an upgrade in centre field, and they may very well have missed out on a breakout season from the slugging Dominican. And if it wasn’t Hernandez as the odd man out, it could very well have been Rowdy Tellez, who swung the bat very well during the summer training sessions and looks like he could be on the cusp of a breakout as well.
Maybe I’m just looking at the first seven games with rose-coloured glasses, but the more that I reflect on this past winter, the happier I am that the Blue Jays were unsuccessful in finding another outfielder. It’s given Hernandez a regular spot in the starting lineup and he’s making the most of it, and I expect we’ll see the same from Tellez as the season goes on (if it does). It requires patience, and perhaps I’ll be wrong about Hernandez when we look back at the end of the season, but I do believe that the Blue jays are better off for their unanswered prayer this time around.