Blue Jays: Arguing for a Bautista-like extension for Teoscar Hernandez
Once upon a time the Blue Jays were wise to preemptively extend Jose Bautista’s contract before he became a perennial All-Star. Should they consider the same with another breakout star in the making?
One of the best trades the Blue Jays ever made was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in August of 2008 when they acquired Jose Bautista in exchange for low-level minor leaguer Robinson Diaz. At the time Bautista was a journeyman utility player struggling to hang on to a MLB career, but most of us remember how that changed after he became a Blue Jay.
“Joey Bats” made some adjustments at the plate and in 2010 he had a true breakout season, hitting a league-leading 54 home runs and slashing .260/.378/.617 while earning his first All-Star appearance, Silver Slugger award, and finishing fourth in AL MVP voting. At that point he was playing on a one-year, 2.4 million deal, and the Blue Jays had an important decision to make that offseason. They gambled that his breakout was for real and signed him to a five-year extension worth 65 million, a lot of money for a player with a short track record success, but a bargain for an MVP candidate. Thankfully the gamble paid off and they received the latter.
And I can’t help but think they’re in a similar spot right now with Teoscar Hernandez.
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Like Bautista, Hernandez had his breakout year at the age of 27, and he was good enough that he even earned some down ballot MVP votes in 2020. The sample size is smaller due to the shortened season, but he ended up slashing .289/.340/.579 with 16 home runs and 34 RBI across 50 games.
The numbers only tell half of the story, as Hernandez was a different hitter than what we’ve seen from him in the past. Those that watched him regularly saw a hitter that was confident, patient, and hit the ball with authority as much as anyone in the American League. If not for a 10-day stay on the Injured List, he likely would have received even more MVP consideration, and with good reason.
Last year Hernandez was slated to make $602,200 prior to the pandemic, so of course his salary was prorated as well. In 2021 he enters the first of three arbitration eligible seasons, and right now Spotrac.com has him earmarked for four million in 2021. That’s a nice bargain and an area the Blue Jays would like to keep his salary in as they search for more additions to the roster, but it’s worth considering a Bautista-like extension for Hernandez right now.
If the Blue Jays believe that he’s truly found his groove as a hitter, then they know he’s only going to get more expensive from here. Extending him now would give them some cost certainty as they look ahead to the next few years, and the ability to keep Hernandez’s salary under control. What I mean is, if he continues to produce as an elite hitter, he’ll be rewarded handsomely at each increment of the arbitration process, especially as his case gets stronger.
With three years of arbitration eligibility remaining, I’d likely propose something like this:
4 years, 50 million (Buys out one year of free agency, age 28-31 seasons)
2021: 5 million
2022: 10 million
2023: 15 million
2024: 20 million
Yes, it’s a very simple formula I’m using here, but I think it makes some sense. Spotrac.com is probably right that he’s due to get four million or better in arbitration, so giving him a small short-term reward may be appreciated, depending on how Hernandez’s camp views things for this year. As for the remaining three years, I think there’s potential that the Blue Jays could save some real money in 2022 and 2023, and even if they overpay a bit by 2024, they’ll likely have received a ton of value ahead of time. If I’m the GM, I’d likely try to tack on another club option for 2025 as well.
The Blue Jays tried something similar with Randal Grichuk before the 2019 season when they signed him to a five-year, 52 million dollar extension. It hasn’t worked out like the Bautista situation by any means, but I don’t think it should be enough to cause a pause for Ross Atkins and his staff.
All that being said, the Blue Jays may prefer to spend their money to improve the roster with outside additions, or even save it to extend their other homegrown stars. However, after what we saw from Teoscar Hernandez in 2020 and considering his contract situation over the next few years, I’d likely roll the dice on the slugger and hope that lightning strikes just as it did with Bautista a decade ago.