Blue Jays: Might be worth it to offer Teoscar Hernandez a long-term deal

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 15: Teoscar Hernandez #37 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a solo home run off of starting pitcher Logan Gilbert #36 of the Seattle Mariners during the second inning of a game at T-Mobile Park on August 15, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 15: Teoscar Hernandez #37 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a solo home run off of starting pitcher Logan Gilbert #36 of the Seattle Mariners during the second inning of a game at T-Mobile Park on August 15, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays capped off the weekend series against the Seattle Mariners with an 8-3 victory to avoid the sweep at the hands of their AL Wild Card competitors. With the win, the Jays are now 7.5 games back of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and 4.5 games back of a spot in the Wild Card.

After a disappointing two games on Friday and Saturday that saw the Mariners walk off via a base on balls and a bullpen meltdown respectively, it was nice to see the Blue Jays bats show up and put some runs on the board. Facing rookie pitcher Logan Gilbert, the lineup was able to chase him after four innings of work with Teoscar Hernandez leading the charge with a home run, three hits, and one RBI in the contest.

The Hernandez long ball was important because it tied the game after the defensive miscues and wild pitches from pitcher Steven Matz and catcher Alejandro Kirk in the second inning before Randal Grichuk hit a home run to put the Jays ahead right after Hernandez’s shot over the wall.

With another strong performance in 2021, the Toronto Blue Jays may be wise to lock up Teoscar Hernandez to a long-term deal sooner rather than later.

Acquired from the Houston Astros alongside outfielder Nori Aoki back at the 2017 trade deadline in exchange for southpaw Francisco Liriano, Hernandez took a couple of years to get acclimated in the Blue Jays organization before a breakout 2020 campaign saw the Dominican product cement himself as an everyday player. Prior to that season, Hernandez struggled to put the barrel to the ball with consistency even though the power in his bat was on display, hitting 20+ home runs in both 2018 and 2019 despite brief demotions to AAA and floating around the .775 OPS mark noth years.

The 2020 campaign, although shortened to 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was his best year as Hernandez was able to hit for consistency and didn’t rely solely on his raw power to hit the long ball, slashing .289/.340/.579 on the season with 16 round-trippers and 34 RBI, finishing the year with a .919 OPS and a Silver Slugger award for the mantle.

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Hernandez has picked up right where he left off after last season. While he has not got as many at-bats early in the campaign due to a positive COVID-19 test, Hernandez was able to hit his way up the team leaderboards and is currently slashing .313/.355/.526 with 20 home runs, 81 RBI, and a .881 OPS through 98 games.

Considering he missed roughly two to three weeks on the IL, the right-handed slugger has made up for lost time and currently sits tied for third on the club in terms of home runs, second in RBI, AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS, and fourth in hits (119) despite playing 10 to 15 games less than those at the top of the rankings.

Hernandez is currently in his first year of arbitration with the Blue Jays and is making $4.325 million this season. The slugger will be due for a hefty raise this off-season bringing up the possibility of maybe buying two years of arbitration and possibly a few years of free agency through a long-term deal and guaranteed money.

A notion that has been used by former general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves when it comes to young stars Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr., by offering a contract during or before the arbitration years, the club could potentially save some money by offering more guaranteed money upfront, banking on the player performing at the level they are currently playing at or better and avoiding the use of arbitration further down the line.

A risky maneuver and one that doesn’t always play out well for the organization (see Scott Kingery and the Philadelphia Phillies) but if negotiated well, can satisfy both parties in that the player is guaranteed to make money and the organization (Blue Jays in this case) do not have to depend on arbitration to determine the salary for certain players on the season. In particular, the front office has already done this sort of deal before with Randal Grichuk, offering him the five-year deal worth $52 million when he was in arbitration back in early 2019.

Comparing Hernandez to Grichuk’s contract, it would most likely require more per year to get the slugger to sign on the dotted line, as he is now hitting with consistency and relying less on his power to carry him but still being a threat to go yard on any mistake pitches from the opposing team. By my guesstimation, Hernandez is most likely looking at around $10 million in his second year of arbitration this upcoming off-season with his third year going to be $15+ if he can continue to hit well next year.

Having the slugger in the Blue Jays lineup makes the roster better and it may be wise for Ross Atkins and the front office to look into a possible contract extension this upcoming off-season so that both parties can benefit. This makes sense for the Jays considering the younger core like Guerrero Jr., Bichette, Cavan Biggio, etc will all be entering arbitration over the next two years (as well as newly acquired Jose Berrios entering his third year this off-season) and will all be in line for significant raises compared to the league minimum they are making under contract control right now (besides Berrios).

I personally would like to see Hernandez stay in the Blue Jays lineup past the 2023 season especially if he can continue to create some pop off the bat but also hit for average in the batter’s box like he is this season. There is always the risk that his play may start to falter over the next two seasons but his raw power and newfound ability to hit for average cannot be ignored.

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With the potential departure of Marcus Semien this upcoming off-season, having Hernandez around for longer than the 2023 campaign would create a strong top of the order alongside Guerrero Jr. and Bichette that could keep the Blue Jays at the top of batting leaderboards for years and gives promise that the team can hit their way to another World Series run.