While the Blue Jays already have a lot of future salary commitments to consider, I’m willing to bet they plan to keep Teoscar Hernandez around if they can. The question is, how much is that going to cost them?
For now Hernandez has two years remaining before he’ll hit the open market as a free agent, assuming the Blue Jays don’t try to extend him before that happens. We’ve heard that they’ve made an effort to extend his contract before, and I’m willing to bet that Ross Atkins and the front office will attempt to do that again sometime in the next six months, if it hasn’t happened more recently.
According to Spotrac.com, Hernandez is projected to make roughly 10 million through arbitration for next season, which might be a little on the light side in my opinion. The 29 year old is coming off of two straight Silver Slugger award winning seasons, and he’s slowly being recognized as one of the more dangerous hitters in the American League. If he keeps up this level of production for the next two seasons then there will be a long line of suitors for his services as a free agent.
That being said, Hernandez will also be turning 31 if and when that time comes (again, if the Blue Jays don’t extend him first), and the market has been less kind to corner outfielders on the wrong side of 30 over the last few years. In my mind that might provide some incentive for Hernandez and his camp to at least talk about an extension before that time, because his relative youth could still be a positive to work with. Not that being 31 is a totally prohibitive thing, as we just saw Marcus Semien land a seven year contract with the Rangers for 175 million, but it doesn’t always work that way.
With all of that in mind, both Hernandez’s camp and the Blue Jays have a fair bit to point to in terms of value, but what kind of comparable situations have come up in free agency more recently? I thought I’d take a look back at the last few years and see if we could hone in on where the ballpark for Hernandez’s next contract might be, should he agree to an extension sometime soon.
I actually think last season provided two pretty good places to start. The first would be the top of the market with the six-year, 150 million dollar contract that George Springer signed with the Blue Jays. Hernandez is not going to play in that stratosphere, even if he continues to make All-Star appearances and collective Silver Slugger awards. He doesn’t bring quite enough on defence for that kind of money, but it’s good to talk about a ceiling in some regards. Let’s say Hernandez wins four straight Silver Slugger awards, would he then be viewed as a hitter in the same class as Springer was last winter? It’s very possible, but again, I don’t think he’s going to receive that massive of a contract in the future.
The second would be the four-year, 65 million dollar contract that Marcell Ozuna signed to return to the Atlanta Braves. Ozuna’s legal issues around domestic violence have led to this being a rough situation for the Braves, but let’s just focus on the contract for now. At the time you could argue that the Braves received a bit of a deal to retain their slugger, but that’s because his outfield defence is/was so weak. Hernandez has improved a great deal in that regard over the last few seasons, but he’s still not really great with the glove. I don’t think he’s as bad as Ozuna though, so I think we’ve found a bit of a floor, even if I think Hernandez will do better than that when the time comes.
Looking back to 2020, the only contract that really works as a comp would be the four-year, 64 million that Nick Castellanos received from the Reds, but that also included an opt-out that he exercised this offseason. Castellanos has continued to evolve into one of the game’s better offensive threats since that time as well, but I actually think Hernandez will have higher value than Castellanos did at this time two years ago.
Considering all of that, and also making some manual adjustments, I would argue that Hernandez’s market would fall somewhere in the 4-5 year range, and probably for 20-22 million per season. That would take him above the likes of Ozuna and Castellanos’ last contracts, but below the bar that Springer set last winter with his six-year deal. I’m sure Hernandez’s camp wants more, but I’m willing to bet the Jays would go somewhere in the neighbourhood of four years and 70-75 million, and if they haven’t or wouldn’t than they should reconsider. That said, who knows if that’s getting it done right now for a guy who is quietly emerging as one of the best hitters in baseball.
In the short-term there isn’t a lot of urgency with two years of contract control remaining, but he’ll certainly get more expensive through the arbitration process. I’m not sure what it will ultimately take to extend Hernandez, if the Blue Jays are still trying to do that, or if he’ll even be interested in such a thing, but here’s hoping that’s on the radar for the front office once the lockout is over.