Looking at the Blue Jays overall roster picture, the outfield is one area on the club that really needs no improvement. There is Gold Glove nominee Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left field, All-Star George Springer in centre field, and back to back Silver Slugger Award winner Teoscar Hernandez in right.
The Blue Jays also have veteran Randal Grichuk at their disposal if injuries hit any of the current starters or if they want to give Springer some reps as the designated hitter as he comes back from a season marred by injuries.
While this could change before Opening Day given the trade rumours that followed Gurriel Jr. and Grichuk prior to the lockout, it is pretty safe to say that Springer and Hernandez appear to be safe when it comes to potentially being traded. Springer with his contract and proven track record keeps him in Toronto but for Hernandez, his overall play and ability to keep improving is what most likely keeps him with the club over the next two years along with his two years of remaining contract control.
A free agent after the 2023 season, Hernandez was acquired from the Houston Astros at the 2017 trade deadline for veteran starter Francisco Liriano. Looking back, this trade would most likely be considered an absolute fleecing of the Astros considering the southpaw struggled in a relief role with his new club and left the team the following offseason, but at the time, Hernandez was not the player we see today. He was a fringe outfielder who was struggling to find a place in the Astros outfield and even when he came to the Blue Jays, it still took him a couple of seasons to iron everything out.
The 2020 season was his breakout year, slashing .289/.340/.579 with 16 home runs and a .919 OPS during the shortened campaign and he put any doubters on notice when he followed it up with a stellar 2021 campaign as well, appearing in 143 games and posting a 133 OPS+ with 32 home runs and 116 RBI. He missed a couple of weeks early in the season with COVID-19 and it would be interesting to see if he could have dethroned Salvador Perez for the RBI total (121) had he played in more games.
Hernandez enters 2022 in his second year of arbitration and is currently projected to earn $10 million as per Spotrac. The pending CBA could change how the process operates moving forward but for right now, Hernandez currently has two years left in Toronto and one wonders if the Blue Jays will be able to keep him on the roster for the long-term future.
With a new CBA on the horizon and the young core of Blue Jays players on the verge of big paydays, can the club keep Teoscar Hernandez around long-term?
The Blue Jays are a young team but a majority of the core players are going to start entering the more expensive years of their young career. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will be in line for monster paydays and each year they creep closer to free agency, the more expensive it will be to keep both players if the 2021 season was any indicator on future performance.
Springer is still owed roughly $126 million over the next five seasons and the club does have some funds tied up in the starting rotation amongst Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, and Hyun Jin Ryu to the tune of a combined $50 million next season and roughly $55 million in 2023, although left-hander is off the books the same offseason as Hernandez. Grichuk’s contract will also over following the 2023 season, which combined with Ryu (just over $30 million in total), could be enough funds to bring Hernandez or potentially Gurriel Jr. back, who is also a free agent the same offseason.
Right now, the biggest looming question for the future of the Blue Jays will be how the front office handles Bichette and Guerrero’s long-term plans. Players like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wander Franco are starting to set the pace for what young, talented players are going to cost teams if they want to keep them around for a long time, and it could get even more expensive if Juan Soto ends up snagging a deal above the $400 million mark. If the Jays can extend both players or even just one to a long-term deal, it will create a better understanding of how much payroll availability is left for other players on the roster or when looking to sign free agents in the offseason.
The club will also have to factor in what ownership is willing to spend. Rogers has been known to put funds into the payroll to sign players or bring in free agents as of late but are they willing to go to the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, whatever figure it may be? President and CEO Mark Shapiro seemed to think that ownership is willing to increase funds for payroll at his year-end press conference, so to have that vote of confidence is an encouraging sign.
The new CBA could also throw a wrinkle into the plans, as players like Bichette and Guerrero could potentially start earning more money a lot sooner if the league moves away from the arbitration process and moves to a statistic-based model like WAR. Even if the arbitration process is kept in the new agreement, Bichette will enter his first year after next season and will be seeing an increased payday while Guerrero and Cavan Biggio will be heading into their second years and most likely seeing increases as well. Alek Manoah, Alejandro Kirk, and Jordan Romano will soon follow as well and other extension efforts for Gurriel Jr. will also need to be taken into account if he is not traded before then. A lot of moving pieces if you will.
Overall, Hernandez is a talented player and if he has another solid season in 2022, his price tag is only going to increase. While I wouldn’t say a contract extension for Hernandez is the top priority once the CBA is in place and lockout is over, it is something to keep in mind over the next two seasons as the longer the front office waits, the more likely the price tag keeps going up.