The Toronto Blue Jays head into this offseason with a few areas that need improving after their early postseason exit.
Ideally, the club needs another starter or two depending on whether Ross Stripling returns, another swing-and-miss bullpen arm (or two), and ideally a left-handed bat to go with the right-handed heavy lineup the Blue Jays will have going into next season.
While Stripling, David Phelps, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are the only players from the Jays roster heading to free agency, next offseason is a different story, as a long list of names are eligible for the open market as well as the qualifying offer.
Before the lockout last winter and before the Blue Jays traded for Matt Chapman, they were reportedly in discussion with the Miami Marlins on a trade that centred around right-fielder Teoscar Hernández, with the Jays receiving third baseman Brian Anderson and an unknown starting pitcher in return.
The deal would really have to depend on who the pitcher coming back to the Jays was, as in the past I thought it might have been Pablo López potentially being part of the deal, but in hindsight, it was likely more towards Elieser Hernández or Trevor Rogers coming with Anderson instead.
Overall, the Blue Jays were probably ok with this deal being nixed, as the front office instead traded a package of prospects to the Athletics for Chapman and Anderson had a somewhat down year, posting a .222/.311/.346 slash line with eight home runs, 28 RBI, and an 87 OPS+ to go with a -4 bDRS at third base while also spending a significant amount of time in right field. He also had multiple stints on the IL that limited him to 98 games on the season.
Hernández on the other hand had a strong campaign, batting to a .267 average and adding 25 home runs and 77 RBI to the tune of a 127 OPS+ while manning right field. He was a force in the Blue Jays lineup, slotting in the fourth/fifth spot in the batting order and also played a crucial role in game #2 of the Wild Card, belting two home runs and helping put the Jays up 8-1 before the Seattle Mariners clawed back and won the game.
Will the Blue Jays trade Teoscar Hernández this offseason?
Looking into what the Blue Jays need for next year and beyond, there is a chance that the front office could look to trade one or two players this offseason who they might not be able to retain after next season. We have talked at length about how the Blue Jays might move one of their three MLB-ready catchers this winter to help improve the active roster but it also might make sense to revisit trading a player like Hernández if the front office doesn’t think they can retain him following the 2023 season.
The Blue Jays’ total payroll for next season will come close to the $200 million mark regardless of whether Stripling returns and the young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Alek Manoah will be needing extensions within the next few years to avoid free agency and ideally some years of arbitration.
Moving Hernández and his projected $14.1 million arbitration salary this winter does give the Jays some flexibility (depending on the return) if ownership doesn’t want to contend with the thought of exceeding the luxury tax threshold but the move might not receive the warmest welcome from the Jays fanbase. The two-time Silver Slugger Award winner has been a regular player since 2018 and has been a staple in the Jays’ lineup for quite some time.
Ideally, if the front office is considering trading Hernández, I would hope it would be for some controllable starting pitching, with the Jays likely having to add a prospect or two from the top 30 to get a deal complete depending on the pitcher in question. Ross Atkins and co. could also look to trade him in exchange for a lefty-batting outfielder as well given the starting pitching free-agent market has some back-end starters that could be what the Jays are looking for this offseason.
Atkins asked about trading the core
It should also be worth noting that Ben Nicholson-Smith at Sportsnet did ask Ross Atkins about trading some of the core this offseason at the end of the year presser, and the Blue Jays general manager did respond with a “no”.
It certainly looks like a Hernández trade is unlikely to happen, whether it be due to team chemistry, potential contract extension, or the Jays management team feeling they won’t find a better replacement or a roster hole to be filled by trading away their right fielder. This could obviously change over the winter before Spring Training rolls around but it may appear unlikely unless another team comes up with a deal to discuss.
The club could also look to move Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as well instead of Hernández, as he too is scheduled to hit free agency following the 2023 season, but I imagine both players fit the “core” narrative that Atkins was discussing and a deal is unlikely barring outside forces.
If the Blue Jays want to extend their young stars and potentially make some moves this offseason or next while keeping under the luxury tax threshold, they might be willing to trade the corner outfielder if they don’t think a long-term contract is in the cards, which would be a gamble considering quite a bit of salary is coming off the books following next season (Grichuk’s retained money, Ryu, Chapman, etc) so there will be some funds to play for contract extensions or free agency.
While the initial reaction from Ross Atkins at his year-end presser doesn’t suggest that will happen, another team’s offer could change the narrative if it fits the Blue Jays’ area of need.