The Toronto Blue Jays made their first major maneuver of the offseason on Wednesday, trading outfielder Teoscar Hernández to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Erik Swanson and pitching prospect Adam Macko.
Trade rumors surrounding Hernández had been swirling in recent days, although when news of the transaction broke, many Jays fans were underwhelmed by the return for the two-time Silver Slugger winner.
Jon Morosi made an appearance on MLB Network and floated the idea of a Hernández-for-Chris Flexen swap which set the stage for the initial disappointment for some when the news began circulating.
Blue Jays: Benefits of the trade
Swanson may not be well-known to common fans but he has just the kind of swing-and-miss stuff the bullpen has been lacking and Macko is a much-needed left-handed pitcher who could be MLB-ready sooner rather than later.
Upgrading the relief crops is an obvious off-season priority for Ross Atkins and Co., and Swanson immediately makes the bullpen more formidable.
He was a key piece in what was one of the better groups of late-inning hurlers in the American League and had some of the most impressive numbers of any pitcher around. Swanson struck out 70 batters in 53 innings (11.7 K/9 IP) and walked just 10 while compiling a tidy 1.68 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP.
Macko was a top-10 prospect in Seattle’s system and represents a shift in the Blue Jays' minor-league pitching personnel. This time last year, the team only had one lefty among their top 30 prospects, Ricky Tiedemann.
Since then Tiedemann has shot up the pitching prospect rankings, as the Jays' number one and top-40 across the majors. Toronto drafted southpaw Brandon Barreira in the first round last year and now with Macko, have three left-handers in their top 10 overall.
This will be an important season of development for Macko. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft next offseason and will need to make the Blue Jays' 40-man roster after next season. He’s a good candidate to start the season in Double-A.
Also, the financial impact of this trade will allow for subsequent moves that will continue to improve the roster.
Blue Jays: What’s Next?
Hernández is slated to earn $14.1 million in his final year of arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors, while Swanson, entering his first year of arbitration, is projected for a much lower number of $1.4 million.
That money coming off the books will likely be used to sign a free-agent outfielder and many signs point to it being Brandon Nimmo.
He’s coming off, by far, his best season as a pro and his ability to capably man centre field would allow George Springer to spend more time in right field and at DH. Nimmo slashed .274/.367/.800 with 16 homers, 30 doubles, and an NL-leading seven triples. Nimmo has been an above-average defensive player over the last couple of seasons and recorded six outs above average and a positive dWAR in 2022.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to Nimmo. One is that he’s coming off a career year, and will be hard-pressed to keep up that production and struggle to adjust to a new league, making him a big risk. The other is that he’s an ascending player who could even get better over the next two to three years.
In the last three years that he’s played a decent amount of games, Nimmo has averaged a fWAR of 4.4. Every signing involves risks, but Nimmo seems like a great fit and the Jays brass shouldn’t overthink this one.
Even if that happens, you’d have to think the Jays still wouldn’t be done. Trading one of their highly desirable catchers, preferably for a starting pitcher, could be the next move to make. The market may wait to see what happens with Willson Contreras and Sean Murphy, but trading one of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, or Gabriel Moreno seems inevitable.
Finally, the Jays could look to the mid-tier of the starting pitcher market to add the depth that was sorely lacking at times last season.
Teoscar Hernandez had a good run in Toronto and became a fan favourite. There’s no doubt this trade will shake up the chemistry of the squad, but if they can make some additional transactions, this will just be the beginning of a fascinating hot stove season.