Blue Jays takeaways from Teoscar Hernandez trade

There’s an element of surprise any time a core player is dealt, and that’s exactly what Hernández has become over the past six seasons, growing from a talented-but-flawed young hitter into a cornerstone of Toronto’s lineup, winning AL Silver Slugger Awards in 2020 and ’21. The Blue Jays need to be more creative this offseason, though, given their payroll, and this represents the start of something larger.

Looking ahead, the Blue Jays’ offseason now takes on a much different shape.

1. Money matters: This trade is just Part 1
Hernández was projected to earn $14 million in arbitration this offseason. That number is crucial to this trade, and it’s also why we won’t be able to properly evaluate it until the rest of the offseason plays out.

The Blue Jays will need to fill the hole in their outfield, of course, ideally with a bat that brings more balance to their lineup, but that projected $14 million can also be spread across the bullpen and rotation. They were in a spot financially where one big move — or perhaps two mid-range moves — made sense. They’re now down a power bat, but whether they earn a failing or passing grade on this trade will depend on where this new money is spent.

2.Why Hernandez and why now?
Hernández was due to become a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, and there were no indications that the Blue Jays were willing to extend him at the number he could potentially earn in free agency. Hernández is not a perfect player, but if he hit the market at 31 years old, there would be teams that love how he fits into their lineup.

Uncomfortable as it may be, this was the Blue Jays’ opportunity to move on from either Hernández or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and pivot to a more balanced outfield. Hernández’s projected salary for next season is more than $9 million higher than Gurriel’s. You can do the math.

3. Welcome to the bullpen market
This is now what it costs to acquire elite relievers, or at least relievers with the potential to be elite. Swanson, who is 29 and has three years of team control remaining, pitched to a 1.68 ERA last season, striking out 70 batters with just 10 walks over 53 2/3 innings. Pairing those numbers alongside Jordan Romano on the back end finally raises the ceiling of a bullpen group that’s deep but in need of upside.

This is also a lesson for the Blue Jays, though. Robert Suarez re-signed with the Padres for five years and $46 million. Rafael Montero signed a three-year, $34.5 million deal with the Astros. Edwin Díaz re-signed for a whopping $102 million over five years.

It’s never been more important to develop relievers. The Blue Jays are making some extremely encouraging strides on the player development side, which will become evident in the coming years, but in a perfect world, Toronto would have found its own version of Swanson internally, instead of trading Hernández for him.

4. Rebranding the outfield
Let’s go with “rebrand” over rebuild here. The Blue Jays will have George Springer and Gurriel as starters, and while Whit Merrifield can play the outfield and Nathan Lukes is on the 40-man roster, there will obviously be another move made here. This is Toronto’s opportunity to balance the lineup with a left-handed bat, which has been a talking point all year.

Among the free-agent options, Brandon Nimmo fits this lineup beautifully. Michael Conforto is another possibility, along with Michael Brantley or the trade market, where the Blue Jays are still active.

5. What comes next?
A lot. The Blue Jays still have the same number of needs, they’re just in different places now.

The pursuit of an outfielder will rank near the top of Toronto’s list, and while their need in the bullpen has been significantly lowered with the addition of Swanson, the rotation is still an issue behind Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman and José Berríos.

This is where the Blue Jays will likely make a true splash. Whether it be looking on the trade market or targeting a veteran starter on a short-term deal, the Blue Jays recognize that they need to raise the floor on the back end of this rotation. Depth is a priority, too, after it almost became a major problem last season, but Toronto’s top priority will be to land at least one — ideally two — legitimate MLB starters.

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