It’s our first big deal of the offseason! The Mariners sent Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko to the Blue Jays for outfielder Teoscar Hernández.
Hernández, you may recall, hit two home runs off of Robbie Ray in that 10-9 wild card clinching performance, so there’s a little bit of a reverse If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em thing going on. We’re stuck with Robbie Ray for a while, so we might as well acquire all the guys who kick his ass.
Expanding beyond that, though, it’s hard not to see this as a huge upgrade for our offense and specifically for our outfield. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what he brings to the table defensively, but that didn’t stop us with Winker or anyone else. My guess is he’ll slot into left, which will still free us to re-sign Mitch Haniger and possibly platoon him in right with Kelenic or whoever else we bring in.
I should point out that I’m under the assumption we’re going to cut and run with Winker, so this feels like his replacement, and a huge upgrade at that. Whereas Winker struggled to hit for power in Seattle, Hernández should have no problem whatsoever. He’s among the league leaders in hard hit balls. He has a track record of 20+ home runs in 4 of the last 5 years (the holdout being the 2020 COVID year where he still hit 16 homers in 50 games). He’s also hit for a pretty good average in each of the last three years.
This type of deal doesn’t come without downsides, though. He’s going to strike out a lot. Like, A LOT a lot. I also wouldn’t expect a huge on-base percentage boost out of him. He’s here to sit in the middle of our lineup and mash dingers; being our 5th hitter is probably his most likely landing spot. If I had to venture a guess at our lineup – extremely premature, I grant you – it’ll look something like this:
- Julio (CF)
- Ty France (1B)
- TBD (SS/2B)
- Suarez (3B)
- Hernández (LF)
- Raleigh (C)
- TBD (RF)
- TBD (DH)
- Crawford (2B/SS)
I’ll be curious to see how this morphs and changes over the offseason.
Anyway, the other main drawback is that Hernández is on the final year of Arbitration. He’s set to earn a reasonable amount of money in 2023 (projected anywhere from $10-$14 million), but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Presumably, if we like his fit, we could extend him during the season. But, by the same token, presumably he’ll want to see free agency and cash in as a guy who just turned 30 this past October.
In spite of the rental status – and the fact that he’s another righty, when we could really use a quality left-handed bat in the middle of our lineup – I would do this trade 100 out of 100 times. We’ll see if it pans out, of course, but knowing what we know now, the cost isn’t extreme.
We lost Erik Swanson, which is tough, but not heartbreaking or anything. He had a great 2022 season – after a few years struggling with command/control – but I don’t know how sustainable his stuff is. The key was figuring out a quality Out Pitch, which he seems to have found. But, his fastball doesn’t seem all that impressive; this really feels like we’re selling at the height of his value. We got an elite 2022 season out of him (1.68 ERA in 57 games), but he didn’t often have to take on those high-leverage situations, since we had more elite relievers ahead of him. I was happy we were finally able to get him into a playoff game – in that 18-inning barnburner – but it was odd that it took us five games before we finally trusted him enough to let him in there (and, even then, it wasn’t until the 13th inning).
My ultimate feelings about Swanson are largely positive, even though his career in Seattle started out very negative. He came over with Justus Sheffield in the James Paxton trade, with both guys expected to be starters. Swanson was converted to a reliever fairly quickly -after making 8 starts in 2019 – but even then he looked mediocre-to-bad. So, I was quite impressed with how he worked on his craft and continued to improve every season. I wish him nothing but the best. He might not ever be an elite closer or anything, but he should be a steady presence for years to come.
I don’t know anything about the other pitcher we sent over. Apparently he’s a lefty starter from A-ball. So, he’s a lottery ticket. Odds are, he won’t be anything. And, if he DOES turn into someone great, we’ll all be screaming about it in a few years.
Solid start to the offseason, but there’s a lot more left to do.