10:10 am: The Mariners announced the transaction.
9:52 am: Seattle sends right-handed reliever Eric Swanson and pitching perspective Adam Makko to the Blue Jays in trade, Division reports.
9:49 am: Scott Mitchell of TSN tweet that the Blue Jays get bullpen help in exchange for Hernandez. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweet that well-known trade candidate Chris Flexen is not part of this deal.
9:41 am: The Mariners and Blue Jays agree on a trade-steering right fielder Teoscar Hernandez from Toronto to Seattle, reports ESPN’s Jeff Passan (Twitter link).
Hernandez, who turned 30 a month ago, will give the Mariners a heart-of-the-order slugger who has put up a solid .283/.333/.519 batting line with 73 home runs and 71 doubles in 1337 at bats over the past three seasons . Hernandez has been a Statcast darling since his big league debut, regularly posting top speed and high hit rates; that was no different in 2022, when Statcast placed it in the 94th percentile or better in terms of hard-hit rate, average exit rate, maximum exit rate, barrel rate, and expected slugging rate.
That penchant for elite contact and increased power from Hernandez comes at a price, it should be noted. While he’s put the brakes on his once sky-high strikeout totals to some degree, Hernandez still blew in 28.4% of his at bats last season. He got the pass rate all the way back to 24.9% in 2021, so there may be hope for even more gains, but as of now, that number is an outlier in regards to the rest of his career. Meanwhile, his running speed has steadily clocked in at between six and seven percent in recent seasons – a little shy of the league average.
In addition to the enormous power potential, Hernandez possesses deceptive speed. He’s stolen just 24 times in the past three seasons (in 32 attempts), including just six in 2022, but Hernandez’s sprinting speed ranks in the 84th percentile of MLB players, according to Statcast. With slightly larger bases that may be expected to encourage a little more running in 2023, Hernandez is one of many players who could potentially start with a little more frequency. Hernandez is also known as one of the strongest throwing arms in the game. However, despite that speed and arm strength, he consistently gets below-average marks for his glove work on the right field; Defensive Runs Saved and Outa Above Average have featured him as a negative defender in each of the past four seasons. In 2022, he earned minus-3 DRS, minus-5 OAA and a minus-3.1 Ultimate Zone Rating.
Even if his speed and arm don’t translate into a good right-field defense, Hernandez has been an above-average all-around player over the past few years, if we look at the sum of his parts. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference credit him with eight wins over replacement in his past 324 games. Those 324 games have been played over three seasons, one of which was the abbreviated 2020 campaign. Overall, Hernandez has avoided major injuries. He missed three weeks this season with an oblique strain and was sidelined in 2021 by a positive Covid test (plus a few games on the paternity list). Overall, however, he has played in 84.3% of his team’s possible matches since 2020.
Barring an extension, Hernandez will be a one-year lease to the Mariners – and a relatively pricey one at that. Hernandez will reach six years of service in 2023 and become a free agent next winter. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz expects a significant $14.1 million salary for him this season.
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said at last week’s GM Meetings that he was looking for at least one outfield upgrade this winter, if not two. Hernandez should fit into right field alongside midfielder Julie Rodriguez, but his presence in Seattle raises some additional questions. The club chose not to make a qualifying offer Mitch Hangerfor example, and while the Hernandez acquisition doesn’t entirely rule out Haniger returning to rotate through the outfield corners, today’s trade inherently makes a reunion less likely.
The Mariners will have to determine if they are comfortable with a combination of former top prospects Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and Taylor Trammel in left field. Jesse Winker is another left field/DH option, although the Mariners discussed trade packages involving Winker yesterday. It’s easy enough to imagine that group, with some help from utilities Dylan Moore and Sam Haggertyholding the fortress in the corners and at DH, but further additions should not be ruled out.
After all, the Mariners are squarely in win-now mode. And even with Hernandez on board, they have plenty of payroll capacity; acquiring Hernandez is a net addition of approximately $12.7 million to payroll, as Swanson had been projected by Swartz to pay $1.4 million. They are projected to have a payroll of $143.5 million after the swap, which is far less than the $162 million peak they hit in 2018. A return to the playoffs has likely boosted revenues a bit, and MLB has agreed to several lucrative streaming deals that will net each team significant sums of money in the five years since that previously-established record pay.
Turning to the Blue Jays’ side of the deal, they simultaneously add a much-needed power arm to the bullpen and lose that aforementioned (and estimated) $12.7 million in payroll. They’re still projected for what would be a franchise-record Opening Day payroll in the $176 million range, but the trade gives them a bit more flexibility while adding a critical arm to the aid mix. Swanson, originally acquired by the Mariners in the trade that sent James Paxton to the Yankees, struggled as a starter but has broken through as an absolute powerhouse in the Seattle bullpen.
The 3.31 ERA, 24.3% strikeout rate and 6.9% walk rate Swanson logged in 35 1/3 innings during the 2021 season were a step in that direction, but it wasn’t until last season that he became a dominant force in the late inning . Swanson’s 2022 campaign resulted in 53 2/3 innings of 1.68 ball ERA with a massive 34% strikeout percentage against just a 4.9% walk rate. All in all, Swanson has a 2.33 ERA in 89 innings relief since his inception in 2021 – a figure largely supported by field-independent stats (2.59 FIP, 2.87 SIERA).
Swanson is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, so some may be concerned about his transition from a pitcher-friendly setting at T-Mobile Park to the homer-happy seclusion of Toronto’s Rogers Centre, but the fact is that very few of the fly- ball-throwers balls he delivers are hit with authority. Of 385 pitchers with at least 80 innings over the past two seasons, Swanson has caused pop-ups on the field with the sixth-highest percentage in MLB.
Swanson was also a batted ball deity on the mound in 2022, and nearly topped the league in terms of average exit speed (98th percentile), number of hard hits (96th), “expected” ERA, and wOBA (97th) , “expected” slugging percentage (94th), total strikeout percentage (96th), and opponents pursuit percentage on pitches off the plate (93rd). He may not be a household name, but at least for the 2022 season, Swanson can legitimately claim to be one of MLB’s most dominant relievers.
Unlike Hernandez, who will be a free agent come winter, Swanson is a relatively long-term piece for the Blue Jays. With more than three years of major league tenure under his belt, he is controllable through the 2025 season. And because his breakout was of the “late-blooming” kind, he didn’t build the type of long track record that would richly reward him on his first journey through the arbitration process. The Jays will almost certainly pay Swanson less for the next three seasons than they would have paid Hernandez in 2023 alone.
It’s the same timeline to free cop shared closer by Toronto Jordan Romanowhich will also be governed until 2023. Swanson figures to serve as the primary setup option for Romano, though he will be joined by veterans Yimi Garcia, Anthony Bass, Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza in what already appears to be a deeper and more formidable auxiliary corps.
More to come.