It’s hard to not see the Toronto Blue Jays sitting in the catbird seat. It doesn’t feel like the Yankees are exactly poised to hold onto their seat atop the AL East, even if Aaron Judge returns. They don’t have the potential for growth that the Jays do, given the youth of their roster. Bo Bichette, Vladito, Alejandro Kirk, and Alex Manoah haven’t hit their peaks, yet, or at least they shouldn’t have. There’s still plenty of room in the payroll before hitting the luxury tax, with a season on deck where they could draw close to or even over three million fans. There are holes of course, but the Jays aren’t getting caught by the Orioles yet, the Rays aren’t going all out ever, and the Red Sox aren’t even trying.
And yet Toronto kicked off the MLB offseason with a trade that seems panicky at worst, and confusing at best.
They traded right fielder Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners for reliever Erik Swanson, and pitching prospect Adam Macko. It is important to remind folks just how good Hernandez has been for the past two seasons. The only right fielders better in terms of fWAR over the past two seasons are Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Kyle Tucker, Bryce Harper, Starling Marte, Kyle Tucker, and Adolis Garcia. That’s three MVPs, another surefire MVP one day in Soto, and some others who are at the very top of the contributor pile if they don’t make the star pile.
Yes, the Jays needed a little pen help in front of Jordan Romano, but was it worth giving up a plus outfielder?
Sure, this all goes out the window if the Jays sign Judge, but that’s unlikely. Did their collapse in Game 2 of the Wild Card series spook them?
There’s a reason that good teams basically comprise a bullpen out of what they have lying around. While they do take outsized importance in the postseason, good relievers can come from anywhere. You cannot be more dominant than Swanson was for the Mariners last year with his 0.91 WHIP. He was worth half of what Hernandez was, and Hernandez missed 30 games. Throwing 60-70 innings over a full season just isn’t worth all that much.
It can’t be future payroll they are worried about, can it? Matt Chapman and Hyun Jin Ryu come off the books after this season. Bichette and Vlad Jr. are three years away from free agency. Even with Hernandez going into his free-agent year, what was the problem? Even if the Jays didn’t want to sign a then-31-year-old to a big-time deal, couldn’t they use what Hernandez has poised for this season?
Sure, it improves the defense, with Whit Merrifield, at the moment, moving to right and Santiago Espinal going full-time at second. Both are improvements with the glove. The Jays were already a good defensive team in the infield, a slightly below-average one in the outfield. Is this really enough of an improvement?
Sure, the Jays have offense and power to spare, but why not seek bottom-of-the-rotation help?
There’s still a lot to play out this winter, and the Jays have plenty of time to make this make sense. It’s just, at the moment, it feels like they either were worried about payroll — the one true thing that could derail their arc toward being a true power — or they’re overly antsy about bullpen help, which is everywhere. You can find it walking to the grocery store. You can find it at the deadline. You can find it in some failed prospect who finds a new grip on a cutter. You don’t give up All-stars for it.
Maybe the Jays have a plan. It’s just a little worrying when possibly the most exciting up-and-coming team in MLB makes a move that we can’t immediately explain.