Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Deadline Roundup Part One: On the Liriano Trade and Teoscar Hernandez

The trade deadline passed at 4 PM ET this afternoon, and the Jays played it just about how you’d have expected them to — provided you’d been paying attention to the things they’ve been saying in the weeks leading up to this point. Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro dealt away rentals Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith for some pieces that genuinely will help their depth down the line. They kept one foot in 2017 (albeit with an eye perhaps on making deals in August), keeping José Bautista and Marco Estrada. And they kept hope alive for 2018, by not moving anybody else.

Let’s review it all! Starting with Francisco Liriano and cash to the Houston Astros for Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez.

The first trade to come down turned out to seem like the bigger one, even though the Jays were moving their lesser chip. Francisco Liriano maybe had value that Joe Smith didn’t in the fact that he can be used as rotation insurance, but he’s certainly not going to be as good a reliever as Smith will (though the fact that he’s left handed maybe makes him a bigger commodity than I’m giving him credit for). Liriano will indeed be used as a reliever by the Astros, and if they deploy him judiciously, he should be entirely fine.

Liriano has faced 63 lefties this season, in what FanGraphs says is 15.2 innings worth of work in the split. He’s struck out 17 and walked just one, allowing 14 hits, only four of which were for extra bases. Lefties have slashed .230/.254/.361 against him.

The Astros have got a nice little piece for their bullpen here! And they did it at minimal cost for themselves, even though the Jays also have to feel good about their end of the bargain. Houston will not only receive cash in the deal, but the Jays will also take on outfielder Nori Aoki, who is still owed approximately $1.8 million on his $5.5 million contract for this year. In other words, the Astros will not add much, if anything to their payroll to get Liriano. And they’re moving out guys who are surplus to requirements. Aoki has played a bunch for them this season, but Houston has other outfield options in George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Reddick, and Jake Marisnick. Plue Derek Fisher’s bat has looked good so far, too.

All those outfielders are part of the reason it wasn’t too difficult for the Astros to part with Teoscar Hernandez — as do the two other outfielders ahead of him on the Astros’ top 30 prospect list at MLB Pipeline. And yet, just because he’s that far down the Astro’s depth chart, it doesn’t mean that the Jays haven’t got anything here.

As noted in my piece on the deal as it happened, in Keith Law’s pre-season ranking of the Astros’ top 10 prospects for ESPN.com, he said that he thinks Hernandez has “the chance to be someone’s regular in right field, maybe in center if you can live with subpar defense there.” Law ranked him eighth on that list — one of five outfielders to make the top 10. “He’s still probably going to be a low-OBP guy but will bring you power, speed, and in either corner above-average range,” he added.

Since then Hernandez has had a nice year in Triple-A. He’s slashed .279/.369/.485 and was briefly called up to the big leagues. Those numbers really pop, but, of course, we’re talking about a guy in the Pacific Coast League, which is notoriously hitter friendly. Still, it’s not like he’s been playing in one of the extreme parks, like Reno, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, or Colorado Springs. According to an MiLB.com piece last November, Fresno is in the middle of the pack in terms of park factor in the PCL, and relatively neutral (though how relative depends on how deep into the data and the splits you want to get). Some of Hernandez’s numbers are coloured by this, of course. He had a really nice run through El Paso and Albuquerque in June (9-for-23 with five BB and 2 HR), and a great series in Vegas a couple weeks ago (6-for-12 with four walks, a homer, and three doubles), but I think we understand better than we used to that we can’t just call this a mirage the way we might have when looking at, say, David Cooper, who played more than half his games in extremely friendly environments. The guy can hit. At the Triple-A level, at least.

Hernandez isn’t a slam dunk to be an everyday player, of course, but a lot of people see it. MLB Pipeline, for what it’s worth (and I caution that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one scouting site — even when it’s so easy to do given that this one is so public and so robust), has already placed him among the Jays’ top 30 prospects, ranking him fifth. Fifth! Some names he’s ahead of for them: TJ Zeuch, Sean Reid-Foley, Nate Pearson, Max Pentecost, Hagen Danner, Richard Urena, Conner Greene, Rowdy Tellez, Ryan Borucki.

Pipeline touts his speed and athleticism (“a potential 20-20 threat”), but the most exciting stuff in their report is about the adjustments he’s made — especially after a rough year in 2015 at Double-A. “Hernandez sparked his turnaround by toning down an overly aggressive approach and improving his ability to recognize pitches. While he can make further improvements in both regards, he’s doing a better job of making consistent contact (cutting his strikeout rate from 25 percent in ’15 to 18 percent last year) and tapping into his solid raw power from the right side of the plate. He has started to wait for pitches to drive, and he draws a decent amount of walks rather than getting himself out with impatience.”

To that point, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs noted in April (as he ranked Hernandez 8th on his Astros top prospects list), that he has “simplified his footwork in the box. (It wasn’t all that complicated to begin with, but his front foot is down much earlier now than it was in 2015.)”

Like I say, it’s not all good, though. Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus included Teoscar in a couple of his “Minor League Update” pieces in June, simply commenting “No, you’re a fifth outfielder!” in one, and elaborating (but not in a good way, as far as Jays fans will be concerned) in the other: “Teoscar continues to just be right there, perpetually lying in wait. He’s been perfectly alright at Triple A this year, after looking okay enough in his big-league debut last summer. That’s probably about right for Hernandez, who has nice raw tools but some lingering disconnect between them and the translated on-field talent.”

Hernandez was ranked 9th for the Astros on BP’s top 10 list last December, and while they liked some of the tools “he’ll add enough value at the plate to play in the majors for a good long while”) they were a little bit harsh about the ceiling. “It’s not an impact profile of any sort. Hernandez might not even be an everyday player. He struggles to consistently make good contact, and the power may play fringe-average at best because of that. He’s not ideal as an everyday center fielder despite the speed, which leaves him as a bit of a tweener.”

Still, given what they gave up (or the prospect of sitting on Liriano and getting nothing for him), this trade is looking pretty good!

Shit, because of their willingness to eat money, the Jays have now turned Drew Hutchison into Hernandez, Harold Ramirez, Reese McGuire, and a year of Liriano, in which he was absolutely vital to their push to make the 2016 playoffs.

They still may yet get something (small) for Aoki, too. Aoki has team control for next season (he’s arbitration eligible for the final time in 2018), and could theoretically be kept as insurance through the winter. But with raises a near-certainty in arbitration, and a $5.5 million starting point, it seems quite likely he’s non-tendered — or maybe even flipped to a team in August, with the Jays paying the freight.

If Aoki does stay, he and Hernandez will be part of what’s shaping up to be an intriguing group of outfielders for next season. José Bautista will almost certainly be gone — hey, and by not trading him the Jays managed to preserve the possibility of getting a nice little attendance boost as his days with the club wind down! — and I’m not convinced that Steve Pearce or Ezequiel Carrera will necessarily be around, either. That is, if the Jays can manage to convince a team to not notice how those two piss away so much of the value of their bats with their sub-par defence.

Even if they are, those two will be candidates to be dealt at next year’s deadline, and by then the Jays will know a lot more about the growing crop of big-league-ready talent in behind them. Hernandez, Dalton Pompey, Anthony Alford, Lourdes Gurriel, Ramirez, Dwight Smith Jr.

That’s not a bad starting point at the upper minors — something the Jays haven’t been able to say in a long time. “The success rate among even blue-chip prospects is jarringly meager across baseball,” wrote David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News earlier this season in an excellent piece on the reasons for the Phillies’ lengthy rebuilding process. “Scouting matters, but so does volume.”

The Jays are finally able to say that they have some volume, and that’s a pretty great thing. Especially when it can be added to by dealing a rental guy like Liriano, and flexing some financial muscle like a genuine big market club in the process. I wasn’t hopeful at all that there’d be a market for Liriano, so it’s all gravy. Nothing to dislike about this transaction at all!

  • Peggy McIntosh

    While it’s nice to get something for Liriano, Hernandez is nearly 25 with a meh ceiling.

    Houston knows they didn’t give up a game changer.

    But even an okay 3rd OF or strong 4th OF is nice for Liriano.

    • UK Blue Jays

      If Hernandez has 4th OF floor, this is fine.

      I don’t see any downside to this series of deals. One year ago today the Jays had Drew Hutchison who persisted in not figuring it out, and a dearth of prospects in the pipeline. Atkins has turned Hutch and money into three prospects, one of which is MLB ready. Even if Ramirez and McGuire amount to nothing, that’s still good business, especially when you add in the value received from Liriano (mostly last season of course). Anything Aoki provides is gravy.

      After the 2015 deadline bonanza, many have bemoaned the sparse system. Atkins has gone some way towards restocking without tanking. There are still pieces in the team to make a plausible case for contention in 2018 and the potential for cost-controlled talent to emerge from the system. All this is a bridge to 2019 when it’s possible Bichette and Vlad Jr could arrive.

  • Terry Mesmer

    Good article. Aoki and Hernandez might not add up to much, but they could be better than what we’ve had, so…we’ll see.

    I like the new regime’s tactic of taking on salary to get prospects — essentially buying them.

    I had hoped Pearce’s two slams would allow the Jays to get a similar depth piece.