The Toronto Blue Jays shocked the baseball world on Wednesday, trading All-Star outfielder Teoscar Hernández to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for pitchers Erik Swanson and Adam Macko, the team announced.
This move bolsters the club’s bullpen and minor-league pitching depth – two major areas of need heading into this off-season. But, in doing so, a massive hole has been created in right field, one that could be difficult to fill.
So now what happens? Well, trading Hernandez leaves the Blue Jays with just five outfielders on their 40-man roster, including George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Whit Merrifield, Nathan Lukes and Otto Lopez. You can add Cavan Biggio to that list, as well, based on his prior history in the outfield. Still, that’s not a group you’d feel 100 per cent comfortable with starting next season. And rightly so.
The Blue Jays are almost certainly planning to acquire at least one more outfielder before the 2023 season begins. You can probably take that to the bank. It also helps that they’re in a better position to do that with Hernandez off to Seattle.
Moving the two-time Silver Slugger will save the front office roughly $14 million next season
, and they no longer have to worry about extending him next winter, either. His departure will also help general manager Ross Atkins lure free-agent outfielders to Toronto, as he can now offer consistent opportunities in either centre or right field.
Part of the reason that Atkins made this trade was to provide more balance to his team’s right-handed-heavy lineup, meaning he’s likely to target left-handed outfielders this winter. And with additional financial flexibility at his disposal, no one should be out of reach for this group – aside from Aaron Judge, of course.
There are many different ways the Blue Jays can move forward over these next few weeks and months. With that in mind, here are six left-handed outfielders that the franchise should target as it attempts to replace Hernandez.
2022 Results: (673 PAs) – .274/.367/.433, 16 HRs, 64 RBIs, 134 wRC+, 5.4 fWAR
Nimmo was likely atop Toronto’s wish list before the Hernandez trade, and now that he’ll be playing for the Mariners, that interest level is destined to increase even further. The left-handed centre-fielder would be a perfect fit for the Blue Jays, providing a more contact-oriented approach to their offence while dramatically improving their outfield defence.
2022 Results: (515 PAs) – .336/.449/.559, 21 HRs, 89 RBIs, 4.9 WAR
The Blue Jays are also expected to explore the international market this off-season, with Yoshida as a potential target. Though he’s viewed more as a corner outfielder, the Japanese star could help replace some of the power that the team will lose from Hernandez’s departure. Signing him would require paying a posting fee to the NPB’s Orix Buffaloes, though.
2022 Results: (614 PAs) – .262/.345/.461, 27 HRs, 62 RBIs, 125 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR
Coming off an underwhelming performance, Reynolds will be entering the final season of his two-year, $13.5-million contract that he signed prior to this past season. After that, the 27-year-old will become arbitration-eligible, creating a path for him to enter free agency after the 2025 season. Amid a never-ending rebuild in Pittsburgh, now might be the perfect time to pursue the switch-hitting lefty via trade.
2022 Results: (347 PAs) – .228/.340/.448, 14 HRs, 40 RBIs, 125 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR
Along with possessing one of the most interesting names in baseball, Nootbaar could provide plenty of value to the Blue Jays – both offensive and defensively. The 25-year-old is coming off a breakout showing with the St. Louis Cardinals, and following Yadier Molina’s retirement, perhaps a trade can be centred around one of Toronto’s talented catchers.
2022 Results: (277 PAs) – .288/.370/.416, five HRs, 26 RBIs, 127 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
Brantley was reportedly close to signing with the Blue Jays in 2021 before re-upping with the Houston Astros on a multi-year deal, but could he sign north of the border for real this time? The 35-year-old struggled to stay healthy this past season, battling a shoulder injury that limited him to only 64 games. When healthy, though, he’s been one of the best on-base threats in the game.
2021 Results: (479 PAs) – .232/.344/.384, 14 HRs, 55 RBIs, 106 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR
After missing all of 2022 due to off-season shoulder surgery, Conforto is now fully recovered and looking to prove himself next season. At 29, he’s two seasons away from his All-Star-worthy 2020 performance, but he could prove valuable on a low-risk, high-reward type deal.