A last look back at Teo's time with Toronto

November 19th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There will be no Teoscar Hernández batting behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. next season. No sunflower seed showers, no million-watt smiles and no towering home runs from the shy slugger.

It’s a strange new reality for Blue Jays fans. Hernández was one of the final pieces of connective tissue to the previous era of Blue Jays baseball, one that peaked in 2015-’16, then fizzled in ’17 and ’18 as Hernández was acquired from Houston.

Everything has been rebuilt since then. In his early days, Hernández was a tantalizing young bat who played an exciting-yet-flawed brand of baseball. In recent years, he’s often been overshadowed by the rise of Guerrero and Bo Bichette, or the big-name arrivals that have filled out this new-look roster, but Hernández had been the constant. Then, in a Wednesday morning trade, he was shipped to the Mariners for reliever Erik Swanson and pitching prospect Adam Macko.

For a team in Toronto’s position, it’s all about tomorrow, and the next day and the next. Hernández’s time in Toronto deserves some pause for reflection, though, after six seasons, 609 games, 129 home runs and a pair of Silver Slugger Awards.

“Teo has been incredible for us,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “From 2017, when we acquired him, with the excitement he’s brought to the field, he’s been a huge part of this transition for us going from an interesting team to a contending team. He has a lot of strong relationships here, including one with me. I think the world of him. We will miss him.”

He’ll be missed by teammates, too, beloved in the locker room just as he was by Blue Jays fans. Hernández is also one of this front office’s biggest success stories.

At the 2017 Trade Deadline, the Blue Jays sent Francisco Liriano, who owned a 5.88 ERA over 18 starts, to the Astros for Hernández and outfielder Nori Aoki. Liriano pitched 14 1/3 innings for the Astros that season and was part of their World Series run, but the Blue Jays got an incredible return on that move.

It hasn’t all been roses, though. The most interesting stretch of Hernández’s career came in early 2019, when it looked like the table was set for him to step into a major role in the offense. Guerrero and Bichette weren’t there yet, and the Blue Jays were fielding a roster about to go 67-95, but Hernández fell completely flat.

On May 15 that year, Hernández went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, dropping his average to .189 and OPS to .562. The next day, he was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo, where he spent three weeks working to rediscover who he was as a hitter.

When Hernández returned, he hit 23 home runs with an .873 OPS over his final 86 games, launching himself forward into Silver Slugger Awards and an All-Star appearance the following two seasons. Prospects like Guerrero and Bichette, or the dozens of other superstars in their early 20s across baseball, might trick you into thinking that players either boom or bust by age 23. Hernández is a perfect example, though, of how development continues throughout a career.

A trade like this was coming -- one that gave the Blue Jays financial and positional flexibility -- and Toronto landed on Hernández. They got back a potentially elite reliever and an exciting prospect, plus the ability to upgrade their roster elsewhere, but it will take a few games to get used to seeing this team without Hernández.