Few players raised their stock more this past season than Teoscar Hernández. A competent but unspectacular hitter from 2018-19, Hernández had what looked like a breakout in 2020. Over 207 plate appearances, the Blue Jay outfielder hit .289/.340/.579 with 16 home runs. Along the way, he ranked in the 94th percentile or better in such Statcast metrics as average exit velocity, hard contact, expected weighted on-base average and barrel rate.
Hernández isn’t a flawless player. He’s a below-average defender. He has long had issues making contact, with a career 31.6% strikeout rate only marginally higher than last year’s 30.4%. Moving forward, the 28-year-old looks more like a solid regular than a star in the making. Regardless, Hernández is a valuable and important part of a Toronto roster coming off a berth in the expanded playoffs and looking on the verge of perennial postseason contention.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking back at the deal that landed Hernández with the Jays in the first place. Originally signed as an international amateur by the Astros, Hernández was flipped (alongside veteran outfielder Nori Aoki) to Toronto in advance of the 2017 trade deadline for left-hander Francisco Liriano. To that point, the veteran southpaw had posted just a 5.88 ERA as a starter for the Blue Jays. He had stifled opposing left-handed hitters, though, holding them to a .230/.254/.361 slash line.
The Houston front office thought a bullpen transition, where Liriano could be heavily leveraged against same-handed batters, could make him an asset. With George Springer, Josh Reddick, Derek Fisher and Jake Marisnick all on hand (and Kyle Tucker rapidly climbing the minor-league ladder), the Astros felt they could part with an MLB-ready outfield prospect to acquire a relief weapon. Unfortunately, Liriano continued to scuffle down the stretch, pitching to a 4.40 ERA with an 11:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14.1 relief innings as an Astro.
Despite mediocre production from Liriano, the Astros went on to win the World Series. However one feels about the legitimacy of that title after subsequent revelations of Houston’s sign-stealing operation, the team probably wouldn’t undo any specific transaction related to the roster in retrospect. But from a pure value perspective, there’s no question Toronto came out ahead in the swap. Aoki barely played for the team, but Hernández looks to have emerged as a capable everyday performer as the Jays’ new contention window opens. He remains under club control through 2023.