It was the first domino.
The Blue Jays jump-started their offseason by trading outfielder Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners for reliever Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko. What comes next—as one domino collides into another—and how many more moves are on the way, are unknowns. But there will be more dominoes.
Wednesday's trade sent out offense for immediate bullpen help and future pitching. It probably didn't make the Blue Jays a better team today, but the swap leaves Toronto flexible to accomplish that goal of improvement over the rest of the offseason. The Jays now have options, but they also have obligations.
Looking to fill the hole left by Hernández and improve across the roster, here's what comes next for Toronto:
What's Next In The Outfield?
Early this winter, the Blue Jays are looking for pitching, offensive versatility, and defense. Acquiring Swanson partially addresses the first part of that equation, but they've still got two boxes to check—and now a spot to do so, in the outfield.
Looking at the current outfield mix, Jays GM Ross Atkins listed George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as the obvious regulars, but also mentioned Cavan Biggio, Whit Merrifield, and recent 40-man addition Nathan Lukes as options. Merrifield and Biggio both have clear value as utility men, and Lukes posted good offensive numbers playing all three outfield positions for Triple A Buffalo last year. But, even Atkins admitted there's room for another.
“There are opportunities to add to our team [in the outfield] via trade and free agency," Atkins said. "And we're in a better position to do so now, from a resource and from a playing time and recruitment standpoint.”
By adding a left-handed outfielder—perhaps with an on-base driven approach who can play good defense in center or right field—the Jays could tick off many of their offseason goals in a single player. Finding that unicorn—and paying the price he'll command—is a different story. Free agent Brandon Nimmo, as many have already discussed, fits the mold almost too perfectly, but ESPN's Jeff Passan recently reported his free agent contract could drift north of $125 million.
Other free agent options who fill the spot, to varying degrees, are Masataka Yoshida, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley, and Michael Conforto. There are also trade options like Pirates OF Bryan Reynolds, a few guys on the Cardinals, or Cubs pending free agent Ian Happ—so I guess every outfielder in the NL Central. It's still unclear if Cody Bellinger is going to fit into that trade camp or free agent camp, too.
What's Next For The Pitching Staff?
The Bullpen: Swanson slots in alongside Anthony Bass, Yimi García, Adam Cimber, and Tim Mayza as Toronto's 'any inning set-up men', giving John Schneider plenty of options to play matchups late in games.
Based on 2022 numbers, the new righty becomes Toronto's best strikeout and swing-and-miss option, even ahead of Romano. Even with Swanson, the Jays have just two of the top 90 qualified relievers in strikeout rate (K%) from last season.
Atkins admitted that relief swing-and-miss has been discussed as an area of improvement for Toronto "for some good reason," and left open the possibility of more bullpen adds. But, considering the Jays' current relief options, Atkins added the Jays "don't feel like we absolutely have to or need to" add another top reliever.
"We will keep trying to get better," Atkins said of the bullpen. "And depth is everything in that market."
Friday's tender deadline, when we'll find out if Trent Thornton, Trevor Richards, and others will be back in 2023, will also shed light on the potential for more RP adds.
The Rotation: Toronto's early focus is on the run prevention side, Atkins said a few times this week. The Jays can improve that with a better defensive outfield and some improved relief pitching, but the heavy lifting must come in the rotation.
From starters not named Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman, the Blue Jays got a 4.82 ERA last year. Take out Ross Stripling, who's now a free agent, and that number ticks up to 5.28. The Blue Jays can probably expect a bounce back from José Berríos and some more consistency from Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White, but they have a clear need for reliability in the mid-rotation.
The Jays have been in touch with Stripling, been connected to Japanese veteran Kodai Senga, and have sniffed around on Corey Kluber and Andrew Heaney before. Some other free agent options who make sense include Taijuan Walker, Jose Quintana, Chris Bassitt, Drew Smyly, and Mike Clevinger.