Teoscar Hernández Bound for L.A. On One-Year Deal

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Like the wealthiest man in the grocery store, whose cart is so full of expensive foodstuffs that an extra block of aged cheese merely blends into the bill, the Dodgers have signed Teoscar Hernández. This deal allows them to fill the J.D. Martinez-shaped void in the lineup by replacing him with the other corner outfield/DH guy the mid-2010s Astros gave up on too early.

Hernández, 31, will make a sticker value of $23.5 million over his one-year contract, though — and you might want to make sure you’re sitting down for this one — the practical value of the deal will be lowered to roughly $20.4 million by deferrals. Hernández probably will not register as more than an afterthought in an offseason that brought in Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Tyler Glasnow. (I’m old enough to remember the 2000-01 free agent class being billed as: Alex Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Mike Hampton… and also Darren Dreifort!) But Teoscar brings necessary right-handed pop to a lineup that could have used a little extra power, particularly from that side of the plate.

Hernández is coming off a bit of a turbulent season in Seattle. The Mariners acquired him from Toronto in exchange for pitching prospect Adam Macko and Erik Swanson, a good reliever with a couple years of team control left. They knew Hernández was in his walk year, and that his impressive power and batted-ball numbers came at the cost of some pretty terrible strikeout-to-walk figures.

Seattle’s mistake, if you want to call it that (a more charitable description would be losing on a calculated risk) was focusing on what Hernández could be, rather than what he is. Hernández put up three huge offensive seasons to end his 20s: a ridiculous COVID-shortened 2020, in which he had a 142 wRC+ and 16 home runs in just 50 games, followed by two seasons of wRC+ in the low 130s.

A hitter who’ll swing and miss, but who punishes the ball on contact — Hernández was in the upper 90th percentiles for stats like hard-hit rate and xSLG his last year in Toronto — conjures images of Bryce Harper or Corey Seager. The Mariners gave up a useful pitcher in order to pay such a player $14 million over one year. Unfortunately, Teoscar at his best is more like Harper or Seager at their worst, and not only did that step into legitimate MVP territory never come, he took a step backward in 2023.

Those elite quality-of-contact numbers backed up into the merely “very good” range in 2023, while Hernández took more forays than ever outside the strike zone: His 38.5% O-Swing rate was the highest of his career, and his 5.6% walk rate was the lowest of his career. Despite playing a career-high 160 games, Hernández hit just 26 home runs and posted his lowest wRC+, 105, since 2019.

When free agency came around, the Mariners didn’t even tender him a qualifying offer.

Silly them; Hernández ended up finding a team to give him more money (at least on paper, before deferrals) to play on a better roster with better infrastructure to help him succeed. If the Dodgers can fix Jason Heyward, they can turn Hernández into Stan Musial.

The Dodgers don’t need him to become a franchise hitter, to be clear; they already have three of those, in Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman (seen here photobombing a singer-songwriter at the Golden Globes).

But that lineup was getting a little lefty-heavy, even with Betts leading off and Will Smith in the fold. The Dodgers already added Manuel Margot in the Glasnow trade, which would presumably move Betts to second base full-time and figure into a platoon with Heyward. (Margot posted a reverse split in 2023 but is more normal for the rest of his career.) Putting Hernández in the other corner gives the Dodgers a legitimately impactful right-handed hitter.

Hernández has never had such a severe platoon split that it impact his ability to play every day, but he’s always done better against lefties than righties: 120 wRC+ vs. 100 last season, 136 vs. 110 for his career.

Current Dodgers’ Platoon Splits, 2023
Player Bats wRC+ vs. LHP wRC+ vs. RHP
Mookie Betts R 189 159
Shohei Ohtani L 135 196
Freddie Freeman L 174 158
Will Smith R 116 120
Max Muncy L 76 136
James Outman L 93 128
Teoscar Hernández R 120 100
Jason Heyward L 97 123
Miguel Rojas R 102 52
Chris Taylor R 111 97
Manuel Margot R 84 97

All in all, the Dodgers sticking a good hitter in left field on a lucrative one-year deal is a blindingly obvious value proposition for both player and team. Even Hernández’s down year in Seattle was worth 1.8 WAR. That’s not the kind of bargain that’ll get managerial efficiency porn written about your team, but it’s fine. Barring injury (and Hernández has no significant history of that), the Dodgers make out fine even in a realistic worst-case scenario. From an on-field perspective, there just isn’t that much to hem and haw about.

The financial side of it is a little more interesting, if only because the Dodgers (if only by reputation) are ruining baseball or whatever by trying to sign good players. It bears repeating that even with this glut of signings, the Dodgers are still only second behind the Mets in taxable payroll, and only $32 million ahead of the all-homegrown, all-under-market extensions, do-it-the-right-way Braves. And those selfsame Braves are on course to spend $38 million more than the Rangers, whose World Series doesn’t count because they signed a bunch of free agents. At least I think that’s how it works, from a normative perspective.

The Dodgers are one of only a few entities in baseball who understand that money is all made up anyway, and penalties that come only in money don’t have to impact the on-field product.

When the Dodgers signed Hernández, they were already over the second tax surcharge threshold of $277 million. That’s the one where all the draft pick penalties kick in. Anything beyond that only costs money. Especially because the Mariners didn’t put a qualifying offer on Hernández on his way out the door.

I heard once that people who don’t have their emotional needs met for long enough will convince themselves that they don’t actually need the love and support they’ve been missing. (As portrayed in the saddest scene from the final season of Succession.) And based on their budgeting, I’m starting to suspect that the Mariners feel the same way about making the playoffs. Either way, they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) risk Hernández accepting a qualifying offer, which as a revenue sharing recipient would’ve netted them a pick in the second compensation round when he signed with another team. Last year, Round 2C was picks no. 68 through 70.

The Dodgers, therefore, retain the two picks they would’ve lost for signing Hernández. Signing Ohtani cost L.A. their second- and fifth-highest picks, plus $1 million in international bonus pool money; signing an additional qualified free agent would’ve cost the Dodgers their third- and sixth-highest picks as well. Moreover, since Hernández has never been given a qualifying offer in his career, the Mariners’ conservative behavior gives the Dodgers a chance to recoup a pick in the 2025 draft if the Hernández signing pans out.

If Hernández hits, the Dodgers could drop a qualifying offer on him and receive a draft pick in Round 4C. In 2023, those picks landed from no. 132 to 137 in the draft, and each came with a pool value just shy of half a million dollars. For a team in perpetual win-now mode, like the Dodgers, every additional pick helps.

It’s amazing what a motivated baseball team can do merely by spending money, and how much the inaction of its competitors allows such a team to profit even more.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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3 months ago

I few deals have surprised this winter, but I’m absolutely floored by this one. A swing first/swing second/swing third/think never hitter that’s a fringey corner defender is not the kind of profile I’d bet to last much into his 30s, and that sort of played out with a major step back at age 30.

I get it’s the Dodgers and they essentially have unlimited money, and they did fix a somewhat similar profile in JD Martinez last year, but man this is a hefty price for what I think is a limited upside with a Earth’s core floor

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

The simple fix might just be getting out of Safeco.

Look at Teoscar’s home/away splits for 2023:

Home: 323 PA / .217 AVG / .263 OBP / .380 SLG / .163 ISO / .288 BABIP / .276 wOBA / 81 wRC+
Away: 355 PA / .295 AVG / .344 OBP / .486 SLG / .191 ISO / .389 BABIP / .353 wOBA / 126 wRC+

Maybe he can get back to mashing now that he won’t have to play in Safeco so much.

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

He had a down year compared to his norms. Hardly a major step back. He had a “normal” year for him on the road.

He’s not a fringe outfielder defensively. That’s like Vladdy at third or JD Martinez in left. Teoscar is much better than that.

And it’s a 1 year deal, not a 5 year commitment.

3 months ago
Reply to  3rdgenbruin

-24 OAA across 6000 innings is not particularly good, and that’s with the bulk of that being on his 20s

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

You’re not listening to anything anyone is telling you.

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

He had an 81wRC+ at his home stadium last year. His away wRC+ of 126 is much more in line with previous seasons.

I think the upside is higher than what you’re thinking – especially if you buy that he really struggled last year because of the home park. He also then allows Chris Taylor to move around, and platoon for Muncy against good lefties.

I wasn’t in favour of the Dodgers signing him – but that’s because I assumed it would be a 3 or 4 year deal. A 1 year deal? Fine. And if it costs the Dodgers more money because he hits his incentives, even better.

3 months ago
Reply to  Phil

“We hope he doesn’t hit his incentives,” the Dodgers FO is saying, while also insisting they sure would hate to get thrown into the briar patch.

Smiling Politelymember
3 months ago
Reply to  frankenspock

I admit, I laughed when I saw the MVP escalators (there are like 10 dudes on his OWN TEAM preventing him from earning those bonuses)–but I love the enthusiasm!

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

It’s a one year deal. Who cares how he ages?

3 months ago
Reply to  HappyFunBall

Because he’s 31 right now and we just saw signs of serious decline.

And as I laid out, this is not a profile that ages gracefully

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

Do you remember when Adrian Beltré had a 81 wRC+ playing in Seattle at the age of 30, then hit for a 140 wRC+ playing in Boston at the age of 31, starting a five season stretch of hitting for a 135 wRC+ or more?

3 months ago
Reply to  kojo

Comparing Teoscar to a Hall of Famer…yeah….OK. I’ll take the under.

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

No park in baseball suppressed offense more than Safeco for right-handed hitters last year. It wasn’t even particularly close; Safeco played like a reverse Coors Field. Also you’re talking about a hitter who is literally a single year removed from a second straight season at 130 wRC+ or above.

And it’s a one year contract, which is basically playing with house money, much of it deferred. Funny how the author takes great pains to clown on perspectives like yours, and then you blow right past it to start fretting about how the billionaires are spending their money.

3 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

I think this is about as negative a view as you could possibly have of this signing, and I think you’re ignoring a few things that put his floor significantly higher than “earth’s core.”

For one, the deferred money puts the present day value of the contract somewhere around $19m. Going rate for 1 WAR seems to be about $8.5m, so the Dodgers are paying for ~2.25 WAR, which he has hit in 3 of the last 4 seasons (2020 being prorated).

Two, last season when he fell short of that 2.25 WAR threshold, there were several factors working against him: environment and luck. His SLG was almost 40 points lower than his xSLG despite his hard hit % being in line with all other years. His away wRC+ was 126. Seattle just is unkind to some boppers.

Three, I think you understate his defense. It’s ranged from slightly below average to slightly above average depending on the year and the position. Just last year he had a 6.7 UZR/150 and 1 DRS. I think somewhere around average is a reasonable expectation.

Finally, it’s a 1-year deal. There’s almost no such thing as a bad 1-year deal, and now they could theoretically get comp picks out of it.

Yes, the swing and miss is risky and he’s on the wrong side of 30, but considering he matched the exact profile the Dodgers needed at the position that they needed it, it seems like a low risk, high reward deal to me.