Blue Jays trade Teoscar Hernandez to Mariners for pitchers Erik Swanson, Adam Macko

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Blue Jays trade Teoscar Hernandez to Mariners for pitchers Erik Swanson, Adam Macko

Toronto Blue Jays’ Teoscar Hernandez in action on Sept. 24, in St. Petersburg, Fla.The Associated Press

Had it not been overshadowed by one of the biggest postseason collapses in major-league history, Game 2 of the this past season’s American League wild-card series would likely have gone down as the defining moment of Teoscar Hernandez’s tenure in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.

But even his salvo of two home runs and four runs batted in was unable to extend the team’s season another day, and so it was the Seattle Mariners who moved on to the division series with a two-game sweep.

Unable to beat them, Hernandez has now joined them following a Wednesday trade that sent the 30-year-old outfielder to the Pacific Northwest. In return, Toronto received a pair of pitchers, right-handed reliever Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko, a left-hander who was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, but raised in Alberta.

The attraction of Hernandez was obvious to a Seattle team that scored just 690 runs, the second-fewest of all playoff teams. However, for a Toronto team that watched the Mariners erase a seven-run lead in Game 2 of the wild-card series, bolstering a bullpen that surrendered six earned runs over the final 3 1/3 innings was equally important.

“He’ll complement us well,” general manager Ross Atkins said of Swanson on a Zoom call Wednesday. “[He] could pitch really in any inning for us and the strikeouts are big. That’s been talked about a lot, obviously for some good reason, that that’s an opportunity for us to improve.”

Swanson, a 29-year-old from Fargo, N.D., pitched in 57 games for the Mariners in a breakout season in 2022, going 3-2 with 70 strikeouts and a 1.68 earned-run average. However, in 126 appearances across four major-league seasons, his ERA is a less-than-sparkling 4.13. The Jays have him under team control through the 2025 campaign.

In the postseason, where the Blue Jays crave success after going winless in their past two October appearances, Swanson pitched one runless inning in Seattle’s division series against the Houston Astros.

“The case with relievers sometimes is that there is some level of transition especially through a pandemic,” Atkins said. “But his weapons project to be continuing to pitch well and what he did over the course of an entire year last year is very encouraging for us.”

While Hernandez proved productive at the plate for Toronto, joining former National League most-valuable player Mookie Betts as the only outfielders to hit at least 25 home runs and 35 doubles in 2022, his production was also deemed replaceable in a lineup that produced the second-most runs in the AL last season.

On top of that, he was set to be a free agent next winter. Combined with the departures of fellow outfielders Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer, who were designated for assignment on Tuesday, Toronto has shaved roughly US$19-million off the payroll for next season. Swanson, who is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, is set to earn about US$1.4-million next year.

But during his six years in Toronto, during which he started the 2021 All-Star Game during a season when he hit a career-high 32 homers and 116 RBIs, Hernandez provided much more than simply runs.

“The thing that’s been so exciting about Teoscar is the level of joy that he plays with and the smile that he brings to this game. What that means for the Toronto Blue Jays, what that means for his teammates and the clubhouse, has been significant,” Atkins said.

“He’s also been extremely productive, especially over the last three years. … So he’s been a big part of our transition towards contending and he will be missed.”

Atkins added that he feels confident in the abilities of George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Nathan Lukes, Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio to pick up the offensive slack in the outfield. However, he adds that he remains open to further moves should something enticing materialize.

In Macko, the Blue Jays gain a 21-year-old starter who has permanent resident status in Canada after living in Stony Plain, Alta., for six years. He made eight starts for high-A Everett AquaSox in 2022, going 0-2 with a 3.99 ERA.

Ranked the eight-best prospect in the Mariners organization, according to MLB Pipeline, the Blue Jays were keen on him during the 2019 draft, in which he was taken in the seventh round.

“If we can put him into a position where he can sustain and haul a full season of innings he could become easily one of the better prospects in baseball,” Atkins said. “He’s got the arsenal to do that.”