Mariners make early offseason move landing Teoscar Hernández

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Teoscar Hernandez was tuned into the rumors on television and social media so he wasn’t blindsided when the call came that he was moving on from Toronto.

“I kind of like was waiting for something to happen, but it’s always a surprise for a player, I think,” Hernandez said.

The Seattle Mariners made one of the first big moves of the offseason by acquiring Hernandez from the Blue Jays in exchange for two pitchers.

Fresh off the team’s first playoff appearance in more than two decades, the Mariners added a slugging right-handed bat to their lineup with the move and addressed one of their offseason needs by finding a corner outfielder.

Seattle’s playoff run included a two-game sweep of Hernandez and the Blue Jays in the AL wild-card series.

“What I see that this team is capable of, it’s pretty awesome,” Hernandez said. “And now being a part of that it’s pretty exciting for me.”

Hernandez hit .267 with 25 home runs and 77 RBIs in 131 games last season for the Blue Jays and joined Mookie Betts as the only outfielders in baseball with at least 35 doubles and 25 homers. Hernandez was an All-Star starter in 2021 and finished that season hitting .296 with 32 homers and 116 RBIs for Toronto.

He immediately will slot into the middle of Seattle’s batting order and could end up being a replacement in right field for Mitch Haniger, who is a free agent.

“We began our offseason with the intent to add impact and length to our lineup,” said Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations. “In adding Teoscar to an already solid foundation, we feel we’ve become a far more dangerous offensive club.”

Right-handed reliever Erik Swanson and minor league lefty Adam Macko are going back to Toronto. The Blue Jays were looking to clear salary for 2023 and also needed bullpen help with swing-and-miss stuff, which Swanson is expected to provide.

Swanson was 3-2 with a 1.68 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings last season.

“We got to the point where we felt like the acquisitions on the run-prevention side would help us,” Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said. “It does create some flexibility for us as well, in terms of resources.”

Atkins said the groundwork for the trade was begun during the general manager meetings last week in Las Vegas and there were “three or four teams” with a significant interest in Hernandez.

“This market for right-handed bats like Teo, he was one of the better hitters in it. We are fortunate to have some depth in that area,” Atkins said.

For now, Hernandez is a one-year acquisition by Seattle. He is entering his final season of being eligible for arbitration before hitting free agency after the 2023 season.

Hernandez made $10.65 million last year with the Blue Jays. He’ll turn 31 next October during what the Mariners hope is another playoff run.

The deal was not made with defense at the forefront. This was a move to bolster an offense that at times struggled last season to score runs and leaned a little too much on its pitching staff to win close, low-scoring games.

Hernandez has posted an OPS above .800 in each of the past three seasons. And he has played well in Seattle, hitting .357 with three homers and seven doubles in 16 career games at T-Mobile Park.

“The important thing for us was that we had a chance to add what we felt like was an impact bat and we didn’t want to let that chance go away quickly, particularly at this stage of the offseason,” Seattle general manager Justin Hollander said.

Seattle will lose a key piece of its standout bullpen from the past two seasons with Swanson’s move. Swanson was primarily a sixth- or seventh-inning option for Seattle, but he was called upon to close out games at times. He seemed to fall out of favor during the postseason and made just one appearance in five games.

Macko dealt with injuries for most of the 2022 season with Single-A Everett. He was rated one of the top-10 prospects in the Mariners organization by some scouting services but pitched in just eight games last season.

“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. He’s got the arsenal to do that,” Atkins said.

Phillies select active duty Navy aviator in MLB Rule 5 draft

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SAN DIEGO — The Philadelphia Phillies took U.S. Navy aviator Noah Song in the Rule 5 draft Wednesday, hoping the former top pitching prospect can still be effective once he completes his military service.

There is no definitive date on when the 25-year-old Song might be able to join the Phillies.

Song was picked from the Boston Red Sox system in the draft for unprotected minor league players. Philadelphia put him on the military list while he continues his active duty and he won’t count on the 40-man roster, the pool from which major league teams can select players for the 26-man active roster.

Song impressed in his only pro season, making seven starts for Boston’s Class A Lowell affiliate in 2019, with a 1.06 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. With a fastball clocked in the upper 90s mph, the right-hander dominated that year as a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, going 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 94 innings.

The Red Sox drafted Song in the fourth round – he likely would’ve gone much higher, but his impending military service caused teams to back off.

In November 2019, Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo clearing the way for athletes at the nation’s military academies to delay their service commitments and play pro sports after graduation. Song’s request to have those new rules retroactively applied to his case was denied.

Song began school as a flight officer in the summer of 2020 and finished that phase last April. He started additional aviation training in May.

Song was among the 15 players, including three Boston pitchers, taken in the big league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which wasn’t held last year because of the MLB lockout.

Washington took righty Thad Ward from Boston’s Triple-A roster with the first pick. Baltimore took Red Sox minor league pitcher Andrew Politi with the ninth choice and the Phillies chose Song with the 11th selection.

Teams pay $100,000 to take players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The players must stay on the big league roster next season or go on waivers and, if unclaimed, be offered back to their original organization for $50,000.