February 23, 2024

Two-way star Shohei Ohtani was the biggest name the Dodgers acquired during their spending spree this winter.

Veteran outfielder Teoscar Hernández, however, might have been the team’s best bargain of the offseason, joining the club on a one-year, $23.5-million deal that was christened Tuesday with a video call with reporters.

“I wanted to go to a team that can compete and be in the playoffs and … makes me a better player,” Hernández said. “That’s the biggest reason I signed with the Dodgers.”

Almost from the jump this offseason, Hernández had been on the team’s radar.

Club brass expressed interest in the 31-year-old as far back as November’s general manager meetings. Team evaluators were high on his chances to bounce back from a down — but still above average — performance in 2023, after the long-time Toronto Blue Jays star struggled to adapt to a trade to the Seattle Mariners last offseason.

Even after the Dodgers’ earlier impact acquisitions of Ohtani, pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow, and fellow veteran outfielder Manuel Margot, the addition of another right-handed hitting outfielder remained a priority for the team.

And all along, Hernández’s name was near the top of their list.

“We’re planning on Teo being an everyday guy,” general manager Brandon Gomes said, confirming that Hernández will get full-time at-bats, as well as playing either of the corner outfield positions. “We feel like his power and ability to really handle left-handed pitching was an exceptional fit for how our lineup is constructed.”

The real surprise, when news of the deal broke last week, was that the 2021 All-Star, who has batted .261 in his career with 159 home runs, 473 RBI and an .802 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, was willing to take a one-year deal to come to Los Angeles.

Many pundits had predicted Hernández would get a multiyear deal, most commonly in the three-to-four season range. Those same projections pegged him to get anywhere from $45 million to $80 million in total guaranteed money.

Like many other top free agents this winter, however, Hernández said he faced a slower-than-expected market. On Tuesday, he joined a growing chorus of voices around the industry who have noted a relative lack of market activity this offseason (the Dodgers’ $1 billion-plus spending spree aside).

“I wanted to sign a multiyear deal, like every free agent,” Hernández said. “But everyone knows how hard it’s been this winter … It’s not like I had a lot of choices.”

Dodgers' Mookie Betts throws to first for the double play as Padres' Manny Machado slides into second on Aug. 4, 2023.

Mookie Betts, throwing to first to complete a double play against Manny Machado and the Padres on Aug. 4, 2023, will be the Dodgers’ primary second baseman in 2024.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Instead, Hernández is hoping to help the Dodgers contend for a World Series title this year, cash in on an lucrative single-season salary in 2024 (albeit, with $8.5 million of his $23.5 million deferred until the 2030s), then have the opportunity to test the market again next winter, after what he hopes will be a bounce-back campaign at Chavez Ravine.

“I’d rather take one year with the Dodgers and go to a team that is gonna make me better,” Hernández said. “Hopefully everything goes well and we can win everything this year, and see what happens next year.”

Like the team’s other star additions this winter, Hernández represented the kind of signing the Dodgers didn’t make a winter ago.

Rather than splurge for a full-time outfielder in free agency last year, the team opted for platoons at all three positions. David Peralta and Chris Taylor shared at-bats in left. Mookie Betts split time in right field with Jason Heyward, who started on days Betts played second base. Trade deadline acquisition Kiké Hernández spelled rookie center fielder James Outman down the stretch.

At two of those outfield positions this coming season, the Dodgers will likely follow a similar script. While Betts will predominantly play second base, Heyward (a left-handed hitter) was re-signed to reprise his role against right-handed pitchers. Outman (also a left-handed hitter) will continue as the primary center fielder, but is also likely to play more versus right-handers than southpaws.

On the other side of the plate, Taylor and Margot — who was added along with Glasnow in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays — give the Dodgers right-handed alternatives to start against left-handed pitching.

When it came to their other outfield opening, though, the Dodgers wanted to think bigger in 2024.

Enter Hernández, who Gomes said could play both right and left field depending on different lineup configurations.

“I think what was very intriguing with Teo is that he crushes velocity, and crushes velocity up in the zone,” Gomes said. “He’s not susceptible to any one pitch type. He can hit all pitch types. And when he’s getting those pitches in the zone, he can do real damage. There’s a real danger behind what he brings to the plate.”

Hernández will still be something of a project for the Dodgers’ hitting staff.

His .741 OPS last year marked a career-low for a full season. His 211 strikeouts were third-most in the majors. And while both he and Gomes cited Hernández’s skewed home-road splits as a reason for optimism — the slugger batted .295 in road games, but suffered a .217 average at pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park in Seattle — each acknowledged the need to look for tweaks in his swing.

“I think when he can force pitchers into the zone a bit more, that’s when he’s really going to be at his best and able to really impact the baseball,” Gomes said.

To that end, Hernández’s new superstar teammates should help.

During his career-best performance in 2021, when he batted .296 with 32 home runs and 116 RBIs, Hernández said he benefited from all the other weapons in Toronto’s lineup, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer and Marcus Semien.

“There was always a lot of people on base, and I think that makes me more patient at the plate, because I know they’re not gonna throw a lot of good pitches to hit,” Hernández said.

Now as an everyday part of a Los Angeles lineup that also features Ohtani, Betts and Freddie Freeman, Hernández and the Dodgers are hoping next season will play out the same way.

“I think he will just add another challenge to navigate our lineup,” Gomes said.

“They’re hungry for winning, I’m hungry for winning,” Hernández added. “And I don’t think there’s a better place [to be] than the Dodgers right now.”

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