Blue Jays Acquire Enigmatic Génesis Cabrera

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Génesis Cabrera changed feathers on Friday, as he was traded from St. Louis to Toronto for teenage catching prospect Sammy Hernandez a few days after Cabrera was designated for assignment. The hard-throwing 26-year-old southpaw had spent parts of five volatile seasons with the Cardinals. While he has enjoyed a significant bat-missing rebound in 2023 compared to last season (he’s back into the 26% K% area, up from 16.5% in 2022), Cabrera was in the midst of yet another rocky, homer-prone year before he was DFA’d. He introduced an upper-80s slider/cutter to his repertoire this year and has been using it a ton (36%), while his fastball velocity has slipped a bit. All of Cabrera’s non-fastball pitches generate above-average swinging strike rates, while his mid-90s heater tends to get shelled even though he and the Cardinals made changes to it this year. Perhaps a change of scenery and new outside intervention will lead to another tweak in this area:

Cabrera isn’t a reliable middle relief option right now despite the quality of his secondary stuff and arm strength, but he does add lefty depth to a bullpen situation that needed it. He becomes the second lefty reliever on Toronto’s 40-man roster after Tim Mayza, though Trevor Richards (who sports one of the best changeups of the last decade or so) is also a lefty-dousing reliever with reverse splits (he boasts a 40% K% vs. left-handed hitters!). It’s a fine pickup on the margins for Toronto.

In exchange, the Cardinals will receive 19-year-old catcher Sammy Hernandez, who had recently been demoted from Low-A Dunedin to the Complex League roster. Hernandez generated scout buzz early during the spring when he broke camp with the full-season group (a few scouts with whom I crossed paths during my April run through Florida mentioned him as missing from the Jays prospect list), but over time, his lack of plate discipline and pitch recognition wreaked havoc on his offensive performance. He does have above-average bat speed, driven by an authoritative top hand through contact.

There is much work to be done with his defense. Hernandez catches from a very high crouch and often receives pitches moving away from the heart of the zone, making him a poor framer around the edges at present. He’s twitchy and athletic, showing the occasional plus pop time, but his exit from his crouch is very inconsistent and his accuracy wavers:

Even though he’s a low-probability prospect, it’s a nice return for the Cardinals to get a teenage catcher with good bat speed in exchange for a player they were willing to DFA. The industry-wide inventory at catcher is shallow and tends to lack the kind of offensive talent Hernandez has, volatile though he may be. Accruing depth at that position, which tends to pump out late-bloomers, makes sense. And for the Blue Jays, who are fighting to stay in playoff position in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division, there is no time to waste during this period when the team is almost completely healthy. Hyun Jin Ryu doesn’t look great, but he and Chad Green, who begins his rehab assignment tomorrow, are nearly back from their 2022 TJs.

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