No Right Answer When Deciding on Hernandez 2013 Option
Mike Brandyberry | On 20, Oct 2012
After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today we analyze one of the three players who have team options for next season. The Indians must decide to pick up their options within three days of the end of the World Series.
There are players who are unpredictable, there are players who are enigmas and then there is Roberto Hernandez.
Hernandez had as rough a 2012 as any Cleveland Indian and his trouble began before he even reported to Goodyear, Arizona. Just being able to report became Hernandez’s problem in January when he entered the United States Embassy in the Dominican Republic to apply for his work visa to return to the United States.
At the time, the 28-year old Fausto Carmona was looking to rebound from what may be his worst season as a starting pitcher in 2011. He was 7-15, with a 5.25 ERA in 2011, and despite his struggles, the Tribe elected to pick up his $7 million club option for 2012. A struggling Carmona was valued to be a bargain versus what the Indians would have to pay on the free agent market for a starting pitcher.
But when Carmona walked into the U.S. Embassy in January, he walked out in handcuffs and known as Roberto Hernandez. He was no longer 27-years old, but 30, and charged with falsifying his identity and government documents. What ensued was a six month battle with the government before being granted a work visa and permission to return to the United States.
While Hernandez remained in the Dominican Republic, he pitched at the Indians complex every five days and trained to be a big league starting pitcher. As he trained, the Indians restructured his contract, dropping his 2012 salary from $7 million to $2.5 million, dropping his 2013 option from $9 million to $6 million and eliminating the team option for 2014. Hernandez didn’t see most of the $2.5 million he was due this season because the Indians did not have to pay him until he could legally pitch in the United States in August.
However, once Hernandez was able to pitch in the United States, the picture did not become any prettier. In four minor league starts before being added to the big league roster, Hernandez was 2-1, with a 4.07 ERA between Low-A Lake County and Triple-A Columbus. His control was questionable and rust apparent, often missing spots and having his ball rise in the strike zone. He allowed five home runs in his four minor league appearances.
His numbers were no better when he was activated to the 25-man roster on August 15. He pitched three games, losing all three and compiling an ERA of 7.53 before he was sidelined by an ankle injury on August 27. Originally, the ankle injury was supposed to be minor and Hernandez was to make his next scheduled start, but he was scratched the day before. Supposedly Hernandez re-injured the ankle during a pitcher’s fielding practice drill. Why an injured player would be participating in a drill seems suspicious. Having to wear a walking boot for 10-14 days, but still not returning to game action by the end of the season seems even more suspicious.
Why Hernandez was unable to pitch in the final month of the season seems perplexing and unanswered. But, when it comes to Hernandez, there always seems to be perplexing and unanswered questions. Maybe the Indians frustrations with Hernandez finally reached their peak and they chose to shut him down. Maybe they erred on the side of caution, writing off a wasteful 2012 and decided to start over for 2013.
Now, the Indians are faced with whether to pick up Hernandez’s 2013 team option for $6 million. After 10 years in the organization do the Indians wash their hands of a pitcher who finished third in the Cy Young voting in 2007 when the starting rotation is in shambles? Is the $6 million he’s owed in 2013 enough of a value to risk another reclamation project?
At this point, the Indians only return an inconsistent Justin Masterson and a young Zach McAllister to the rotation for sure. Carlos Carrasco is expected to be recovered from Tommy John surgery, but is Hernandez now part of the solution or problem with the rotation that led to the Indians’ second half slide? There is little from Triple-A Columbus that is ready to begin 2013 in the big leagues, as evidenced by Corey Kluber.
So, do the Indians cut ties with a player they’ve known for a decade—but not really known at all—and use his $6 million to possibly invest in long term contracts toward their young core, or do they give Hernandez one last chance in 2013 and hope he can provide some stability to a rotation while young starters mature at Double and Triple-A?
It’s a question that probably doesn’t have a right answer. It’s definitely an enigma, just like Hernandez himself.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images