The Indians did a thing on Monday (!), coming to terms on a one-year, $6.25 million contract with free agent second baseman Cesar Hernandez. The deal was reported by MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi and ESPN’s Jeff Passan, but had not been confirmed by the Indians at the time of this story.
Cleveland did formally announce on Monday that the limbo status of utility man Mike Freeman, who was previously designated for assignment after the Corey Kluber trade last weekend, had accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Columbus and will be in camp with the club in February as a non-roster invitee.
The 29-year-old Hernandez had spent his entire 13-year career in Philadelphia with the Phillies, serving as the team’s Opening Day second baseman for each of the last four campaigns. At the beginning of the month with teams finalizing contracts and rosters ahead of the Rule 5 draft, Hernandez was non-tendered by the Phillies, making him a free agent.
Last year, Hernandez was a regular on the field for manager Gabe Kapler, appearing in 161 games over the course of the season. The switch-hitter posted a .279/.333/.408 slash with 31 doubles, three triples, 14 homers, and 71 RBI while stealing nine bases in eleven attempts. His 171 hits on the year were tops on the Phillies roster. There were some dramatic changes in his approach at the plate with a different, more dangerous lineup around him compared to the previous year (in the same number of games, he drew 50 more walks in 2018, but struck out 55 more times than he did in 2019).
Hernandez opened his career in Philadelphia bouncing around several different positions, including center field in 2013, third base in 2014 and 2015, and shortstop from 2014 to 2017, but he has seen the bulk of his playing time come at second base over the course of the last four years in particular.
He posted partial season numbers in 2013 and 2014 before becoming a more regular contributor to the Phils in 2015. He worked in 127 games in 2015, 128 in 2017, 155 in 2016, and 161 in each of the last two seasons. Over his 832 career games, he owns a career .277/.352/.381 triple slash. As has been the case around baseball in general, Hernandez has seen an uptick in his power numbers over the last couple of years, as 29 of his 46 career homers have come in that 322-game span. It has also included some strong two-bag production, as he set a new career-high with 31 in 2019.
Hernandez made $7.75 million in 2019 and was entering his final season of arbitration before being cut loose by the Phillies to open December. Baseball-Reference.com originally projected his 2020 salary through arbitration to be in the market of $11.8 million.
The acquisition of Hernandez should allow the Indians to leave Jose Ramirez at third base, where he previously put up MVP caliber numbers and earned a pair of trips to the Midsummer Classic in 2017 and 2018. Hernandez is just the second addition via free agency by the Tribe this winter – earlier this month, catcher Beau Taylor was signed to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training. The deal also likely signals the end of the tenure of Jason Kipnis at second base; the free agent had spent the last nine years filling the role for the club prior to his expensive option for 2020 being declined at the end of October.
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