The Indians are known to be looking for infield help this offseason, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (via Twitter) that Cleveland is one of the clubs with interest with the recently non-tendered Cesar Hernandez. The Phillies elected to cut Hernandez loose earlier this month rather than pay him a projected $11.8MM salary through the arbitration process.
As a Super Two player, Hernandez has already scored some nice paydays (totaling $15.4MM) over his first three arb years. However, his price tag simply got too large for the Phillies’ liking after his second consecutive year of subpar offense. A broken foot in the second half of the 2018 season was seemingly the root cause of Hernandez’s issues in that year, though his struggles continued in 2019, as he hit .279/.333/.408 with 14 homers over 667 plate appearances. It worked out to only a 92 wRC+/91 OPS+ in terms of offensive production, while his .303 xwOBA put him in the bottom 18th percent of all batters.
Even in his prime offensive years of 2016-17, Hernandez didn’t generate much hard contact or exit velocity, instead relying on a high walk rate. It should be noted that Hernandez had a cumulative .358 BABIP over those two seasons, and a reduction in his batted-ball luck (.314 BABIP in 2018-19) surely played a role in his diminished production. Defensively, Hernandez has been somewhat of a mixed bag over his career, with -11 Defensive Runs Saved and a +0.6 UZR/150 over 5890 2/3 innings at second base, though those metrics actually went in the other direction (+6 DRS, -0.7 UZR/150) in 2019.
Overall, Hernandez generated 3.8 fWAR over the 2018-19 seasons, still a pretty decent amount of value given his relative lack of offense. Heyman indicated that multiple teams are in on Hernandez, who has been a popular trade target in past years, though it’s probably fair to assume that his lack of offense will make him affordable for the cost-conscious Indians.
With Jose Ramirez slated to play either second base or (the team’s preference) third base next season, the Tribe have been considering infielders for either the keystone or the hot corner. The switch-hitting Hernandez has hit righties better than lefties over the last two seasons but has pretty even splits over his career, and he would add even more flexibility to a Cleveland lineup that already features switch-hitters Ramirez, Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor (plus part-timers Sandy Leon and Greg Allen).