The White Sox will decline their $6MM club option on second baseman Cesar Hernandez, reports ESPN’s Jesse Rogers (via Twitter). There’s no buyout on that option. Hernandez will become a free agent once the move is made official.
Hernandez slugged a career-high 21 home runs between Cleveland and Chicago this season but did so with a lackluster .232/.308/.386 batting line on the whole. He was more productive prior to the trade (.231/.307/.431) than he was after being moved (.232/.309/.299). Just three of Hernandez’s 21 long balls came with the White Sox.
Chicago’s acquisition of Hernandez was necessitated by a hamstring tear to Nick Madrigal, the former No. 4 overall pick whom the South Siders had pegged as the second baseman of the future. That unfortunate injury also set the stage for the Sox to boldly trade an injured Madrigal, controlled another five seasons, in a crosstown deal that netted Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. The entire gambit fell shy of the front office’s hopes, and the ChiSox now face both a tough decision on Kimbrel’s $16MM option and a long-term hole at second base.
Hernandez might’ve been a reasonable stopgap, but the White Sox’ decision to cut him loose points to the likelihood that the 2021 AL Central champs have their sights set higher. With the Twins expected to reload and try for better results in 2022, the Tigers expected to spend aggressively this winter and the Royals moving into win-now mode as their own top prospects bubble to the surface in the big leagues, next year’s AL Central could be the most competitive it’s been in years.
Chicago’s decision to move on from Hernandez also speaks to the potential that he’ll find a rather tepid market for his services this winter. Hernandez has long been a solid regular at second base, but his two prior dalliances into free agency haven’t produced a multi-year deal. He’ll now hit the market on the heels of his weakest all-around showing since 2014 and in advance of his age-32 season — an obviously suboptimal set of circumstances.
Hernandez signed a one-year, $5MM guarantee off a much better showing in the 2020-21 offseason, and the Sox are effectively indicating that the market doesn’t value him at $6MM on a one-year term. Hernandez could have to settle for a lower base salary on an incentive-laden deal as he looks to recapture the form that saw him bat .280/.357/.396 in more than 2800 plate appearances from 2016-20.