The Tigers and veteran infielder Cesar Hernandez are in agreement on a minor league contract, tweets Jon Heyman of the New York Post. The Octagon client will be invited to major league camp this spring. If Hernandez makes the roster, he’ll earn a $1.5MM base salary with the potential to unlock more via incentives, Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press adds.
Hernandez spent the 2022 season with the Nationals but struggled to the worst offensive performance of his decade-long MLB career, batting just .248/.311/.318 in 617 plate appearances. Hernandez, who’ll turn 33 in May, surprisingly connected on only one home run with the Nationals — despite having swatted a career-high 21 long balls a year prior. Dating back to 2018, Hernandez had averaged 14 homers per 600 plate appearances, making last year’s power outage particularly unexpected.
Defensively, Hernandez has traditionally been a second baseman, although the Nats gave him some time at third base and in left field last year. Hernandez posted roughly average defensive grades at second base in 2019-20 before seeing metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average agree that his glovework at the position had swiftly declined, beginning in 2021. Both DRS and OAA felt he was average or better in limited looks at third base and in left field, for what it’s worth.
Although last season marked an obvious low point for Hernandez, he’s long been a solid everyday option at the keystone. From 2016-21, the switch-hitter notched a combined .271/.348/.394 batting line with a modest blend of power and speed, consistently above-average walk rates and consistently lower-than-average strikeout rates. That’ll be the player the Tigers hope they’re getting on this non-guaranteed deal.
The Tigers’ infield mix is relatively full, but it’s possible Hernandez could still carve out a role. As it stands, the team hopes to deploy Spencer Torkelson at first base, Jonathan Schoop at second, Javier Baez at shortstop and Nick Maton at third. That said, Torkelson, the former No. 1 overall pick, didn’t establish himself as a viable big league bat in his rookie campaign and will presumably need to earn his spot in the lineup this spring. If he struggles, it’s feasible that Schoop could spend some time at first base, which would open up some potential reps at second for Hernandez. Furthermore, if the Tigers are comfortable bouncing him to multiple spots, Hernandez could simply win a utility role out of the gate.