The Cleveland Indians have signed second baseman Cesar Hernandez to a one-year, $6.25 million deal. After the club declined the 2020 option of Jason Kipnis‘ contract, it was apparent that second base was a position that needed to be addressed in the offseason. This would likely have been the case anyway, as Kipnis did not contribute much of anything resembling substantial value to the team in 2019. Being only a one-year deal, Cleveland certainly hopes that Hernandez can outperform expectations in 2020.
While Hernandez is certainly better than Kipnis had been in his last three seasons in Cleveland, it isn’t exactly a major upgrade. Hernandez posted 1.7 fWAR in 2019, only 0.6 more than Kipnis’ 1.1, while also logging 156 more plate appearances than Kipnis. On the offensive side we see a minor upgrade, as Hernandez’s wRC+ in 2019 was 92, compared to Kipnis’ 82. Looking at the last few seasons, both players are relatively similar. Neither hit for much power, as Hernandez and Kipnis posted 2019 ISO’s of .129 and .166, respectively. They also both appear to be on the offensive decline, as Hernandez’s last above average season by wRC+ was 2017, and Kipnis hasn’t reached the league average mark since his 4.7 fWAR season in 2016. Hernandez’s xwOBA has also decreased by an average of over 20 points the last two seasons. The Indians certainly aren’t getting a player in their offensive prime, but the already elite infield in Cleveland likely only needs a slightly above average player to fill the second base hole.
It is worth noting that Hernandez had a career-high 6 defensive runs saved in 2019. That mark is a whopping 13 runs higher than Jason Kipnis’ 2019 DRS of -7. If Hernandez is able to provide substantial defensive value in 2020, he would round out a infield that could be among the league’s best in 2020.
While the actual on-field production of Hernandez is quite similar to that of Kipnis, the real difference comes financially. Had the Indians decided to keep Kipnis in 2020 by accepting the team option on his contract, he would be owed $16.5 million next season. That is obviously way more than any team should be paying to a guy who is likely a one win player. If the cost of Kipnis’ buyout ($2.5 million) is included, the Indians are spending $8.75 million on their starting second baseman this year. Kipnis alone was paid $14.5 million in 2019, so Cleveland is saving $5.75 million on the position from last season. When looking at it this way, this cannot possibly be a bad transaction for Cleveland. The club is saving more than $5 million to replace Kipnis with someone who is both younger and better, even if he’s only slightly better. Yes, Hernandez appears to be significantly declining offensively, but there is essentially no risk for the team with this being a one-year deal.
Indians fans should be happy with this deal not because they acquired some sort of super star, but because of what this indicates for the offseason moving forward. With the club already having traded Corey Kluber, and with talks of a trade of Francisco Lindor heating up, many think Cleveland might opt to do something resembling a rebuild. This move would suggest the opposite, as they’ve added a veteran player who is going to provide value in 2020. A Lindor trade could certainly still happen, but depending on the package coming back the Indians could still be in a position to make a run at the postseason next season. The important takeaway from this is that the organization has voluntarily added to the payroll in 2020. No matter how small the contract is, that is a good sign. As aforementioned, Cleveland has saved $5.75 million at second base. Additionally, the trade of Corey Kluber freed up the $17.5 million that he was owed in 2020. If this saved money results in something along the lines of re-signing Yasiel Puig, fans have to be happy.
If there’s one thing we know it’s that we don’t know anything, if that makes sense. In a vacuum, this is a good move because it saves money while not downgrading and possibly upgrading. In the grand scheme of this offseason, this could be a great sign for future moves to come. This could also, of course, not indicate anything and the team could continue to slash payroll. Fans have to be prepared for both of those outcomes, but as of right now there is no reason to be dissatisfied with this signing.
Featured Image: Ian D’Andrea on Flickr