It looks like José Ramírez will be able to remain at third base in 2020, as the Indians have found their starting second baseman.
The Tribe officially announced on Sunday that it has signed César Hernández to a one-year deal. A source told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi earlier this week that Hernández’s contract is worth $6.25 million, though the club has not confirmed the value. To make room on their 40-man roster, the Indians designated catcher Eric Haase for assignment.
Heading into the offseason, the Indians’ top priority was finding a second baseman to replace Jason Kipnis. After Hernández was non-tendered by the Phillies, the switch-hitter appeared to be a perfect fit for Cleveland. In 161 games with Philadelphia last year, he hit .279 with a .741 OPS, 14 homers and 71 RBIs. He was also worth 1.7 Wins Above Replacement with a 92 wRC+, according to FanGraphs, while owning a .313 batting average on balls in play. Comparatively, Kipnis posted 1.1 WAR with an 82 wRC+ and a .265 BABIP in 2019.
According to Baseball Savant, Hernández ranked in the 88th percentile in sprint speed and in the 69th percentile for expected batting average. The 29-year-old switch-hitter has posted a career .290/.354/.372 slash line against left-handed pitching (807 at-bats), while hitting .272 with a .736 OPS (2,108 at-bats) against righties in his seven seasons. The Indians currently have six switch-hitters on their 40-man roster, including Francisco Lindor, Ramírez, Carlos Santana, Greg Allen, Sandy León and Andrew Velazquez.
The Tribe freed up some payroll flexibility in the Corey Kluber trade earlier this month, moving his $17.5 million contract to the Rangers. Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff said at the Winter Meetings in San Diego that they preferred to leave Ramírez at third base and add at second, if possible. Now, it looks like that will be the way the defense shakes out this season.
Prior to being non-tendered, Hernández was originally projected to make $11.8 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors. With this deal, the Indians should still have some room to address the outfield or bullpen. The team’s projected Opening Day payroll is expected to sit just under $100 million with the Hernández deal.
The Indians had reportedly asked for all teams’ best offers on Lindor a few weeks ago. That deadline might have been put in place to help establish a blueprint for the rest of their offseason needs. If they could’ve landed a second baseman in a Lindor deal, then maybe they wouldn’t have gone after Hernández. That soft deadline doesn’t mean that a Lindor trade is completely off the table, but adding Hernández could mean that the Tribe hasn’t received the offer it’s looking for just yet.
While they still look to bolster their outfield and other areas of their roster, the Indians have now crossed their No. 1 priority off of their to-do list. They also were able to outright utility man Mike Freeman to Triple-A Columbus after designating him for assignment as part of the Kluber trade. He will be a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training camp.