Should I Stay Or Should I Go: Cesar Hernandez

The Contract

Cesar Hernandez was traded from Cleveland on July 29, 2021 for Konnor Pilkington. After the 2021 season, the remaining part of Hernandez’s contract is a club option for $6M with no buyout. So the Sox have a few ways they can go:

  1. Pick up the option and pay Hernandez $6M for the 2022 season
  2. Don’t pick up the option, pay $0, let him go into free agency
  3. Don’t pick up the option, pay $0, negotiate a contract for 2022
  4. Pick up the option and extend him (unlikely to happen)

At the point of writing this intro paragraph, I am uncertain of which is the best option for my SoxMachine Off-Season Plan.

Similar Players and Their Contracts

Looking at two similar players, Kolten Wong and Jonathan Villar, their salaries are on opposite sides of the $5M Hernandez made this year. As you can see by clicking into their player comparisons, they have similar performance at the plate. In the field, Villar has more flexibility, while Wong is the best defender of the bunch at 2B.

Kolten Wong

Player comparison: https://stathead.com/tiny/OiVtw

2021 Salary: $7M

2022 Salary: $8M

Jonathan Villar

Player comparison: https://stathead.com/tiny/7LYad

2021 Salary: $3.55M

2022 Salary: Free Agent

The Internal Options

Romy Gonzalez

They chose to bring up Romy instead of Mendick late in the 2021 season which is a bit telling of how they value Danny. It also tells you that they are at least a little interested in Romy. While I don’t think he cracks the Opening Day roster, I could see him being the first guy brought up when someone gets injured.

Danny Mendick

In Mendick’s 71 games with the Sox this year, he provided a .220/.303/.287 slash, which is just not gonna cut it for a starter. And nothing in his past tells us it will be any different this year. I don’t see him being on the 26-man roster. I wonder how long he’ll remain on the 40-man.

Yolbert Sanchez

Yolbert is probably the best option here, but he is very unlikely to crack the roster at the start of the 2022 season. So I certainly would not rely on him to take Hernandez’s spot on the roster.

Free Agents

Let me start by saying that picking up Cesar’s option does not preclude you from signing a free agent. Though, it does limit your pool. Since Cesar does not play SS, if you move him into a backup role, your starter will need to be able to back up Timmy at short. Otherwise, you’re gonna need to put an additional guy like Mendick or Romy on the roster just to give TA7 days off. That 26 runs out real fast when you have a bunch of the same player.

Second Basemen

So let’s look at 2B only guys that are at his level or better. OK, you’ve got Eduardo Escobar and that’s probably it. Marwin kinda stinks at this point as does Carpetner. Solano can be a dark horse option, but I am not sure if that’s an upgrade over Hernandez at the end of the day. It gets pretty thin. Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors for the free agent list, by the way,

Matt Carpenter (36)
Eduardo Escobar (33)
Wilmer Flores (30)
Marwin Gonzalez (33)
Josh Harrison (34)
Jed Lowrie (38)
Chris Owings (30)
Joe Panik (31)
Eric Sogard (36)
Donovan Solano (34)
Ildemaro Vargas (30)

Shortstops

Now shortstop is where it gets interesting because there are a lot of good ones this year. I’ll throw out Simmons, Correa, and Seager as they’ll want to stay at SS, but there are surely some interesting move to 2B options here. The White Sox Fanbase is all over bringing back Semien. Story was rumored to be on Hahn’s deadline wishlist, so he’s also an option. Chris Taylor and Jonathan Villar are also options who double as guys that can play all over the field. The question on all of these is what will they cost and will the Sox want to pay it. Guys like Semien, Baez, and Story will be looking for some years and some money. The question is will the Sox be willing to go 4-5 years and 75-100M for some of these guys?

Javier Baez (29)
Carlos Correa (27)
Mike Freeman (34)
Freddy Galvis (32)
Leury Garcia (31)
Erik Gonzalez (30)
Jose Iglesias (32)
Miguel Rojas (33)
Corey Seager (28)
Marcus Semien (31)
Andrelton Simmons (32)
Trevor Story (29)
Chris Taylor (31)
Jonathan Villar (31)

What to expect from Cesar

Cesar had an interesting year in 2021. He exceeded his career high in home runs by hitting 21 of them this year, 6 more than his previous high. The cost of doing so was high, however. His career OBP is .345 and he clocked in at .308. With 637 plate appearances, that’s a price of getting on base nearly 25 times. So what changed?

Well, believe it or not, Cesar might be the one guy you’d tell to hit MORE groundballs. His strikeout percentage is on par with his 2020 results, but a little elevated for his career. His walk rate as well, on par with 2020, a little worse than career averages. However, where you see the major difference is that he went from a 17.6% career fly ball percentage up to 25.1%. Obviously this lowered his groundball and line drive rates. But where you see it the most is in his BABIP, which was a career low of .266. So was he unlucky or was he Willie Mays Hayes from Major League 2 trying to be a power hitter. And if the latter, can he shake off the Omar Epps and get back to the Wesley Snipes?

I think he can. He didn’t seem much slower, so it seems reasonable that he can get back to hitting the ball hard through the gaps in the defense and using his speed for extra base hits instead of cranking his launch angle up to double digits. Look to this Fangraphs article on Hernandez for inspiration of what he could be: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-year-cesar-hernandez-hit-three-ground-ball-triples/

As for fielding, this is where it gets a little iffy. While he has been a good, not great, defender at second base, the fielding bible shows him as a -17 in defensive plays saved for plays to his right in 2021. This could be a sign of aging and could be even more problematic on a team like the Sox, who for some reason refuse to shift. Overall though, if you’re not getting one of the guys that also plays SS or someone who is glove first, his defense should be fine.

Keep him?

Refresher on the options I presented at the top:

  1. Pick up the option and pay Hernandez $6M for the 2022 season
  2. Don’t pick up the option, pay $0, let him go into free agency
  3.  Don’t pick up the option, pay $0, negotiate a contract for 2022
  4. Pick up the option and extend him (unlikely to happen)

I like option 3 the best. It seems they would be able to negotiate something in the $4M range as a pillow contract for Hernandez to prove he san still play the position and can still get on base. If not, even at $6M, I think he’ll prove his worth. And as I mentioned, he can always be a switch hitting bench player at 2B/3B. He’ll need to adjust his approach to get his OBP back to the level it should be, but with his speed and an ability to get on, he’ll be valuable in the back third of the lineup.

-Chorizy-E

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