Cleveland Indians: Cesar Hernandez will earn your appreciation

GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - MARCH 03: Cesar Hernandez #7 of the Cleveland Indians follows through on a swing against the Los Angeles Angels during a spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark on March 03, 2020 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - MARCH 03: Cesar Hernandez #7 of the Cleveland Indians follows through on a swing against the Los Angeles Angels during a spring training game at Goodyear Ballpark on March 03, 2020 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Indians fans are still miffed about an uninspiring offseason, and rightfully so. But it won’t be long before they’re celebrating Cesar Hernandez.

Cesar Hernandez was the high-profile acquisition in a winter completely devoid of high-profile acquisitions for the Cleveland Indians. The former Phillies second baseman inked a one-year deal worth $6.25 million with the Tribe back in December, making him the highest-paid newcomer by a long shot.

The rest of Cleveland’s offseason was dominated by negativity. Corey Kluber was traded. Whether you’re of the mind that he’s over the hill or not, a return of Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields certainly seems like the Indians sold low on their two-time Cy Young winner. Making matters worse on this front is that Clase is already out for the foreseeable future due to injury.

Francisco Lindor was not traded, but that adventure was not without its close calls. Once the trade hype mercifully subsided, the focus turned to a long-term extension that will probably never happen, a conversation only slightly less discouraging than the thought of sending Lindor elsewhere before he reaches free agency.

Because Hernandez happened to sign with the Indians in this of all winters–one in which the team seemingly had the flexibility and incentive to do so much more than it did–his arrival has been met with little fanfare.

Indians fans wanted a game-changing outfielder, but they’d have settled for one who didn’t need to be platooned. The bullpen could probably have used another arm or two. The Kluber trade would have been infinitely easier to digest if Cleveland then turned around and stockpiled talent and depth elsewhere on the roster. None of that happened.

Hernandez is a victim of these circumstances. Simply put, no fan base is going to be satisfied with the signing of a stopgap second baseman when so many other areas of the team are left unaddressed.

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For Hernandez, the appreciation will come as the season progresses and he proves that despite all their missteps, the Indians made the right call on bringing him in.

Hernandez has been seeing a good portion of his offensive reps at the top of Cleveland’s lineup this spring, which is immediately a good sign for two reasons. The first is that his on-base numbers have historically belonged near the top of a batting order on the right team, and the Indians fit that mold.

The second is that it appears Terry Francona is preparing to utilize Hernandez in the way that best helps the team. (It would not have been surprising to see Oscar Mercado maintain his hold on the two-hole to start the year.)

The Indians greatly missed the sure-handed Michael Brantley in the top-third of their order last season. Hernandez may not be as all-around productive as Brantley, but he should be a considerable upgrade over a collection of Indians hitters (predominantly Mercado) that tied for the second-worst wRC+ out of the two-hole in 2019.

If the Indians remain hesitant to bump Lindor from the leadoff spot or stack him with Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana, Hernandez represents the best option to break the trio up as the two-hitter.

Hernandez is admittedly coming off a down year in terms of getting on base. Last season marked the first time since 2015 that Hernandez didn’t reach base at a clip of at least .356 or post a double-digit walk percentage.

If that’s a sign of things to come, then sure, worry away. There’s also the very real possibility that Hernandez’s 2019 was a fluke year on a Phillies team that surprisingly struggled to mesh despite all its talent.

This probably says more about the pre-Bryce Harper Phillies than it does about Hernandez, but Hernandez was Philadelphia’s most productive hitter and most valuable position player from 2016-18.

What’s to say a change of scenery doesn’t put Hernandez back on track? Being surrounded in Cleveland’s lineup by three low-strikeout power hitters in Lindor, Ramirez, and Santana certainly can’t hurt, can it?

Hernandez might not be the All-Star-caliber player fans were hoping for this offseason, but he is more than capable of doing the little things that move the lineup along. Though the Indians failed to adequately address other aspects of the roster, they succeeded in landing a patient, high-OBP hitter to strengthen the top of the order.

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That may not be evident now, but it will be soon. Hernandez will be an important role player on this team, and the Indians are better for having added him.