Cleveland Indians: Trading Cesar Hernandez isn’t a waving of the white flag
The Cleveland Indians traded second baseman Cesar Hernandez, but they aren’t giving up on the season.
The Cleveland Indians have gotten in on the trade deadline action, dealing second baseman Cesar Hernandez to the Chicago White Sox for left-hander Konnor Pilkington, a former third-round pick who is currently leading the Double-A South League in lowest average against (.173) and WHIP (0.92).
Hernandez, 31, who has hit a career-high 18 home runs this season despite a .228/.307/.431 slash line and an exactly league-average 100 wRC+, had a $6 million team option for 2022. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see the team exercise that option next season (though that’s questionable), but it’s also not surprising to see that Hernandez has been dealt, even if it is to a division rival.
What this doesn’t mean, though, is that the Indians are waving the white flag on the 2021 season.
The team is currently five games out of the Wild Card (still within striking distance) and 8.5 games out of the AL Central race (a more grim scenario), but there is the possibility that Cleveland gets back both Aaron Civale and Shane Bieber in August. It’s not over, and reinforcements are on the way, even if the playoff hopes are dimming to some degree.
It’s clear at this point that, while somewhat productive at the plate this year, Cesar Hernandez was not going to be the player that would ultimately get the Indians over the hump and into the playoffs. It has been a down year for a traditionally solid hitter, and it’s simply time for both sides to move on.
This move also gives the Indians an extended opportunity to see what their younger players can do, which remains imperative with their glut of middle infield talent ready for the Majors. Right now, Owen Miller will be taking over second base duties. He was overmatched in his first go-around with the team this season, hitting .106/.160/.128 with 24 strikeouts in 47 at-bats, but this gives him the opportunity to get regular at-bats. In Columbus this season, Miller has hit .297/.374/.489 with seven home runs, twelve doubles and 22 RBIs in 182 at-bats.
One figures Ernie Clement will get time at second as well, along with Yu Chang and any potential call-ups – that includes Andres Gimenez and possibly Gabriel Arias. And with Amed Rosario still obviously in the infield mix, you can see how Hernandez became expendable. Arias, 21, is an especially intriguing option, as he has hit .274/.354/.427 with eight homers, ten doubles and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Columbus this year.
And to be honest, the Indians aren’t losing much defensively, either. Hernandez currently ranks 41st among all second basemen with a -3 Outs Above Average (thanks, Baseball Savant).
When you take away the homers, Hernandez was simply an average player, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s worth trading him to pick up a left-hander like Pilkington, who is considered “the best pitching prospect nobody is talking about” by some.
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Pilkington, 23, has a 3.48 ERA in 62 innings at Double-A Birmingham this season. He’s also averaging 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, featuring a fastball that has topped out at 96 mph in the past (though it appears his velocity sits a bit lower these days, in the low 90s at best) to go along with a solid changeup and slider. He’s also been known to throw a curveball, so the stuff is there.
The knock on Pilkington is whether or not he can maintain a higher velocity in the Majors. If so, he’s projected to be a mid-rotation starter. But even with the lower velocity, he can mix plenty of pitches – some might even call him “crafty.” Given that he’s a lefty, Pilkington is someone who should be getting a look in Cleveland as soon as 2022. The team has been desperate to find a dependable left-handed answer for the rotation for years.
For a 31-year-old second baseman who the Indians might have just cut ties with anyway in the offseason, the team got a decent enough return that allows them to continue stocking the future rotation with talent while still competing for the playoffs this year.
Now it’s time for Cleveland to let its bounty of middle infield talent show what it can do in the final two months of the season.