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Welcome to Cleveland, César Hernández
From now until Opening Day (and a little bit beyond) Let’s Go Tribe will be previewing the 2020 season for the Indians from every angle — position previews, a look at the AL Central, players you should know, and more. See the full preview here.
Jason Kipnis logged the most innings at second base for the Cleveland Indians every season from 2012 to 2019.
He’s gone now.
In his stead, the Indians signed César Hernández to a one-year, $6.25 million deal. It represents the only real signing of note during an offseason of deafening quietness for the team.
It isn’t a long term commitment; it isn’t a ton of money; it filled an immediate need with a game-ready baseball player. Would it have been cool if the Tribe signed Anthony Rendon and bumped Jose Ramírez back to second? Sure. It’s just not the type of move that the organization makes. Instead, Cleveland made a move that makes perfect sense for Cleveland.
I’m not, you know, fired up about it. Looking over the numbers from Hernández’s career, I come away with a sigh and mumble, “It makes sense. He’s pretty good.” I’d love to come out of the gates this preseason predicting 130 wRC+ out of the position for the Tribe, but that’s just not what is there.
What is there? A respectable 29-year-old with a solid glove and a switch-hitting bat that hopscotches around league average season to season. By fWAR, his best overall season came in 2016; he slashed .294/.371/.393. with above average defense to accumulate 3.8 fWAR. For his career, he’s a .277/.352/.381 hitter with 2.4 fWAR per 700 PAs (3282 total PAs, 11.6 total fWAR, 7 total seasons and five “full” seasons).
It reminds me of Tony Fernandez in 1997 (2.1 fWAR) in a way, and not simply because he is top-of-mind after his passing earlier this month. It’s likely we’ll only have him for a single season. There’s a consistent track record. Nobody expects him to show up, log web gems every game, and launch rockets into the Thirsty Parrot. He just needs to be a serviceable starting middle-infielder.
As I write I find myself thinking why can’t I feel more excited about this? Or at least content? Isn’t this the type of signing that teams should strive for? A low-risk guy who ends up looking like a complete bargain if he has an above-average season?
And yes, I really think that should be the case. But I can’t. Maybe that will change when I see him turn a tricky double play or slap a double off of a soft-tossing lefty. Maybe we’ll look back in early November and see him as a crucial and consistent piece of a championship team. Maybe he’ll be a phenomenal “glue guy” that galvanizes the clubhouse when it needs a boost.
It just feels awfully strange that Jason Kipnis isn’t the second baseman for the first time in nearly a decade. I think that’s the main source of the apathy. Yes, it was time for the Tribe to move on from Kip, but it feels weird.
Other sources of apathy or even antipathy from this offseason are well-documented and do not warrant further discussion at this time.
Who else might the Indians see at second base this season? Why, thank you for asking. Remember that time the Indians traded Ruben Cardenas and some international bonus pool cash to the Rays? No? Well, they did, and Christian Arroyo came over as part of the deal.
The Giants drafted Arroyo in the first round of the 2013 draft. He progressed through the system steadily and debuted in 2017 before the Giants flipped him to Tampa in the Evan Longoria trade. As to what the Indians have in Arroyo, nobody can really say; he’s spent much of the last two seasons battling injuries. At worst, I think the Indians have a AAAA player who will provide some decent bench depth.
At best, the 24-year-old might finally tap into the potential that drove the Giants to draft him with their first pick.
We might also see Yu Chang log some innings at second. I choose to not write about him because he seems like a lock for the utility infielder role, with duties at third and short, too. It also occurs to me that none of us might end up writing anything about him because we all expect everyone else to do so. For now, note that Chang is from Taiwan and often posts pictures of himself with a Pooh Bear stuffed animal to twitter. Interpret it as you will.
With a disclaimer that some shortstop prospects may eventually end up at second base instead, I think that Aaron Bracho is the top name here for the Cleveland Indians. The $1.5 million given to Bracho represents the largest bonus they paid to an international prospect in a talent-packed 2017 class. A broken arm limited him in 2018, but the switch-hitting infielder is still only 18-year-old and hit .281/.402/.570 in rookie and short season Single-A last season. As he played only eight games in short season ball for the Indians last year he might start there, but I wouldn’t rule out a jump to full-season ball to start the year given the team’s confidence in him.
Ernie Clement is still listed as a SS, but out of all of the players in the Indians’ system right now he seems the most likely to shift over to 2B. Part of this is proximity to the majors; He turns 24 in March and will probably start this season at Triple-A. Given the existence of Francisco Lindor and the general uncertainty surrounding 2B in the team’s future, this seems to make the most sense. He’ll look to build on a .261/.314/.322 slash from Akron while continuing to be one of the most entertaining players to follow on twitter.
If you think Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio are ultimately destined for second base then I think either of them make sense at the top spot on this list. That seems more likely for Freeman than for Rocchio, but not a certainty.
— It’s still me but I have to follow the template and put something here
Around the AL Central
If you believe what GM Rick Hahn says, then you will nod when I say that the White Sox will use a mix of Leury Garcia, Danny Mendick, and Nick Madrigal at 2B this season. In reality, I anticipate that Nick Madrigal will man the position for most of the season. Barring a terrible spring and/or a complete reversal of his outstanding minor league production, Madrigal has a decent shot to start every day for the Sox after exactly 15 days of the regular season.
The Royals are going to use a platooning strategery to cover 2B again this season. Nicky Lopez is listed as the starter on the depth chart. He struggled a bit in his first full season, but he will only be 24 at the start of the season and could improve. Whit Merrifield played 82 games there in 2019 and 108 in 2018. He’ll see a decent amount of time there despite being listed as the starting CF right now. Honestly, their defensive alignment right now looks like something I’d do in OOTP just to train players at other positions: all of their listed outfielders are former infielders.
In Detroit, Jonathan Schoop joins the roster after signing as a free agent. You may recall him from such films as “Being one of the only good players in Baltimore” and “Always getting timely hits as a Twin in 2019”. He’s a fine player who never walks but packs above-average power for the position. Niko Goodrum may see some time at 2B as well despite sliding over to Shortstop for Schoop. Keep your eyes on Willi Castro, too.
Finally, we come to Minnesota. Luis Arraez is listed as the starter in the depth chart, but he also spent time at SS, 3B, and LF last season. I anticipate that he’ll start most of the games there and end up being a perennial All-Star because it just feels like that’s what’s going to happen. He hit .334/.399/.439 last year, so he’ll player everyday somewhere. Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza are the options off of the bench.