As the shortened season ended after a lackluster postseason, the Cubs have some roster holes to fill and some decisions to make. The Cubs have been missing the utility type player since Ben Zobrist “retired” and have not found their everyday second-basemen. However, I think they may be able to fix that issue this offseason by bringing in Cesar Hernandez.
Hernandez spent most of his eight-year career in the National League with the Philadelphia Phillies from 2013 to 2019 before signing with the Cleveland Indians in 2020 where he led the league in doubles (20) and got his first gold glove award.
The gold glove is particularly intriguing because Hernandez had previously struggled with fielding. He had 12 errors in 2018 which led the National League, 12 again in 2019 for third in the National League, and was tied for first in 2020 with four errors in the American League.
He is currently ranked tenth in errors at second base among active players with 59. The Cubs had 30 errors in 60 games in 2020, six of which were at second base. While Hernandez is not the IDEAL candidate on paper to address the issue at second defensively, the newly acquired Gold Glove and career offensive statistics could make up for that.
The Cubs can afford Hernandez’s projected salary of two years, $16 million, per Fangraphs RosterResource. I would expect him to garner a few offers based on his consistency and age. He is a career .277 hitter and only 30 years old. The biggest improvement is his defense. Putting aside that it was a short season, Hernandez had one of his best seasons fielding the ball. Hernandez would also improve the Cubs offense as well. In 2020, he batted .283, had 66 hits, 20 doubles, three home runs, and 20 RBI.
The Cubs had five different players at second base in 2020 and none of them impressed at the plate. I realize that is not saying much considering the Cubs’ offensive struggles for the last four years, but second base has been a revolving door of mediocrity. Here are the 2020 offensive numbers for players slotting in at 2B for the Cubs:
David Bote– .200, 25 hits, three doubles, one triple, seven home runs, 29 RBI, and 40 Strikeouts.
Nico Hoerner– .222, 24 hits, four doubles, zero home runs, 13 RBI, and 24 strikeouts.
Jason Kipnis– .237, 27 hits, eight doubles, one triple, three home runs, 16 RBI, and 41 strikeouts.
Hernan Perez– .167, one hit and two strikeouts.
Ildemaro Vargas– .222, two hits, one home run, one RBI, and three strikeouts.
*Daniel Descalso– Did not play at all, but was technically on the roster in 2020 with an ankle sprain.
Hernandez would be a fine acquisition for the Cubs in comparison to the recent players to occupy his position with the Cubs…
…except he also had 57 strikeouts in 58 games in 2020.
The Cubs struggled mightily with strikeouts in 2020. They ranked third in the National League with 568 strikeouts and fifth overall in Major League Baseball. Almost guaranteeing a strikeout per game is never good, but if the defense can come around for Hernandez, then so can the offense.
Keep in mind the Cubs were also second to last in the National League in batting average at .220, and had an overall down year for a majority of players. The talent is there somewhere!
I think the Cubs had a serviceable year from Kipnis last year and got the most production out of him over anybody else, but I think the move should be to go with Hernandez.
He has less power than Kipnis but is more consistent and three years younger. If the future of the Cubs infield is having Kris Bryant, not in Cubbie Blue, then that pushes Bote to third and opens up a full-time second base roster spot to whoever can take it.
I also personally believe the Cubs rushed Nico Hoerner to the big leagues to perform at a level he was not ready for. The signing of a full-time second-baseman gives the Cubs the option to work on Hoerner’s swing and give him a chance to breathe and be molded into a utility player. Hoerner played second, third, shortstop, centerfield, left field, and designated hitter in 2020.
There are several factors that will essentially signal what kind of roster the Cubs will have in 2021. Things get tricky if the infield stays the same, but I expect the newly acquired Hernandez to be the true second basemen on the team. Bote and Hoerner will be playing more third and shortstop respectively. There is always the chance Bote splits duties with Hernandez, but let us hope that is not the case.
I think the roster needs some consistency despite how versatile players can be. Bote signed a five-year, $15 million extension with the Cubs in 2019 so do not expect him to be phased out of the Cubs plans anytime soon, however. I believe the Bote signing was writing on the wall for a struggling Kris Bryant.
If the Cubs move Bryant this offseason, however, Bote would slide over to third base giving the Cubs the option to have Hernandez as the starting second-baseman for 2021. The issue the Cubs are going to run into faster than they think is knowing when to pull the plug on past heroes and focus on the reality of the situation: they do not have enough money to keep the 2016 core around.
Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo are all free agents in 2022. If the Cubs want to compete in 2021 before their postseason window closes in less than two years, they will need to sign a second baseman now. That should be for all intents and purposes, be Cesar Hernandez. HAIL CESAR.
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