Detroit Tigers sign veteran César Hernández to minor-league deal with spring training invite

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers have added to their infield pool.

The Tigers signed second baseman César Hernández to a minor-league contract with an invitation to MLB spring training, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The 32-year-old will earn $1.5 million if he makes the big-league roster and could receive an additional $1.85 million in performance bonuses.

Hernández, a 10-year MLB veteran, hit .248 with one home run, 45 walks and 114 strikeouts in 147 games last season with the Washington Nationals. The switch-hitter spent his first seven seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Last season, Hernández posted a 7.3% walk rate and an 18.5% strikeout rate. He didn’t hit the ball hard, as his average exit velocity (84.8 mph) ranked 129th among 130 qualified hitters, but he made smart swing decisions at the plate.

Three encouraging signs: His 20.4% swing-and-miss rate ranked in the 76th percentile, his 25.9% chase rate ranked in the 69th percentile, and his 18.5% strikeout rate ranked in the 68th percentile. His walk rate, although below league average, was nearly better than that of former Tigers utility players Willi Castro (3.8%) and Harold Castro (3.8%) — combined.

As for Hernández’s contract, March 30 and June 1 are significant dates to keep in mind.

If Hernández is not a member of the Tigers’ roster on those dates, the Tigers have to notify the other 29 MLB teams to see if a different club wants him on its roster. If so, the Tigers must either put him on their roster or let him go to the new team. If no team wants him, he will remain in the minor leagues.

In 2021, Hernández launched a career-high 21 home runs for the Cleveland Guardians (18 homers in 96 games) and Chicago White Sox (three homers in 53 games). At the trade deadline, the Guardians shipped him to the White Sox for left-hander Konnor Pilkington.

He started 124 games at second base — his primary position — for the Nationals, adding eight starts at third base and seven starts in left field. He stole 10 bases in 14 attempts and flashed above-average speed but below-average arm strength.

Hernández, spanning his entire career, has a .267 batting average and 71 home runs across 1,186 games for four teams, with a .341 on-base percentage. He has played second base, third base, center field, shortstop and left field. Hernández led the majors in triples (11) in 2016 with the Phillies, and the American League in doubles (20) with Cleveland during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

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Entering spring training, the Tigers have three of four infield positions covered with Spencer Torkelson at first base, Jonathan Schoop at second base and Javier Báez at shortstop. But Schoop struggled offensively last season and could end up in a utility role if he doesn’t bounce back.

Three players — Nick Maton, Tyler Nevin and Ryan Kreidler — are expected to compete for regular playing time at third base. Jermaine Palacios and Andy Ibáñez have MLB experience and will compete, too, but they’re not on the 40-man roster.

Hernández could be useful as a utility player.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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