Tigers have Minors deal with former Gold Glove winner Hernández (report)

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — The Tigers added veteran depth to their infield by agreeing to terms with César Hernández on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invite to Spring Training, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman first reported Wednesday. The Tigers have not made the agreement official.

Hernández has spent parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, including two as an AL Central rival with Cleveland and Chicago. The 32-year-old switch-hitter was a Gold Glove second baseman in Cleveland in 2020 and a 21-homer slugger the following year, most of it with Cleveland before a Trade Deadline deal sent him to the White Sox.

Hernández spent last year with the Nationals as the everyday second baseman on a young Washington roster. While his power plummeted with one home run in 560 at-bats and an average exit velocity near the bottom among MLB hitters, leading to a 68-point drop in slugging percentage, he produced 28 doubles and four triples and lowered his strikeout rate from the middle of the pack to the top third among Major League hitters, according to Statcast — 21.2 to 18.5 percent. He also raised his batting average from .232 to .248.

The Venezuela native was more effective against left-handed pitching, batting .282 with a .690 OPS off southpaws compared to .232 and .601 versus right-handers.

The Tigers have had past interest in Hernández, including three years ago as a free agent before he signed with Cleveland and Jonathan Schoop signed with Detroit. How manager A.J. Hinch might utilize Hernández at this stage in his career will be interesting to follow. He started 126 games last year at second base, where Schoop was a Gold Glove finalist. By contrast, Hernádez actually made more starts in left field (10) than third base (eight), where the Tigers have an open competition looming after non-tendering Jeimer Candelario.

Though Hernández is regarded as a defense-first infielder, he has rated negatively at second base since his Gold Glove season, including minus-4 Outs Above Average and minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved last year. Much of the drop came on plays up the middle; he rated minus-9 on Outs Above Average when moving laterally towards third base, according to Statcast.

Whether or not the Tigers were to consider moving Schoop to third, plugging in Hernández isn’t a given, especially if Hinch wants to look closely at young infielders like Ryan Kreidler, Nick Maton and Tyler Nevin around the infield. Even Matt Vierling, who made scattered starts at second and third base for the Phillies last year while primarily playing outfield, is an option at third.

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