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Is signing César Hernández the right move?

Cleveland’s infield plans take shape with César Hernández claiming second base

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Credit where credit is due: César Hernández was a smart free agent pick-up by the Cleveland front office this time last year. That was $6.25 million well spent. But with the news that Hernández is returning to Cleveland on another one-year contract, I find myself pondering whether he makes sense for the 2021 version of this team.

Now before you cast me into a lake of fire for being critical of a free agent signing after months (or even years) of torching the front office for penny-pinching, understand this: César Hernández is a good second baseman. Once the ink is dry on his new deal, he will be the best second baseman on Cleveland’s roster. I am not going to argue otherwise.

But a good signing is about more than signing a good player. You have to consider whether that signing furthers the goals of the organization and makes sense with how the roster has been constructed. In terms of the latter, I believe most had penciled in Andrés Giménez or even Amed Rosario as Cleveland’s Opening Day second baseman.

Giménez, at least, has some experience playing second base. But now that Hernández has returned to the fold, second base is his to lose. Where does that leave Giménez and Rosario, who is the fourth-highest paid player on the roster as of this writing? I think the most likely scenario is that Rosario becomes your Opening Day shortstop and Giménez starts the season in Triple-A Columbus.

Rosario may not have the upside of Giménez, but he has more big-league experience at shortstop. Additionally, Giménez bypassed the Triple-A level with the New York Mets and is still very young at 22 years old. Cleveland could feel he’d benefit from more seasoning in the minor leagues (which would, of course, also provide Cleveland some service time benefits), allowing Rosario to hold down the fort at shortstop until Giménez is deemed ready.

But the organization also has a glut of shortstops in their farm system, including Gabriel Arias, who earlier this month was named the team’s No 8. prospect by Let’s Go Tribe readers. Arias also seems primed to start the season at Triple-A, knocking on the door of a big-league call-up.

If Giménez is the Opening Day shortstop, Rosario’s role becomes less clear. He has only ever played shortstop, so I don’t see a utility infield role in his immediate future. But Rosario has played two games in the outfield, so perhaps he gets thrown into the outfield free-for-all with Josh Naylor, Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Bradley Zimmer, and Daniel Johnson. That’d be in line with the organization’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to assembling an outfield, but I think we’d all appreciate a bit more of a strategic new direction.

So the addition of César Hernández raises more questions than it answers at this point of the offseason. It’s times like this when clearer messaging from the Cleveland front office would be helpful. If they are rebuilding, I am not sure signing Hernández makes sense, especially with the surplus of middle infielders coming up through the farm system.

If you’re rebuilding, let the kids play and the logjam will eventually sort itself out. If you’re not rebuilding, Hernández plugs one leak, but this boat is still far from ready for the open sea. And if the report from Terry Pluto that the team only expects to add another $10 million (at the most) to the payroll is accurate, I’m skeptical plugging more leaks via free agency is in their plans.

I’m happy that we have a free agent signing to write about and discuss, and I think Hernández provides an immediate boost to the lineup. But I’m left wondering what internal goals and expectations are for this team and how they see this roster shaking out.