Earlier today, the Cleveland Guardians completed a trade that sent second baseman Cesar Hernandez to the Chicago White Sox. In return, they received a 23-year-old lefty pitcher who doesn’t come with much acclaim and will need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft later this year. That is to say, their return wasn’t immense.
But Cesar’s departure opens the door for them to do something necessary: It’s time to let the kids play.
We can say that trading Hernandez, especially to the division-leading White Sox, is a signal of giving up on the year, but I think this move was predetermined before the season ever started. Hernandez, like seemingly the entire Guardians roster this year, is part of a larger transition. No team going uncompromisingly all-in on 2021 trades Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco as Cleveland did in January. They also don’t go into a season with a sub-$60 million payroll and lacking depth all over the field.
Before the first pitch was even thrown on Opening Day, the 2021 season was up in the air. If some things fell a certain way, maybe Cleveland is sitting atop the AL Central by a few games right now with a healthy Shane Bieber leading the Cy Young race and World Peace dominating the headlines. Things didn’t fall well though, and now the chances of a playoff run are looking even bleaker than the 2.7% chance FanGraphs is giving them. Either way, trading Cesar Hernandez always felt inevitable.
It’s not exactly a trade secret that the Guardians have a tsunami of middle infielders approaching the majors. A couple have tricked onto shore and gotten limited playing time, admittedly not looking great in limited stints.
Owen Miller managed just five hits in 47 at-bats; he struck out 24 times and looked overmatch almost every step of the way. He was sent down after a five-week tryout, but if the Guardians believe he is a part of the future, there is little to no reason not to give him another shot now.
Andrés Giménez came over in the Francisco Lindor trade after skipping Triple-A entirely last year, but looked like he needed the minor-league seasoning that COVID-19 robbed him of last season. His strikeout numbers are still relatively high in Triple-A (23.3%) compared to some of his better minor-league seasons, but he has looked like a better hitter while hopping between second base and shortstop.
Ernie Clement and Yu Chang look like they’re already topping out as utility guys, but even they could use the playing time at second. If one of them are going to break out into something, we’ll never find out without giving them a shot.
Other key pieces from previous trades, like Amed Rosario (Lindor trade with Mets) and Gabriel Arias (Mike Clevinger trade with Padres), figure to stick around for a while longer, too. Arias, specifically, turned 21 less than six months ago and is only getting started in Triple-A. Rosario has been inconsistent, but it’s hard to give up on a 26-year-old with the tools he has.
Down in Double-A, where most future talent is fostered before briefly leaping off of Triple-A into the majors, Tyler Freeman is lurking with his advanced approach at the plate and future bright as a supernova. Richie Palacios figures to earn a promotion to the Columbus Clippers sooner or later.
Hernandez was exactly what Cleveland needed in 2020 when they were making one last run with their current-at-the-time core. He was also the perfect fit in 2021 when they needed another stop-gap in the middle of the infield while their prospects continued to develop. Trading him at this year’s deadline has always made too much sense to ignore — even if it is to the White Sox.