Many in Philadelphia viewed it as a foregone conclusion at the end of the 2018 season that Cesar Hernandez had played his final game with the Phillies. General manager Matt Klentak and Phillies brass apparently don’t share that point of view.
According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, while the Phillies aren’t opposed to moving the 28-year-old second baseman this offseason, they don’t feel inclined to:
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez is available, but the Phillies’ stance is similar to what it was the last two offseasons: They won’t give him away and will hang on to him if they don’t receive value.
Hernandez, the longest tenured Phillie, saw his batting average dip to .253 in 2018, after he hit .294 in both 2016 and 2017. However, his on-base percentage didn’t see a drastic drop, as under a more analytically inclined coaching staff led by Gabe Kapler, Hernandez walked a career-high 95 times in 2018. He also posted career-highs in home runs (15) and RBIs (60) as well. There is a debate to be had about whether Hernandez was more valuable being a bit more aggressive at the plate, though as a leadoff hitter, he continued to do his job getting on base to set the table for the heart of the Phillies lineup.
Perhaps more noteworthy – and yet, less discussed – is that Hernandez’s defensive metrics declined in 2018. Though he never had elite range, FanGraphs says that between 2015 and 2017, Hernandez was the fourth best fielding second baseman in baseball. In 2018, he regressed to being the 12th best of 16 qualified fielders at second base. He saw fairly drastic drops in terms of defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating and defense WAR. Some of that could probably be attributed to the Phillies struggling with shifts in Kapler’s first year as manager. It’s also worth noting that defensive metrics are far from perfect – they are very much an evolving science. But Hernandez’s regression in the field is still noteworthy.
At the same time, Hernandez won’t be 29 until May. MLB Network‘s “Shredder” ranked Hernandez as the 10th best second baseman in the sport entering the 2018 season. He’s under team control for two more seasons. There’s no reason to think he couldn’t have a bounce-back campaign in 2019, or that the Phillies would be willing to move him for a warm body.
Scott Kingery, of course, is a natural second baseman. After entering the 2018 season as a Rookie of the Year candidate, the 24-year-old slashed an underwhelming .226/.267/.338 with a -19.3 offensive WAR, the fifth worst mark in baseball in 2018. Some think a move back to his natural position of second base in 2019 would help Kingery’s bat to get going. But Kingery did seem to grow quite a bit as a shortstop as his rookie season went along, with both Kapler and president Andy MacPhail going out of their way to praise Kingery’s evolution in the field at the conclusion of the season.
Sure, if the Phillies sign Manny Machado to play shortstop, he’ll play shortstop and Kingery will probably shift to second. Although the Phillies entered the 2018 season with the hope of Kingery serving in a Ben Zobrist-type super-utility role, so they could attempt to utilize him all throughout the field if they signed Machado. And, of course, signing Machado isn’t a guarantee. If the Phillies instead choose to make a push for Bryce Harper, it would create an entirely different domino effect, with Hernandez probably more likely to remain with the team.
Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals, a natural second baseman that profiles as a super-utility player, is someone the Phillies reportedly had interest in prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Phillies could make a push for Merrifield this offseason, with Hernandez as part of what would rather be a likely large trade package for Merrifield, a 30-year-old under team control through 2022. But there’s certainly a scenario where the Phillies listen to offers on Hernandez for the third consecutive offseason, only for him to be in their Opening Day lineup in 2019.
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