Former Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who turns 30 years of age in two weeks, rarely got the credit he deserved. The Venezuelan native became the Phillies’ everyday starter at second base after Chase Utley was traded away to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. Not an easy job, following “The Man” himself. Most of the fans were too angry and upset about his leaving to even notice Hernandez.
Signed by the organization in July 2006 as an international amateur free agent, Hernandez first reached the big-leagues in 2013. He received playing opportunities on and off until finally getting that big chance as the every day starter in 2016. At that point, Hernandez joined his friend Freddy Galvis, who had also replaced a popular legend in Jimmy Rollins at short after JRoll’s departure following the 2014 season.
Often serving as the Phillies leadoff batter, Hernandez consistently reached base, batting .277 with a .352 OBP during his seven-year career in Philadelphia. His best years were 2016 and 2017 when he hit .294 each year, leading the team in batting average each of those seasons.
He was very quick on the bases as well, stealing at least 15 bases each season from 2015-18 and leading the NL in triples with 11 in 2016. Hernanez had a little pop in his bat as well, with 29 home runs combined over the last two seasons.
His fielding percentage was .981 both last season and over his career, and he was usually among the upper-half of National League second basemen in defensive metrics. Hernandez was involved in 96 double plays last year. For five years he was a mainstay player with a team that was usually going nowhere. This is probably why he went unnoticed.
Because there is no live baseball, I’ve been watching replays of Phillies games from the last several years. There he is, the Invisible Man, starting double plays, getting on base, and generally keeping the infield together. Of course, he is no Chase Utley – he doesn’t have the power to hit home runs. He does draw a lot of walks and manages to keep rallies alive.
The Phillies have been predicted to be winners AND losers – depending on the publications you read. It really does depend on who is hot right from the beginning this time, because if there is a season, it will be a short one. A long losing streak would be fatal to any team. Cesar always had his best games against the NL East and latest reports have the Phillies likely playing most of their 2020 games within the division.
With the emergence of minor league prospect Alec Bohm and continuing hope that Scott Kingery becomes a more productive player than his career .242 average to date reveals, the Phillies allowed Hernandez to walk away last year after his contract expired.
Hernandez was signed within a month to a one-year, $6.25 million deal by the Cleveland Indians, a team that has been a contender for the last seven years and hopes to be one again in 2020. He made $7.75 million with the Phillies last season and likely would have made more this year. With Kingery making $1.75 million this year as part of a six-year/$24 million deal the Phillies are enjoying some salary savings.
Of course, no one could have predicted the circumstances we are encountering in 2020. The Phillies have hopes that Kingery is more comfortable playing second every day. Jean Segura will begin the shortened season over at third base, replacing Maikel Franco, who signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent. Newcomer Didi Gregorius, coming off a major injury, will be our shortstop. Rhys Hoskins is the only player remaining in the same position as 2019 on the infield.
So this could be very interesting – like an infield Roulette wheel – and hopefully Girardi has his markers on all the right numbers. The players don’t have a lot of time to get comfortable with each other. I think back to the championship years with Utley, Rollins, and Howard, and how they worked together year after year. Stability is so important to the foundation of a good team.
If the schedule includes a number of doubleheaders there could be many player substitutions. The anticipated expansion of MLB rosters will allow many more players to be regularly available to each team. The Phillies infield may have a different look on a day-to-day basis. Bohm and other prospects who are likely to see the minor league schedule cancelled completely would receive increased opportunities to play at the major league level.
Some of the non-roster invitees from spring training such as Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin, Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Ronald Torreyes will surely get more of a chance to participate. You certainly won’t be able to recognize all the players without a scorecard.
It does look like we might be playing baseball in July. Even if fans cannot attend any games, we can watch them on TV. I will wear my Phillies shirt and hat while enjoying a hot dog or cheesesteak while cheering on my team. I will stand up for the 7th inning stretch and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.“
Luckily, I have a subscription to MLB.tv so I can watch a lot of other games besides just the Phillies. I plan on doing just that. I will start with the Cleveland Indians, Cesar Hernandez’ new team. As one of his true fans, I will miss him here in Philly. Hail, Cesar!