CLEVELAND -- The Indians still had over two weeks left in their 2020 season when Cesar Hernandez was asked whether he thought he had a future in Cleveland. Though he said those conversations hadn’t yet started with the front office, he confidently said, “I will be looking forward to being part of the team in the following years.”
Now, that statement rings true, as the Tribe announced Friday that Hernandez will return in 2021.
Hernandez was excellent for Cleveland in 2020, and early in the offseason, it seemed like bringing the free agent back on another one-year deal would be the obvious choice. He hit .283 with a .763 OPS, an American League-best 20 doubles, three homers and 20 RBIs in 58 games after signing a one-year, $6.25 million deal.
The 30-year-old was a great replacement for Francisco Lindor at the top of the lineup and continued to produce after the team moved him down in the order to pencil Lindor back in at the leadoff spot. Not only was Hernandez the Indians’ second-best hitter behind José Ramírez last year, but he also was awarded an AL Gold Glove Award for his defense at second base.
“Cesar did a great job,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said in October. “I mean, everything we had hoped he might be, he did that and more. He was arguably among the most consistent players we had all season: offensively, defensively, on the bases. He's a really good baseball player, and he fit really well into the fabric of our team and the culture in the clubhouse.”
With a glaring hole at second base, it made the most sense that the Indians would find a way to bring Hernandez back for another year after the 2020 season ended. But once the team picked up two middle infielders in Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez from the Mets in the Lindor/Carlos Carrasco trade on Jan. 7, a reunion with Hernandez became less likely.
Hernandez has played 754 of his 821 career big league games at second base. He’ll be sliding back into the position he manned for the Indians last season. That leaves Rosario and Giménez to battle for the starting job at shortstop this spring. Both are natural shortstops, but Giménez said he’s been practicing all over the infield to make sure he’s ready for anything at Spring Training, while Rosario said he’s been solely focused on shortstop.
Hernandez has spent most of his eight-year career batting leadoff, owning a .273/.358/.391 slash line when hitting from that spot in the order. Now that Lindor is no longer with the Tribe, Hernandez will likely secure the leadoff spot this season.