WASHINGTON -- The Nationals added veteran experience to their infield by agreeing to terms with free agent and former AL Gold Glove Award winner César Hernández to a one-year contract on Tuesday night.
Hernández, 31, is entering his 10th season. Familiar to the NL East, he spent the first seven years of his career with the Phillies. Hernández played for Cleveland and the White Sox last season, when the switch-hitter batted .232 with 62 RBIs and a career-high 21 homers in 149 games. He also reached the 1,000 career hits milestone in 2021.
Hernández has played the bulk of his games (7,621 1/3 innings) at second base. He won a Gold Glove at the position in 2020 with Cleveland, leading AL second basemen with a FanGraphs defensive rating of 4.7. Hernández also has experience playing third base (184 1/3 innings), shortstop (133 innings) and center field (190 1/3 innings).
The question to be answered is where Hernández fits into the Nationals lineup -- at the plate and on the field.
The team has emphasized its desire for a spark at the top of the batting order (a la Kyle Schwarber’s historic leadoff surge), and Hernández brings experience at that spot with 588 games hitting leadoff and 122 batting second. He is tied for ninth among active players with 18 career leadoff homers, including five in 2021.
Defensively, the Nationals' middle infield was manned by 21-year-old Luis García at second and veteran Alcides Escobar at shortstop last season. Washington’s options could include utilizing Hernández at second, shifting García to shortstop (where he played 11 games) and moving Escobar to a backup utility role or third base (29 games played), should they decide to look elsewhere from Carter Kieboom. The Nats also could get a look at Hernández at shortstop or third base and make adjustments with García, Escobar or Kieboom accordingly.
The Hernández addition comes one day after the Nationals signed outfielder Andrew Stevenson to a one-year deal (avoiding arbitration), and the same day they claimed infielder Lucius Fox off waivers from the Orioles, tendered the contracts of arbitration-eligible right fielder Juan Soto, center fielder Victor Robles, first baseman Josh Bell, right-handers Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Tanner Rainey and Austin Voth, and non-tendered right-handers Wander Suero and Ryne Harper as well as first baseman Mike Ford. Their 40-man roster stands at 38.