KANSAS CITY -- Andrew Vaughn made his Major League debut at second base for the White Sox during Thursday afternoon’s 5-0 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
But the 23-year-old’s move from left field to the middle infield should be a one-and-done experience, with the White Sox acquiring second baseman César Hernández from Cleveland in exchange for left-hander Konnor Pilkington. To make room for Hernández on the 40-man roster, the White Sox released right-hander Tyler Johnson.
"César Hernández provides our club with a valuable combination of a power bat in the middle infield and Gold Glove-quality defense,” White Sox senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn said. “Adding a player like César gives [Chicago manager] Tony [La Russa] a strong and proven option at second base for the stretch run of the season and hopefully into October.”
Second base became a priority for the American League Central-leading White Sox with starter Nick Madrigal out for the season following surgery for a right hamstring tear.
Hernández, 31, is slashing .231/.307/.431 with 17 doubles, two triples, a career-high 18 home runs, 47 RBIs, 60 runs scored and 38 walks in 96 games with Cleveland in 2021. The switch-hitter entered play Thursday ranked among the leaders for American League second basemen in extra-base hits (tied for second, 37), homers (fourth), total bases (fourth, 162), slugging percentage (fifth), doubles (sixth), RBIs (seventh), OPS (fifth, .738) and hits (seventh). His 18 home runs are tied for third most among Major League switch-hitters this season.
Leury García and Danny Mendick have been playing second base in Madrigal’s absence, but the deal allows García to move back into a super-sub role and play around the field defensively. Garcia started at third base on Thursday, finishing 1-for-4 with a throwing error.
“That frees up Leury to play wherever we need him, so I definitely think César will get a lot of playing time at second,” La Russa said after the team’s sixth loss in eight games. “Leury is so valuable at all the positions, so he'll get his at-bats as well.”
Cleveland travels to Chicago this weekend for a three-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field, giving Hernández an immediate chance to face his old team. Hernandez won an AL Gold Glove Award at second in 2020, finishing the season with a .981 fielding percentage and ranking second among AL second basemen with six defensive runs saved. Hernández has -6 defensive runs saved in 2021.
Although Hernández has good speed, he has no stolen bases in either of the past two seasons and 80 over his nine-year career. He will earn $5 million this season after re-signing with the Indians on Jan. 29, and his contract has a club option for $6 million in ’22.
Hernández was the first trade of the day executed by Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams and the White Sox front office. They added right-handed reliever Ryan Tepera a few hours later from the Cubs in exchange for Minor League hurler Bailey Horn.
Meanwhile, Vaughn caught two popups in his debut at second base and turned a double play on a Cam Gallagher grounder to end the eighth with a slick glove flip to shortstop Danny Mendick. Placing Vaughn at second was a defensive move La Russa discussed with third-base coach Joe McEwing and bench coach Miguel Cairo on Wednesday night, which they informed Vaughn of before he took pregame grounders at the spot.
“That was probably the positive of the day: he can play second base,” La Russa said. “Made that play on the popup all the way down the line, turned that double play at the end.
“I was going to get [Yoán] Moncada off his feet which meant Mendick at short and we needed a second baseman. Very comfortable. Nice, quick arm when he had to make double plays. The highlight of the day is that he can play second base.”