CLEVELAND -- The Indians and the White Sox finalized a deal that sent second baseman Cesar Hernandez to Chicago in exchange for Double-A left-hander Konnor Pilkington on Thursday.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti explained that it was a limited market for second basemen. The team was in contact with the handful of contending clubs that were looking at that position and, he explained, Cleveland went with the offer they thought was the best for them.
“The motivating factors were a couple,” Antonetti said. “First was the opportunity to build some depth and bring in a player into our farm system that we like in Konnor Pilkington. … So we'll bring him into the organization and hopefully he can be an option for us in the coming years as we look to build out our future rotations.”
Pilkington is a 6-foot-3, 230-pound, 23-year-old, who’s owned a 3.48 ERA with 71 strikeouts and 21 walks in 62 innings (14 starts). He’s held batters to a .173 average, while posting a 0.92 WHIP. Pilkington was selected in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State but wasn’t ranked among Chicago’s Top 30 Prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. He’s been known to eat up innings, and his changeup has quickly developed into one of -- if not the best -- his best pitches. He also throws a heater, slider and curveball.
“We think he’s got a chance to start,” Antonetti said. “It’s a physical lefty with a four-pitch mix. He’s got a fastball that’s 90-93. His best secondary pitch at the moment is a changeup, but he also has a slider and a curveball. He’s got multiple weapons to attack hitters. Again, hopefully he can continue the success he’s had in Double-A and can be an option for us moving forward.”
Now, we get to Antonetti’s second motivating factor for making this deal.
“The other element of this trade was also about opportunity,” Antonetti said, “and an opportunity for some of the infielders both at the major league level but as importantly, to allow additional development and promotion opportunities for some of the other infielders throughout our system.”
Hernandez has always been the Cleveland player who was most likely to move at the Deadline simply because of the depth the organization has in the middle infield. Owen Miller has already seen time at second base this year, Andrés Giménez is waiting in Triple-A and eventually, Cleveland will also have its No. 2 and No. 5 prospects, Tyler Freeman and Gabriel Arias (as ranked by MLB Pipeline), ready to join the big league club.
Miller will be the first to get a shot at the big leagues. He will join the team in Chicago on Friday and will handle the bulk of the playing time at second base, while Yu Chang and Ernie Clement also continue to get some work there. In his first stint in the Majors, Miller went just 5-for-47 (.106) with a .288 OPS.
“I think just he had a tough initial spell in the Major Leagues,” Antonetti said. “He didn't have some success and maybe got away from some of the things that made him a successful hitter in the past. Hopefully him returning to the team this time, he'll feel more comfortable and be more of the player that we've seen throughout his time in the Minor Leagues.”
Part of the reason Giménez wasn’t in the team’s immediate plans was that he’s in the process of applying for United States residency, Antonetti explained. Because of that, he’s unable to leave the country during the process and because the team is off to Canada to play the Blue Jays on Monday, it would’ve presented some challenges.
Hernandez, who won a Gold Glove at second base last season, hasn’t had the consistent type of year at the plate that he’s used to, hitting just .231. But he’s demonstrated some newfound pop: In just 96 games, he’s set his career high in homers (18), with his last blast coming in Wednesday’s win over the Cardinals. He’s logged 17 doubles, two triples and has knocked in 47 runs so far this season. He’s owed less than $2 million for the rest of the year and has a $6 million club option for 2022. And with the Indians set to square off against the White Sox in Chicago, beginning on Friday, Antonetti said the team will still likely fly some of his equipment on its plane, while he travels separately to join his new club.
Hernandez joins a team that’s comfortably 8 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Indians, which makes it a difficult decision for a team that’s still trying to find a way to contend in 2021 to make a deal with.
“With all things being equal, if we had our preference, it would probably be to not trade within the division,” Antonetti said, “but in this case it made the most sense so we’re happy to make a decision we think will be in our best interest.”
Teams have until 4 p.m. ET on Friday before the Trade Deadline officially arrives. So, do the Indians think they have any other moves to make?
“We’ll work over the next 26 hours or so and whether or not we’ll make any additional moves is hard to handicap,” Antonetti said. “But I expect we’ll be busy.”