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Tigers sign infielder Cesar Hernandez to minor league deal

The long-time MLB infielder could earn $1.5 million if he makes the major league roster.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The top of the Detroit Tigers roster isn’t impressing anyone yet, but Scott Harris is definitely building in a solid floor with all the minor league depth he’s built into the roster this offseason. On Wednesday, Jon Heyman of the NY Post reported that the Tigers have signed veteran infielder César Hernández to a minor league contract. The deal comes with an invite to spring training and is reportedly worth $1.5 million plus incentives should Hernández make the major league roster.

Hernández has played 10 seasons in the major leagues, and will be 33 years old in May. He’s largely been a second baseman, but does have a little experience at shortstop, third base, and in the outfield. The left side of the infield is really not the place for his arm, but he can handle most positions capably and has the speed to come off the bench to pinch run.

The Philadelphia Phillies brought Hernández up in their system, and he played six seasons in Philly before spending the past two seasons bouncing around. Overall he’s put together a nice career as an underpowered regular who posted some good seasons in his 20’s and is looking to extend his career as a utility player. He was with Cleveland and then the Chicago White Sox in 2021, and played second base every day for the Washington Nationals in 2022. In 617 plate appearances with the Nats, Hernández posted a 79 wRC+ with one home run, and was worth 0.5 fWAR. He’s projected for a little better offensive production in 2023.

The switch-hitting infielder can probably be viewed as insurance for Jonathan Schoop and perhaps to push some of the Tigers other utility options. Hernandez hit 21 home runs as recently as 2021, but that was a fairly freakish career high on a Cleveland team that seems to get freakish production from veteran players at times. Either way, as quickly as it showed up, the home run power completely disappeared in 2022.

Hernández still gets on base at roughly a league average clip, and retains the speed to steal some bases. He’s a versatile, experienced player who makes sense as a depth pickup. Still, the Tigers won’t be thrilled if he gets significant major league playing time unless there is some major and unforeseen resurgence. More likely, playing time for Hernández would mean that either Schoop or Javier Báez is injured, or the team’s younger infield options like Nick Maton, Ryan Kreidler, Tyler Nevin, and potentially Matt Vierling, among others, aren’t capable of taking those extra infield reps for whatever reason. The Tigers seem rightly committed to playing their young players.

As a depth signing and a skilled veteran to push players in camp, this seems like a solid move. These things don’t move the needle, but Hernández adds another jack post to the depth chart, insuring that while the Tigers probably won’t be very good, the floor won’t collapse on them this season.