It seems as though no one knows what Cesar Hernandez is worth.
After avoiding salary arbitration with two of their three eligible players - Freddy Galvis, who signed for $4.35 million, and Jeanmar Gomez, who received a nice raise to $4.2 million - the Phillies could not reach a similar one-year deal with their young second baseman.
Both sides will now exchange salary figures for next year, a task neither side likes doing. But it’s not surprising in the least the two sides haven’t been able to reach a deal yet.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Hernandez will receive $2.5 million in 2017 if the case goes to arbitration, but both team and player are hoping the case doesn’t go that far. It’s never a nice thing for a player to hear representatives from the team for which he plays explain why said player shouldn’t make the money he thinks he should. It’s why teams try to avoid salary arbitration like the plague.
And it’s likely the two sides will manage to avoid it. A compromise will likely be reached, but it may not be easy getting there.
I don’t know what to make of Cesar Hernandez. The Phillies may not either. Below is a video synopsis of why the franchise’s second baseman is such a hard player to figure out.
If you judged him strictly by the numbers, Hernandez had a true breakout season in 2016. He batted .294/.371/.393 with 17 stolen bases and a career-high walk rate of 10.6%, up from 8.8% the year before. He played 155 games, accumulated 622 PAs, and led the league in triples (11), bunt hits (15) and infield hits (36).
His on-base percentage of .371 was 22nd-best in baseball. He walked in a larger percentage of his plate appearances than anyone on the team, certainly a significant statistic when you consider the Phils had the worst on-base percentage in baseball. And since the beginning of the 2015 season (1074 PAs), he’s batting .285/.358/.374.
Cesar Hernandez put up an fWAR of 4.4 and an rAWR of 3.3. Those numbers appear to show a young player on the rise. I mean, take a look at some of the stuff he did. A four-hit game against the Giants and Madison Bumgarner? Cool!
This four-hit effort against the Diamondbacks in June was nice, too.
Defensively, Hernandez was capable of plays like this, turning a sweet double play with glove wizard Galvis.
And then this nice little move at second.
And here he is throwing our Bryce Harper last April.
Those were all really nice.
Hernandez is also one of the fastest guys on the team, with perhaps only Roman Quinn possessing more baserunning speed. Among players with at least 250 PAs last year, Hernandez led the Phils in XBT% (extra base taken percentage), taking an available extra bag 50% of the time last year.
And he does have the capability of being a big-time bag swiper, as evidenced by the ease with which he stole this bag back in September against Miami.
Given everything written above, you can see why Hernandez may think he’s worth more than what the Phils have offered so far.
But there’s more to the story.
THE PHILLIES’ ARGUMENT:
Hiding amidst many of the rosy numbers is a flawed player who frustrated coaches and fans alike with absent-mindedness on the basepaths and suspect defensive mistakes that conflict with the outstanding metrics he is credited with from Fangraphs.
While Hernandez is super-fast, he only stole 17 bases in 30 attempts last year. The 13 times he was thrown out was the second-most in baseball last year, trailing on Milwaukee’s Jonathan Villar’s 18. Of course, you can more easily excuse Villar when you consider he led baseball with 62 steals.
Cesar Hernandez is the first major-leaguer since Brady Clark in 2005 to be caught stealing at least 13 times in 30 or fewer attempts— Corey Seidman (@CoreySeidmanCSN) September 24, 2016
Hernandez was great at taking the extra base, that’s true, but was horrible in other aspects of baserunning, as Justin Klugh wrote about in October.
Here’s one of the more obvious gaffes from 2016.
Cesar Hernandez picked off first base. Literally had his head down when pitcher threw over.— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) July 24, 2016
Here’s a bag Hernandez had swiped, but he slid too far off the bag and was tagged out.
This one wasn’t very close.
Here’s a play from 2015 that illustrates the point as well.
And while Fangraphs loved his defensive range and some of the tough plays he was able to make, we saw some less-than-great moments, too. Here’s a play where Hernandez was just sloppy and paid for it with a bump to the noggin.
This error by Hernandez led to a run by Jose Reyes.
Young Cesar did this against the Marlins in September, blissfully unaware of where he was on the field.
And this foul pop was a play that a half-decent defensive second baseman should have made.
Cesar Hernandez is a walking paradox. He’s someone capable of doing really good things and could be a very valuable player in 2017. But he’s also one of the most frustrating players on the roster, capable of making a boneheaded play at any time.
I don’t know what to make of Hernandez, and I’m not surprised the Phillies and the player haven’t been able to decide on his worth, too. He’s either the worst 4-win player in baseball, or an outstanding young second baseman on the rise who just needs to quit making the dumb mistakes.
So yeah, I pity the arbitrator that has to hear this case, if it ever gets that far.