By Jared Lankes
I recently looked at potential upgrades that the Pirates could look at regarding second base. Well, hours after that, one of the targets was dealt. Howie Kendrick was traded to Philadelphia. This move, however, opened up another intriguing second base target in Cesar Hernandez. Let’s look if he’s a candidate to replace Josh Harrison at that position.
Looking at Hernandez’ stats, nothing stands out in terms of his power or overall production. However, in 2016, he hit close to .300 with an OBP in the upper-.300s in 155 games and over 600 plate appearances. Harrison, on the other hand, hit below .290 with an OBP at a very low .311 considering what his batting average was. Granted, Harrison played less games and got more RBIs and his overall production might have been better had he played the same amount of games Hernandez did. Although, looking at Harrison over the last couple of seasons, he seems to be leveling out. When I look at Hernandez, I see a young player that is already just as good, if not better, than Harrison and is still coming into his own and may get better.
There is also the matter of money, which we know is very important to the Pirates. Firstly, let’s look at Harrison. He has a contract that will see him make increasing amount of money every year until at least 2019 with two team options set at $10.5 million and at $11.5 million, when he’s 31 and 32 years old. Even at age 30, he will be set to make $10.25 million. For a guy like Harrison, this is starting to look like a severe overpay. Harrison was paid for an outlier year and past production, and it is obvious now.
For Hernandez, he would get paid as he goes and for production year-by-year as he is a Super 2 player that isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021. Even as a Super 2 player, Hernandez would need to be other-worldly to get paid like Harrison is, and if he is good enough to earn it in arbitration, then he’s good enough to earn it and should be kept.
Overall, I see two players that give similar production but one has seemed to level out while one looks like he could break out. Even if Hernandez doesn’t break out, he’d be a cheaper option than Harrison for similar production.
However, for this to even work, the Pirates would need to find a taker for Harrison and with his contract consistently looking worse, they’d be hard-pressed to find a taker. Then, they would have to work with the Phillies to get them to give up on a young, controllable, affordable option that they can very easily keep. Whether an incremental upgrade such as this is even worth doing all that is the big question.