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At 50-49, Cleveland traded two year starting second baseman Cesar Hernandez to division rival Chicago (60-43) at eight games back in the standings in the division.
Hernandez was hitting .231/.307/.431 (100 wRC+. 100 is league average) with a career high 18 homers. Cleveland signed Hernandez to a one year, $5 million deal with a club option for 2022.
What Cleveland is giving up
While Hernandez has seen a drop in his overall batting line, a lot of his numbers are very similar to his solid 2020 season. His 21 K% and 9 BB% are identical year over year and he’s added more power with a career high 18 homers so far this year, but he’s dealt with a career low .256 BABIP. His hard hit % was 36% this year compared to 35% a year ago.
In 2020, Hernandez provided great on base skills at decent speed on the bases with it. This year, there has more been power at the top of the order and a switch hitting veteran in a young lineup trying to help them balance winning and transitioning to a younger roster.
It was unlikely that Cleveland was going to pick up Hernandez’s option for 2022 with multiple young infielders ready to play at the big league level.
What’s next for Cleveland
First and foremost, as stated above, Cleveland now has another chance to look at Owen Miller full time, initially. Miller came up in late May and hit .106/.160/.128. He took Franmil Reyes’ spot on the roster and played at third, second and shortstop at times, as well as DH. Once he started to struggle, he saw his playing time reduced and was eventually sent back to Columbus.
Miller got off to a hot start in Columbus before being called up but had just a .672 OPS in 13 June games when he got sent back down, but over his last 19 games, he’s had an .802 OPS.
At 25, Cleveland needs to see what Miller’s future is in the big leagues. Can he hit enough to be an everyday starter at any infield spot, or is he more likely a bench bat that can play everywhere? Miller saw a few games in the outfield in Columbus as well, and first base at times.
Miller is the first player to be recalled due to Andres Gimenez working on becoming a US citizen, so he isn’t able to travel to Canada next week when Cleveland plays in Toronto. He will get another chance to play this year, Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti mentioned.
With a high amount of 40 man roster decisions ahead for Cleveland going into the winter, it’s imperative that they find out if Miller or Gimenez are starters or not going forward. Two months playing part time won’t be able to solve that, but they’ll get the ball rolling on those decisions.
They were also able to move Richie Palacios, who was having a breakout year in Double-A Akron after two years of being unable to play due to shoulder surgery and the pandemic, to Triple-A Columbus. He had an .885 OPS in Akron and was second in the Double-A Northeast with 24 doubles. He’s seen time at second base and all three outfield spots.
The move up also allows 20 year old Brayan Rocchio to play the rest of the year at Double-A Akron, where he likely would have ended 2020 anyway if not for the pandemic.
In addition to getting a better look at Miller and Gimenez, and moving Palacios and Rocchio along the system, Cleveland also added LHP Konnor Pilkington.
Pilkington, a three year starter at Mississippi State, was the White Sox third round pick in 2018.
A 6’3 left hander, Pilkington throws from a high 3/4 arm slot with a deceptive, fairly uncomplicated delivery. He’s a solid strike thrower with four pitches, all fringe average to average.
His fastball in college ranged up to 96 but has been more 89-93 in the pro’s. However, there have been reports that he has regained some of that velocity this year, sitting more 91-93 and getting back up to 95. It’s a fringe-average fastball but has good shape and some deception thanks to the spin and the deception his delivery creates.
He has an average 12-6 curveball, a slider that looks like it has the makings of an average to above average slider, and an above average changeup.
Curiously, Pilkington has to be added to the 40 man roster this winter, as he is Rule 5 eligible. This likely means that this was the best player Cleveland felt they were offered for Hernandez and took the best player available, as they often do, than take a lesser, young talented player.
In the end, this is a pretty fair trade. Hernandez has had some bad luck as a hitter this year but has been effective nonetheless. He’s a league average hitter who probably should have had some better results. His defense however, has noticeably been not up to par with 2020 and has been inconsistent.
Hernandez wasn’t going be the difference between Cleveland catching the White Sox or chasing down a Wild Card spot. With Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale not coming back until late August, at best, there was little reason to hang onto Hernandez with the need for Miller and Gimenez needing to play more this season.
Chicago likely isn’t going to pick up his option next season with Nick Madrigal returning from a hamstring injury that has him out for the rest of 2021.
Pilkington projects as a back of the rotation arm or spot starter with some traits that Cleveland has been able to develop into something a little more. He gives them a little more system depth in pitching, in case they lose someone else in the Rule 5 draft this winter, if they don’t protect him or someone else. It also gives thought that maybe there’s a chance Cleveland tries to deal one of its other Rule 5 eligible arms before the end of the July 30 trade deadline.
Chicago fills a need with a solid every starter at second base for the rest of the year and into the postseason, while Cleveland now has a chance to look at potentially two key pieces to their 2022 and beyond roster, and grabs another arm they might be able to add to their pitching depth for the future.
The only strange thing about the deal is that it creates an additional 40 man question for Cleveland.