DJ LeMahieu ended up becoming the Yankees’ best acquisition last offseason, but that sure didn’t seem likely when he first signed to be the team’s utility man. Expected to play a role as a contact-first player with an indeterminate position, he provided more pop than expected and was a valuable defender around the diamond, straying from his natural position at second base.
Ex-Phillies infielder Cesar Hernandez is a surprisingly similar player, and he’s available this offseason after the Phillies non-tendered him. Although he’s never shown the power that LeMahieu did and can’t match LeMahieu’s reputation as a former Gold Glover or All-Star, Hernandez profiles as a lesser but reasonable facsimile of LeMahieu, and might be able to fill a need for the Yankees this season.
The Yankees definitely need an extra infielder on their roster right now. The starters are set – Luke Voit, LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela from first to third – and it’s likely that Miguel Andujar will make the team as a reserve or as a frequent DH. The team still needs some middle infield depth, however, and Hernandez could fit the bill. Like LeMahieu, he originally came up as a utility man before settling in at second base, where he primarily played with Philadelphia for the last five seasons.
Although he’s not a Gold Glover, Hernandez grades out as a positive defender by DRS and commits a league-average amount of errors (10-12 per 162-game season). He hasn’t played any other position since 2017, when he cameo’d at shortstop. Hernandez also played some third base early in his career. Although it has been a few years since he played a non-second base position, that was the case for LeMahieu too, and he took well to his role as an infield jack-of-all-trades. Not everyone is fit for that role, but Hernandez seems to have the versatility, skillset, and perhaps the desperation necessary to take on that task if the Yankees are interested.
Hernandez is also interesting as a hitter. He’s coming off his two worst offensive seasons since becoming a regular, but still has some intriguing tools. He doesn’t strike out much (career 18.9 percent strikeout rate) and historically has good plate discipline (9.9 percent walk rate), though he did see an uncharacteristic drop in walks last season.
Hernandez’s strongest attribute at the plate is his ability to make contact. He has hit above .270 in all but one full season, with two years at .294 sprinkled in. Hernandez has not been immune to the juiced-ball era and the launch angle revolution – Hernandez has hit 29 home runs the last two years, which accounts for more than half of his career total, and lowered his groundball rate at the same time. Although this has resulted in more RBI and runs and a higher slugging, it has also seen his OBP and overall productivity drop slightly.
Still, this decline in Hernandez’s production isn’t a major one. Compared to an average starter, it’s a step down, but Hernandez would be a backup for the Yankees, and a pretty good one. His profile as a contact and defense-first infielder is a good balance to the offense-first approach of most of the rest of the Yankees’ infield, and could make him a valuable reserve or late-game defensive option.
Unless the Yankees fully trust Thairo Estrada or Tyler Wade, it might be a good idea to bring in some veteran insurance. Out of the available options on the market, Cesar Hernandez seems like one of the most appealing choices.