All statistics via baseball-reference, unless otherwise noted
Should the Phillies trade Cesar Hernandez?
I, like many Phillies fans, was on-board with trading the nearly-28-year-old second baseman over the winter. It felt as if he could have been included in a package deal for a quality pitcher (Chris Archer, anyone?). However, as each passing day went by, it became clear that one of two things was happening. Either 1) The Phillies were hesitant to trade their leadoff hitter or 2) other teams didn’t value Hernandez as highly as the Phils. Personally, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle; GM Matt Klentak was likely very willing to trade Hernandez, but only if he could include Cesar as one of the headliners of a package for a near-ace-caliber pitcher. That trade, as we all know, never materialized, and Cesar entered the season as the starting second baseman, and leadoff hitter, of the team.
Over the past few weeks, I have debated in my mind if I’m still on the trade-Cesar train. While it is likely best for Scott Kingery if the team can find him a single position to play every day, his natural position is 2B and, well, Cesar is producing. Kingery, as we have seen, can also play shortstop, 3B, and the corner outfield spots but, again, it is probably better in the long-term if he can slide in as the everyday 2B.
Unfortunately, the decision isn’t that easy. Cesar was one of the better leadoff hitters in baseball last season, as he hit .294, to go along with a .373 OBP and .793 OPS. He hit 26 doubles, six triples, and nine home runs in just 511 ABs (128 games). His power was much improved, as the 26 doubles represented a career high, as did the nine home runs, despite missing 34 games.
His number so far this year are equally as impressive. In an admittedly small sample size, Hernandez is hitting .300 with a .440 OBP and .940 OPS in 40 ABs. He also already has two doubles and two home runs. Hernandez has molded himself into a borderline-great hitter, and is, arguably, the Phillies’ only real fit at the top of the order at the moment (Odubel Herrera or Carlos Santana could fill in, but neither is anywhere near as good a fit as Cesar).
Those who want Hernandez to be traded, however, have a decent point. Kingery has impressed thus far, hitting .250, with a .300 OBP and .800 OPS, to go along with three doubles, two home runs (including a late grand slam to put a game away against the Reds) and seven RBIs (including a walk-off sacrifice fly, again against the Reds) in 36 ABs. It is safe to say that the nearly-24-year-old Kingery deserves to be in the lineup on an everyday basis.
Clearly, something has to give. Both Hernandez and Kingery are producing (although Kingery undoubtedly has the bigger ceiling and is under a remarkably team-friendly deal through the 2023 season, with team options through the 2026 season). Lately, manager Gabe Kapler has been plugging Kingery in at shortstop and 3B. While Maikel Franco has been surprisingly productive at 3B with a .258 batting average, two home runs, and 12 RBIs, history tells us that he will regress as the season goes along. However, it is still likely in the Phillies’ best interest to give Franco this season (or at least most of the season) to see if he can figure it all out and become the star that we all thought he would be – he is still just 25 years old.
That leaves the shortstop position for Kingery to get everyday playing time. Unfortunately, for him, J.P. Crawford currently mans the position. While Crawford got off to a very slow start to the season, he has shown signs of life over the past few games, including hitting his first major league home run on Wednesday night, and driving in the go-ahead run on Tuesday night. With Crawford’s elite eye at the plate, it is likely just a matter of time before he starts to drastically improve, and at just 23 years of age, the Phillies must give the former top prospect at least the next few seasons to figure things out.
That brings us back to second base in order to try to find everyday playing time for Kingery (while he did spell Rhys Hoskins in LF on Wednesday night and seems capable of playing in the outfield, the last thing the Phillies need is another outfielder to add to the already-crowded crew; Kingery will not be an everyday OF unless a rash of injuries occur). Hypothetically, if Hernandez is traded, Kingery will immediately get everyday playing time at the position, and a large lineup issue will be resolved. However, this brings me back to the original question: should Hernandez actually be traded?
Cesar’s numbers and relatively young age say that he should not be moved unless the Phillies can package him for a position of need (namely, an ace-caliber pitcher). This leaves Klentak in a bit of a quandary: if he cannot find a suitable partner for Hernandez, should he trade him for non-elite prospects in order to clear the way so Kingery can get the everyday playing time he deserves?
I argue no. Hernandez is simply too valuable for the Phillies to trade him for a package of players that may or may not ever pan out. If a high-quality, young(ish) pitcher does become available, I would be on-board with including Cesar as one of the headliners of the deal. However, if this does not occur, I am of the opinion that Hernandez should be held on to for the duration of the regular season, and then shopped again over the winter. While getting Kingery ABs nearly every day should be a point of emphasis for the team, this does not mean that one of the most valuable players on the team should be traded for pennies on the dollar, just to open up a spot.
For now, Kingery should continue to play a super-utility role, and Hernandez should continue to play 2B and reside at the top of the Phillies’ lineup. If a high-quality pitcher becomes available, Klentak should dangle Hernandez. If not, Cesar should stay in the lineup on an everyday basis, and be held on to until the winter commences.
Image via Flickr (unicornsmarshmallows)