MLB’s Plans for the 2020 Season Will Have a Big Impact on Indians’ Cesar Hernández

Casey Drottar

Admittedly, despite what the headline implies, MLB’s eventual verdict on the 2020 season impacts all big-leaguers. It’s not specific to just Cesar Hernández.

Still, there are a few reasons why the Cleveland Indians’ new second baseman may be feeling a bit antsy right now. Most notably the fact he’s playing on a one-year contract, combined with the fact he’s currently not playing at all.

As is the case for any player in any professional sports league, the pressure of playing under a one-year deal is significant. There’s no financial security beyond the current campaign, so it’s crucial to put forth the best possible performance in order to secure a lengthier contract the following offseason.

It’s a challenge Hernández took on for 2020, signing a one-year, $6.25 million contract with Cleveland this winter. Said challenge is made more difficult when working with a shortened season. It’s impossible if there’s no season at all.

With that in mind, you can see how MLB’s decision on the 2020 campaign will have a significant effect on both Hernández’s financial future, as well as his future with the Indians.

Based on the initial plan, it didn’t seem as though Hernández was going to have much of a future in Cleveland beyond this year in general.

Signed as a replacement for the departed Jason Kipnis, it appeared Hernández was merely a stopgap at second. Cleveland’s top prospect -- third baseman Nolan Jones -- still needs to log some time in Triple-A before the team could feel comfortable bringing him up to the majors. So, the Indians would have Hernández man the fort in 2020 under a one-year deal, then head into 2021 playing Jones at third and moving Jose Ramirez to second base.

Obviously, speculation is playing a role here. Still, this scenario hardly feels far-fetched. Cleveland could safely avoid pushing its top prospect too quickly, and Hernández could use the current season as an opportunity to convince someone he’s worth a multi-year deal this winter.

Now, with MLB still trying to figure out if 2020 baseball is even possible, things are a bit tricky for both Hernández and the Indians.

For Hernández, the complications are clear. While MLB coming up with a feasible plan for a shortened season would at least ensure he’d get to play, it would also shrink his opportunity to earn a favorable contract next winter.

If the league comes to the unfortunate decision of cancelling the season altogether, an even bigger wrench is thrown into Hernández’s plans.

Even if there’s no baseball at all in 2020, Hernández’s deal with the Indians will still expire. His contract could come to an end without him ever logging a single regular season inning in a Cleveland uniform. Hernández would then be tasked with securing a good deal despite having no 2020 stats available to potentially increase his value.

To be fair, if there’s no season this year, Hernández won’t have done anything to guarantee he receives a less attractive offer this winter.

Well, except age, that is.

Hernández turns 30 next month. Without getting a chance to play this year, he’d be heading into next offseason having departed his prime and relying solely on his 2019 campaign to sell himself. Said season was fine, but did include a wRC+ and wRAA which were slightly below average, and his lowest fWAR since 2015.

It isn’t exactly an advantageous position to be in. Which is why it feels safe to assume Hernández is rooting for any scenario which features baseball being played in 2020.

As far as the Indians are concerned, would they give Hernández another look next year if no season takes place this summer? Or would they just consider the $6.25 million a sunk cost and move on?

Unfairly as it might be to Hernández, the latter option feels far more realistic.

Sure, there’s always a chance the two sides discuss the possibility of giving it another go in 2021, especially if Jones doesn’t get the Triple-A time he needs. MLB is having enough trouble getting the big leagues going again, so it’ll be a minute before the fate of MiLB is determined.

That said, if the league makes headway with its current plan to start the season in Arizona, Jones could find his way to the Indians’ roster this year.

Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, one consideration for the Arizona plan is expanding rosters to as many as 50 players. This would ensure teams have subs available for double-headers, injuries or just general fatigue from a compressed schedule. Cleveland could use this as an opportunity to get Jones some big league playing time and help guide decisions for 2021.

It’s all speculative, as is anything baseball related right now. Obviously, the most favorable outcome for everyone involved is to have a 2020 season so Hernández can play out his one-year deal. Unfortunately, that decision is out of his hands.

For now, Hernández is left to wonder when he’ll get the chance to prove he’s worth a longer investment.

Or if he’ll even get that chance at all.