The Dodgers are getting at least some of the old band back together with Tuesday’s reacquisition of Enrique Hernández. The 32-year-old super-utilityman returns (along with cash considerations) via trade with the Red Sox in exchange for pitchers Nick Robertson and Justin Hagenman. Hernández, who signed a one-year, $10 million pact with Boston during the offseason, is hitting a career-worst .222/.279/.320 (60 wRC+). The Red Sox are picking up roughly $2.5 million of the deal’s remaining money to improve their return, receiving multiple polished, back-of-the-40-man arms in Hagenman and Robertson.
This season is the second consecutive year of declining offensive performance for Hernández, who has been a below-average hitter for most of the last five years. The decline is consistent across a variety of statistical categories, and there are no underlying signs that might indicate a bounce back or positive regression, but Hernández is still a capable defender at second base and (most importantly in this case) in center field. A June injury to Trayce Thompson eventually begat a deal for defensive specialist Jake Marisnick, whose recent hamstring injury again left the Dodgers thin in center. James Outman, whose hit tool has had a violent regression to the mean after a hot start, has seen the lion’s share of reps in center this year, while Jason Heyward and rookie Jonny Deluca have each played there a handful of times. All three are capable center field defenders but none of them is great, and you can make a coherent argument that Hernández is the best healthy center field defender on the Dodgers 40-man right now.
Hernández has had fits and starts of multi-positional duty this year. There have been stretches where he’s deployed solely at shortstop for weeks at a time, while at other points, he has transitioned from second or short to center field (and vice versa) within the same game. He’s not a plus defender at any of those positions, and in fact I’d consider him below average at shortstop now, but his versatility will allow for manager Dave Roberts to more freely play matchups with his outfield platoon. It also allows Roberts to hit for light-hitting starting shortstop Miguel Rojas in important spots, as now either Hernández or Chris Taylor can slide in at the position after Roberts pulls that offense-minded lever.
Hernández is likely last in the righty-hitting pecking order on the active roster, but he’s going to help ensure the other hitters are deployed in matchups that suit their skills, he’ll play high-effort defense and make some heady, spectacular plays, and he’ll bring a melange of his usual clubhouse presence cut with nostalgic familiarity.
The new Red Sox pitchers are both big league-ready, lower-impact arms. Hernández has been a below-replacement performer, so to get anything back for him required eating a chunk of his remaining deal, and in this case, the Red Sox get depth on the fringe of their 40-man roster. Twenty-five-year-old righty Nick Robertson was a 2019 seventh rounder out of James Madison and was developed as a pure relief prospect. Even though he and the Dodgers had trouble finding a consistently good breaking ball, Robertson coasted through the minors and made his big league debut in June; he should settle in as a fastball/changeup up/down reliever. He joins a giant contingent of optionable pitching on Boston’s 40-man.
The soon-to-be-27-year-old Hagenman has been one of the better few dozen strike throwers in the minors the last three seasons, during which he’s walked just 6.8% of batters across 180 innings. A three-year starter at Penn State, the former 23rd rounder has been developed in a long relief role as a pro, and he posted a sub-3.00 ERA and 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio across 55 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City before the trade. Hagenman sits 91-94 with sink (but a flat approach angle) and relies on his secondary pitch quality and execution to get by. His mid-80s changeup (usually 86-87 mph) has big fade and is Hagenman’s nastiest pure pitch in terms of movement, but his command of his 45-grade slider makes that pitch his most consistent weapon, and the one that performs the best from a bat-missing perspective. He’s a perfectly good upper-level long reliever who’d throw strikes if he had to get six big league outs tomorrow, but on stuff, Hagenman looks like a fringe 40-man arm.