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Free agency roundup: César Hernández, Dellin Betances, and Kole Calhoun

Now that the major free agents are off the board, let’s take a look at some of the recent lesser signings.

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

César Hernández

Hey, the Indians actually spent money to make their team better! It’s a Christmas miracle! They recently signed César Hernández to a one-year, $6.25 million deal.

Cleveland was lacking a viable second baseman after parting ways with Jason Kipnis; he used to be one of the better second basemen in the league, but he struggled at the plate the last three years, and this past season he hit only .245/.304/.410.

Even though Hernández was solid in 2019, the Phillies were facing a roster crunch. They recently signed Didi Gregorius, and they already have Jean Segura and Scott Kingery. While I am all for competitive teams to spend money, Hernández was likely to crack $10 million in his final year of arbitration when the team already had viable alternatives.

Hernández is an upgrade offensively, though not by much, and he has been very durable the past two seasons at a position where that is more difficult than most. He does not hit for much power, but he does get on base more than Kipnis did, hitting .266/.345/.385 over the past two seasons. What I do find troubling, though, is that he used to be good at taking a walk, but last season he walked only 6.7 percent of the time. Not only is that below average, it is exactly half as much as he walked the year before.

How much of an upgrade Hernández proves to be over Kipnis depends on what you think of their defense. DRS likes Hernández way more than Kipnis, while the opposite is true of UZR. Steamer projects Hernández to be roughly a one-win upgrade.

Of course, this does not make up for Cleveland practically giving away Corey Kluber just to save money they don’t need to save. Also, if ownership foolishly trades away Francisco Lindor because they do not want to pay him money they can absolutely afford to pay, then this signing becomes moot anyway.

Dellin Betances

It’s no secret that the Mets’ bullpen struggled mightily in 2019 and was in desperate need of improvement. I can’t believe I am saying this, but they might have executed a smart decision to address it.

Betances signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Mets that includes a player option for 2021 valued at $6 million with a $3 million buyout. His deal also includes a vesting player option for 2022, but it allows him to make only $3 million, and even then that is only if he appears in at least 70 games.

The 2019 season was a lost one for Betances. He suffered a shoulder impingement during Spring Training that kept him out of action until mid-September. He struck out the two batters he faced before partially tearing his left Achilles, which obviously ended his season. It is not clear at the moment if he will be healthy to start the season, but considering that it is the big guy’s plant foot in question, I would prefer to play it safe.

Betances used to be one of the best relievers in baseball, even though he has struggled with his control, maxing out by walking almost 17 percent of batters faced in 2017. He has shown that he can keep his walk rate below 10 percent, though that still is not very good. However, he balances that out with the ability to strike out 40 percent of the batters he faces, which is good considering how bad this Mets’ defense is.

Even for someone going into his age-32 season, this is a low-risk, high-reward acquisition for the Mets, that was, quite frankly, a no-brainer. Even if he is just 60 percent of his former self, he will be an upgrade for this bullpen.

Kole Calhoun

After spending his entire career with the Angels, Calhoun is returning to his home state of Arizona, joining the Diamondbacks on a two-year, $16 million deal. The deal also has a team option for a third year valued at $9 million.

I was initially surprised by the Angels’ decision to decline Calhoun’s $14 million team option for 2020. He hit .232/.325/.467 in 2019, which is an above average level of offense, but if you look more closely, it appears to be inflated from the juiced ball. He hit 33 home runs when he has only hit over twenty once before, which was in 2015, and he had a .236 ISO, even though he has not had an ISO over .170 since 2014. Furthermore, his bat was well below the standard for even a good defensive right fielder over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, hitting just .227/.310/.381 over that span for an 89 wRC+.

All of this combined with Jo Adell waiting for the call-up this upcoming season makes it easy to understand why the Angels decided to move on from Calhoun. Adell should have more upside, and the downside risk to Calhoun is dangerous if the ball gets dejuiced.

Calhoun is more or less replacing Adam Jones in Arizona, who had a sub-replacement level season. As long as he does not regress too much and continues to be a plus defender, he should be a one to two-win upgrade. This appears to be a solid deal for the team.

The Diamondbacks have behaved strangely in the past year or so, as they appear to want to win, but have traded away Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt while bringing in Madison Bumgarner and Calhoun. They are coming off an 85-win season and could sneak into a Wild Card slot this upcoming season, but had they, you know, actually held onto Greinke and Goldshmidt, their chances would be a lot better, payroll be damned.

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.