While several Red Sox regulars are due to hit free agency this winter, the team shortened that list by one late on Monday night, reaching a one-year, $10 million deal to bring back Kiké Hernández in 2023.
Hernández, who turned 31 in August, is having a down year, hitting .219/.283/.354 with six homers in 68 games. He missed more than two months because of an abdominal strain that included what Hernández described as “a ball of blood about the size of a baseball” in his psoas muscle, which connects the lower spine to the thigh.
But his performance has improved since he returned from the injury, with Hernández hitting .254/.318/.407 in 17 games, and he remains an elite defensive player in center and at short and second. A one-year deal gives Hernández both security for next year and a chance to get another shot at the open market after what he and the team will hope is a healthy 2023 campaign.
The fact that Hernández will spend a third year in Boston represents something of an upset. When he reached free agency for the first time after the 2020 season, the versatile utility man initially sought a one-year deal, hoping that he would be able to thrive in an everyday role as a platform to a return to free agency.
But when he heard from the Red Sox, he altered his outlook to sign a two-year, $14 million deal in Boston — a bargain deal in 2021 when Hernández hit .250/.337/.449 with 20 homers as the Sox leadoff hitter, then starred in the postseason, hitting .408/.423/.837 in 11 playoff games.
“Number one, [a two-year deal with the Sox] allowed me to play every day in year one, and two, I wanted to win,” Hernández explained during the 2021 postseason. “I understood that they might not go for it as far as like, going for it — to their eyes, this may not be the year, but I was like, ‘There’s no way in hell Boston fans are going to let this team not make the playoffs more than three years in a row. So even if we don’t make it to the playoffs in year one, I know that we’re going to go out there and try to make it in year two, and I want to be a part of that.’
“I’m glad it all worked out. And yeah, maybe I could have gotten more money [after 2021] by signing a one-year deal, but I don’t really care about that as much as I’m thankful that these guys gave me the chance, and I repaid them for it.”
Now, Hernández will attempt to do the same in 2023 — at a time when the Sox roster faces a potentially significant period of turnover. Pitchers Nate Eovaldi, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and Matt Strahm are all eligible for free agency this winter, as is outfielder Tommy Pham and catcher Kevin Plawecki. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is all but certain to opt out of the final three years and $60 million of his six-year, $120 million deal, joining them on the open market.