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Peter Abraham | On Baseball

Is the Kiké Hernández extension a sign the Red Sox are serious about contending again?

At 31, Kiké Hernández is a good bet to bounce back and be the player he was in 2021.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — At face value, the Red Sox signing Kiké Hernández to a one-year contract extension worth $10 million is not cause for big celebration.

Hernández is having one of the worst offensive seasons in his career and batted eighth for a last-place team against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

Look past the cover page and there’s more there. A lot more.

That Hernández has a .637 OPS is a product of his playing through an abdominal injury for two months, then going on the injured list for the two months after that.

“This year has been probably the most challenging for me in terms of health,” he said.

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At 31, Hernández is a good bet to bounce back and be the player he was in 2021 when he helped fuel a productive offense from the leadoff spot.

He’s also one of those players whose intangible qualities are ones teams typically value when they’re intent on winning.

Hernández and Kevin Plawecki celebrate happily at home plate during an August game against the Rays. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Sox benefit from this deal by locking up a trustworthy center fielder for another season. Hernández gains a chance to improve his worth and return to free agency at 32.

Had the Sox not signed him, Hernández would have sought a one-year deal elsewhere. He was happy to stay, saying Boston has been good to his family and he appreciates the fervor for baseball in the city.

“At the beginning of the season I was looking forward to hitting free agency again and obviously things didn’t go my way,” Hernández said. “There was a change of plans. This is a place where I want to be.”

The Red Sox engaged Hernández in talks around the trade deadline that quickly stalled. Bloom and Hernández then met at Fenway Park late last month without any progress.

Then last week Hernández got a call from his agent, Joel Wolfe, that a deal was ready to be done. The Sox had budged.

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“The toughest part about it was not being able to tell my teammates or anybody about it,” Hernández said. “In a way it felt like I was cheating on them.”

That center field prospect Jarren Duran hit .220 and played poor defense over 57 games played a role in the Sox wanting to keep Hernández for another year.

At this stage, Double A center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela is a better prospect than Duran but isn’t likely to be ready for 2023. Like Hernández, Rafaela plays multiple positions and hits for surprising power.

The Sox also were influenced by a free agent market lacking in quality center fielders.

“Kiké embodies a lot of what we’re looking for,” said assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who was on hand for the formal announcement on Tuesday. “Kiké's a winning player. He brings it every day.

“You’ve seen the clutch hits that he got for us last year, the versatility with the defense, what he did in the playoffs for us and really, what I think most importantly, what he brings to the clubhouse.”

Hernández, center, is known as someone who will do anything to keep teammates loose -- like leading the cheers during a 2022 spring training game.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Manager Alex Cora, long a champion of what Hernández brings to a team, was heartened by the news.

“Thinking about the future and having him here next year, it kind of starts the process,” he said. “Obviously we have to take care of other stuff and we’ll work on that. It’s a good start.”

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Cora is right, Hernández is a good start. But this needs to be the first of many such moves.

“There’s a lot of questions surrounding the team in the offseason. I hope I’m the first key piece to the team that’s going to come back,” Hernández said.

Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has a lot of work to do to get the Sox back in contention. Retaining shortstop Xander Bogaerts heads that list. They also need at least three reliable starting pitchers, a major overhaul of the bullpen, a designated hitter, and an outfielder.

That Bloom retained Hernández is hopefully a sign the Sox are indeed serious about contending again.

Hernández wondered about that. This season will end a personal streak of seven consecutive years in the playoffs and he broached the topic of competitiveness with Bloom.

“He knows where I stand . . . I’m not going to say he promised me. But he promised me that we’re going to be way better next year,” Hernández said.

Hope he got it in writing.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.