Evaluating Nationals’ Wilmer Difo, Phillies’ Cesar Hernandez As Options For Dodgers At Second Base
Evaluating Nationals’ Wilmer Difo, Phillies’ Cesar Hernandez As Options For Dodgers At Second Base
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the beginning of Spring Training rapidly approaching, the Los Angeles Dodgers have continued their search for a second baseman and are exhausting all options.

In addition to the Minnesota Twins’ Brian Dozier, Detroit Tigers’ Ian Kinsler and Tampa Bay Rays’ Logan Forsythe, the Dodgers have reportedly touched base with the Texas Rangers regarding former top prospect Jurickson Profar.

Two more possible fits for Los Angeles have surfaced over the past week — a pair of National League East rivals in Cesar Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals’ Wilmer Difo.

Hernandez, entering his age-26 season, enjoyed the best year of his career in 2016. In 622 plate appearances, the switch-hitter put up a solid slash line of .294/.371/.393 (107 OPS+, 108 wRC+) with 17 stolen bases and a league-leading 11 triples.

Against southpaws, Hernandez hit .341/.391/.399 in 151 plate appearances and ranked eighth in batting average among qualified batters.

What’s more, Hernandez placed second in UZR/150 among second basemen at 12.6 and tallied four Defensive Runs Saved. Overall, he was worth 3.3 bWAR, while FanGraphs valued Hernandez more favorably at 4.4.

Hernandez will be eligible for arbitration as a Super 2 in 2017 and can become a free agent, at the earliest, in 2021. Given his team-friendly contract and breakout season in 2016, the Phillies will undoubtedly be seeking a haul for their starting second baseman.

While Hernandez significantly improved in all facets of the game last year, it was the first time in his career he surpassed the 1.4 fWAR plateau in a single season.

From 2013-2015, Hernandez accumulated an 87 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR in 708 plate appearances — a far cry from his total production in 2016.

For the Dodgers’ sake, they have to determine whether Hernandez’s success last season was an outlier or if he has truly turned a corner and will be a 3-4 win player going forward.

Difo, turning 25 in April, doesn’t quite have the track record as his counterpart. Over parts of two seasons, he owns a career slash line of .261/.338/.348 with four extra-base hits in 77 plate appearances (44 games).

Also a switch-hitter, Difo fared slightly better in seven seasons of Minor League action, posting a .732 on-base plus slugging over nearly 2,500 trips to the plate.

Difo was included on last season’s NL Division Series roster and received two plate appearances against the Dodgers. He most notably made the final out in the deciding Game 5, striking out to Clayton Kershaw and subsequently earning the lefty his first career Major League save.

As is the case with Profar and the Rangers, there doesn’t appear to be an everyday spot for Difo in the Nationals’ lineup.

With Anthony Rendon cementing the hot corner, Trea Turner at shortstop and Daniel Murphy locked in at second base, Difo will struggle getting the necessary amount of at-bats to make an impact. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Nationals have to trade Difo.

They can utilize him in a bench role for another season, holding on to the young infielder as quality insurance in case an injury occurs. But Difo’s full potential will never be realized until the training wheels come off.

Considering that Difo doesn’t have the upside or ceiling as Profar, it shouldn’t cost nearly as much for the Dodgers to acquire him in a trade, despite the four extra years of club control.

Additionally, Difo isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2020, making him a cost-efficient, but lesser alternative if Los Angeles can’t swing a trade for a more established second baseman.

With many targets on the trade and free agent market, it remains to be seen which direction the club will take in their quest to upgrade at second base.

But if this past week was any indication, the Dodgers are exploring all avenues and a solution should be coming sooner rather than later.