Dodgers re-sign Kiké Hernández after trading Manuel Margot to Twins

Dodgers second baseman Kike Hernandez takes his stance in first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26, 2023.

The Dodgers’ new-look roster got another modification Monday.

Shortly after the team agreed to trade outfielder Manuel Margot to the Minnesota Twins, they struck a one-year, $4-million contract with super-utility man Kiké Hernández, bringing back the veteran free agent after trading for him at the deadline last season.

The moves make sense for a Dodgers team still trying to improve around the margins.

Whereas Margot was expected to serve a more limited role as backup center fielder to James Outman, Hernández should give the Dodgers more “optionality,” a highly treasured asset to the club’s front office.

By sending Margot (and minor-league infielder Rayne Doncon) to Minnesota, the Dodgers added another prospect to their system, getting shortstop and former No. 36 overall draft pick Noah Miller in the deal.

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And, they did without making any major alterations to their payroll situation. While Margot was due to earn $10 million from the Dodgers, the team is sending cash to the Twins that will effectively pay down Margot’s salary there to $4 million — effectively, a cash-neutral pair of transactions when accounting for Hernández’s new deal.

“Obviously, Manny still fit really well,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “Kiké, we felt, just fit a little bit better.”

A free agent who’d remained unsigned through the first few weeks of spring training, Hernández was reportedly deciding between four teams — the Angels, Twins, New York Yankees and San Diego Padres — over the weekend, with a final decision expected to come Monday.

On Monday, however, the Dodgers swooped in to keep the 32-year-old with the organization, finalizing a reunion both Dodgers brass and Hernández himself had been interested in all offseason.

“There was mutual interest all along, but obviously there were challenges with how our team was constructed,” Gomes said, referencing the fact the Dodgers’ roster was effectively full before the Margot trade.

“Once we were able to line up on the deal with Minnesota,” Gomes added, “it opened up a spot for Kiké and we were able to pull that one through.”

The Dodgers' Kiké Hernández wears his sunglasses before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26, 2023.
Kiké Hernández will provide the Dodgers with depth in the infield and outfield. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Hernández can play all three outfield spots, giving the Dodgers more flexibility at a position group that figures to have only two non-platoon players: Outman and offseason signing Teoscar Hernández.

Hernández can also slot in at any spot in the infield, providing some defensive insurance for Max Muncy at third base, Gavin Lux at shortstop, Mookie Betts at second and even Freddie Freeman at first.

Like last year, Hernández probably won’t be an everyday player for the Dodgers, who see him as more of a weapon versus left-handed pitching (he has a career .801 OPS against lefties, and .667 OPS against righties).

But even as a part-time platoon player, Hernández could still have an impact.

Whenever Outman needs a day off, Hernández can play center. In games Jason Heyward sits against left-handed starters, Hernández can take his place in the lineup. On days Hernández doesn’t start, he can serve as a pinch-hit option off the bench. And if the Dodgers do reach the postseason as many expect, Hernández has an impressive October resume, with a .274 batting average in 72 career playoff games.

“The regular-season fit is very helpful and obvious,” Gomes said. ”And the known quantity of, we’ve seen Kiké [play well] time and time again in the postseason, is a nice added benefit of being able to bring him back.”

It doesn’t mean the Puerto Rico native — who underwent double hernia surgery in October but was expected to be back to normal baseball activities by the start of spring — is guaranteed to produce.

Hernández hasn’t batted better than .250 since 2018. Since then, he has posted an above-league-average OPS+ (an all-encompassing offensive statistic) only once.

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Last year was shaping up to be a low point for Hernández, who was batting .222 with a .599 OPS when the Boston Red Sox traded him to the Dodgers.

And though he was better the rest of the way, batting .262 with a .731 OPS after returning to Chavez Ravine, his OPS+ with the Dodgers was slightly below the league average.

Those risks, of course, won’t matter much to a Dodgers fan base that embraced Hernández during his first stint with the club from 2015 to 2020, then welcomed him back with rousing ovations after last year’s trade.

Just as they — and many people within the organization — had hoped, Hernández is set to stay in the Southland in 2024, making for one more noteworthy move in a Dodgers offseason that has been full of them.

“He understands his value and what kind of player he is, a championship player,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, any roster that he’s on, he makes the ballclub better.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.