Earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Rays made a somewhat quiet signing in bringing aboard Roberto Hernandez on a one-year, $3.25 million deal (insert witty comment about identity fraud and whether or not they got the right guy).
The move was a bit surprising, given the Rays’ depth in their rotation, as well as the fact that the contract seems a bit heavy for a team like the Rays, especially when they have that depth in their rotation. And especially when it’s a guy who has been anything but consistent in the past few seasons, even before everyone found out he wasn’t exactly who we thought he was.
The limited action in which we saw Hernandez last season, once his identity nonsense was sorted out, wasn’t pretty. He surrendered 14 earned in 12 innings of work in his three starts. He’s always been kind of a streaky pitcher, though, so we don't know what may have come from a full season of him in the rotation, playing in front of a decent defense.
Nonetheless, this Hernandez/Carmona signing has a chance to pay big dividends for the Rays, for a variety of reasons.
- With the Rays, assuming he makes the final roster when March rolls around, Carmona will be a fifth starter. With the Cleveland Indians, he was at the top of the rotation, and was really the only arm they had after C.C. Sabathia was traded. He’s in a role with almost zero pressure with much larger names in front of him. Not to mention that the team around him overall is much better than it was in Cleveland.
- The defense behind him will be much better. This past season was the outlier for the Rays’ defense. It has consistently been better than anything that the Tribe fielded behind Carmona prior to 2012.
- It’s not a large contract. More importantly, it’s not a multi-year contract. That fact alone essentially takes the risk out of it. So even if Hernandez doesn’t return to his 3.06 ERA ways, he could still be very mediocre as a fifth starter and the deal would still probably be worth it.
For his career, Hernandez is a pitcher with a 4.64 ERA, with a strikeout rate of just over five hitters per nine. He's a guy who relies on ground balls and the defense behind him to make the plays. Which is why this Rays team may actually be a terrific fit for him.
Is anyone expecting Hernandez to return to his days of 200+ innings, an ERA barely over three, and an ERA+ near 150? Absolutely not. But the fact that his history indicates that he’s capable of such success, and with his identity issues now behind him, the reward for the Rays far outweighs the minimal risk that they’re taking in signing him to a one-year pact.