New 2B Kiké Hernández on choosing Red Sox: ‘This team’s got a lot of potential’

When Kiké Hernández entered free agency this winter, he had two goals for his next situation: to be an everyday player, and to play for a competitive team.

Coming off a last-place American League East finish and in rebuilding mode, the Red Sox didn’t seem to check that second box. But Hernández has other ideas.

Hernández, who played six years as an annual World Series contender with the Dodgers, winning the title last season, thinks the Red Sox have the potential to surprise in 2021, and that’s one of the reasons why the 29-year-old utility man signed a two-year deal to come to Boston.

“I’m not ready to go to a mediocre team. And that’s partly why I chose the Red Sox,” Hernández said Tuesday. “You look at this team on paper and when this team is healthy, they’re a pretty solid team. There’s a lot of really, really good baseball players. I love the fact people are kind of counting the Red Sox out of it. It keeps us quiet coming in.”

As a member of the Dodgers, Hernández didn’t get to follow the Red Sox closely last season. But he believes the Red Sox have the talent if they can stay healthy and put it all together. And coming from another big market with big expectations in Los Angeles, he knows that Boston won’t be satisfied with another losing year.

Hernández also has a close connection with Alex Cora, a fellow Puerto Rican who he met when he was 10 years old before playing for Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He said he talked to Cora a handful of times this offseason and talked to former Red Sox and current Dodgers Mookie Betts, David Price and Joe Kelly about how they loved playing for him. That and his belief in the team made Hernández’s decision easy.

“I think this team’s got a lot of potential,” Hernández said. “I think last year was a little bit of a tough year for them … but this team has a lot of really good players and partly why I wanted a two-year deal instead of one. I get invested in teams and my teammates, and I also know how much expectation this fanbase and this city has on their teams, and I know that they’re not going to be OK with going on a multiple year playoff drought.

“I know when we get Chris (Sale) back from him getting healthy and stuff, I know that this team is going to be up there contending again, so I will say that’s why I chose the Red Sox.”

If the Red Sox can contend this season, Hernández figures to be a big reason why. During his seven-year career, he has played every defensive position besides catcher, and that versatility will certainly be valuable with the Red Sox. But he fits a clear and sizable need at second base — which has been a black hole over the last three years without Dustin Pedroia — and Hernández wants to be the guy there.

“That’s the goal for me, to come in and be the everyday second baseman,” Hernández said. “But I also understand how valuable it is for me to be able to move around and play, I guess you could say, above-average defense at multiple positions. But they said I was going to get a lot of playing time at second. I was going to get some reps in center, probably a little bit of corner outfielder maybe. Give Xander (Bogaerts) some days at short and who knows, maybe a little third or first, if needed.

“But the plan is to come in and establish myself at second base. I’m always open to move around. It keeps it fun for me. I enjoy moving around and I’ve gotten used to it the last seven years so I’m really looking forward to whatever my role is and as long as I can be in that lineup everyday I don’t really care what position I’m playing.”

Hernández, who was a .240 hitter in his six seasons with the Dodgers, stands to improve at the plate. He’s hoping the consistency of having an everyday role can help him there, like it did in 2018 when he earned a career-most 462 plate appearances in 145 games. It resulted in a career-best 21 homers and .256 average to go along with an .806 OPS.

In his career, the right-handed Hernández is significantly better against lefties than righties, slashing a line of .263/.345/.474 against southpaws compared to .222/.286/.386 versus righties. With more consistency and trust from his coaches, Hernández thinks he can do much better.

“I really do believe that with a little bit more consistency, I can definitely produce more than I have in the past and maybe I don’t know what my numbers could look like, but my production against righties can definitely be closer to what it is against lefties,” Hernández said. “I think 2018 was the year that I actually got to have more reps on a consistent basis and I would say that was by far the best year of my career.

“So I do think that getting consistent ABs on a daily basis, I think is going to help. It’s not always easy when you go 0-for-4 and that gives you three or four days off. To have that comfort and that trust that everybody goes through slumps and that doesn’t mean you’re going to be out of the lineup, I think brings a lot to the table, too.”

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