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Kiké Hernández bemoans ‘shameful’ free-agent market, but is grateful for return to Dodgers

Studio portrait of Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández.
Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández says he only got one formal offer from another team before deciding to sign a one-year, $4-million deal with the Dodgers.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Kiké Hernández did a lot of waiting this winter.

Waiting not only on the Dodgers, but most other teams around Major League Baseball as well.

Like many veteran players in what has become a slow free-agent market — the Dodgers’ $1-billion spending spree on Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and others aside — Hernández received few formal offers this offseason.

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A day after making a surprise announcement on social media that he’s married to a Japanese woman, Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani provides some details.

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He hoped the Dodgers would try to re-sign him. But by the time spring camps opened last month, he was ready to sign somewhere else in order to start preparing for the season.

“It’s been terrible,” Hernández said of the market, which still includes several unsigned stars like Blake Snell, Matt Chapman and Jordan Montgomery, in addition to many other established big-league players.

“The fact that they’re still out there,” Hernández added, “it’s a shame.”

The reason Hernández is no longer one of those unsigned players, after striking a one-year, $4-million deal to return to the Dodgers this week, might be partly because of a strategically timed call to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández signs autographs during spring training at Camelback Ranch on Thursday.
(Darryl Webb / Associated Press)

After getting only one formal offer all winter, from an unnamed team that he turned down, Hernández decided he had waited long enough.

So, before pursuing other interested clubs — he said there were “a lot of teams in the mix,” the New York Yankees chief among them — the longtime Dodgers fan favorite called Friedman last week with something of an ultimatum.

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“I talked to Andrew and I was like, ‘Hey, if we can’t make something happen in the next couple of days, I’m gonna have to turn the page and go somewhere else because I need to do what’s best for me and my family,’” Hernández recounted Thursday, in his first meeting with reporters since his deal became official. “I felt like opportunities were starting to go away by waiting too long.”

Lo and behold, on Monday, the Dodgers responded.

First, they traded backup outfielder Manuel Margot to the Minnesota Twins, clearing a spot from what had been a full roster. Then, within an hour, they came to terms on a deal with Hernández, bringing the 32-year-old back to the Southland for his eighth season with the team.

Dodgers utilityman Kiké Hernández signs a one-year, $4 million deal with the Dodgers. Margot was acquired in the offseason as part of the Tyler Glasnow deal.

Feb. 26, 2024

“It was definitely a beautiful experience for me and my family to see the reception and in that love that the fans have always given me,” said Hernández, who left as a free agent after 2020, then was reacquired to much fanfare last season in a trade-deadline deal.

“Even though I had been gone for years, [for them] to receive me with the same love that they received me when I was here those [first] six years, it was pretty special,” Hernández added.

Despite the happy reunion, Hernández holds lingering frustrations. Before his media scrum at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch spring training facility, he went on the “Foul Territory” YouTube show and seemingly suggested that MLB teams colluded against free agents.

Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández gestures during spring training at Camelback Ranch on Thursday.
(Darryl Webb / Associated Press)
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“I’m not going to say the C-word,” he said on the show. “But I think the C-word needs a capital C.”

He later told “Foul Territory” that the “timing of the calls [with teams] were very similar” and that “the numbers [discussed for potential] contracts were pretty much the same throughout.”

He expounded further with reporters, claiming some owners appeared to use industrywide uncertainty over local television broadcast deals to excuse a lack of competitive offers.

“It was a very weird offseason, and it still is for some guys,” Hernández said. “It doesn’t seem like things are picking up either for some of those guys, which is shameful.”

As he discussed his free agency, Hernández also highlighted a report last week that suggested he was narrowing his decision down to four teams — the Dodgers not listed as one of them.

A day after making a surprise announcement on social media that he’s married to a Japanese woman, Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani provides some details.

Feb. 29, 2024

“I’m not gonna say it pissed me off,” Hernández said. “But I didn’t enjoy it. Because they were making it seem like I was gonna do the LeBron James ‘Decision’ or something.”

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Instead, once his deal with the Dodgers was finalized, Hernández tweeted the news himself, elating Dodgers fans by writing, “Sources say….. I’m back!!!”

“It feels like home,” Hernández said. “I felt like, here with the familiarity of the coaches and the way that they use position players here, I thought that there was more opportunity with playing time here than the other places.”

There was one other important factor.

“I like winning,” he said as he cracked a sly grin, “and this is a team that’s set up to, to make a deep run.”

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