CINCINNATI — Despite pitching in the playoffs last season, reliever David Hernandez worried that he would wind up having to settle for another minor league contract and an invitation to some team’s big league training camp next month. The Cincinnati Reds surprised him by offering a $5 million, two-year deal.
“It all kind of happened quickly, which is weird,” Hernandez said Tuesday after the deal was announced.
The 32-year-old right-hander will make $2.5 million annually and can earn another $1 million each year in performance bonuses. The Reds expect him to move into a set-up role for closer Raisel Iglesias, upgrading a bullpen that was their main offseason priority.
Hernandez had a 3.11 ERA in 64 appearances for the Los Angeles Angels and Arizona last season and made two scoreless relief appearances against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series. He also has pitched for Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Cincinnati’s bullpen had the most walks and hit batters in the major leagues and it led the NL in runs. The bullpen’s 4.65 ERA was second-worst in the NL.
The Reds agreed in December to a $4.5 million, two-year contract with 32-year-old reliever Jared Hughes, who pitched for the Brewers last season. Iglesias returns as the closer after converting 28 of 30 save opportunities last season.
“I feel I’ve got an opportunity to pitch late in the game and hopefully lock down some big outs,” Hernandez said on a conference call.
He is much farther ahead than a year ago. Hernandez went to spring training with the San Francisco Giants last year with a minor league contract on March 24. Atlanta signed him to a minor league deal and traded him to the Angels. He made his big league season debut on April 24, was dealt to Arizona on July 31 and became a free agent after the season.
Until the Reds made their offer, Hernandez thought he’d have to accept another non-roster invitation to camp with some team in February.
“I started to get a little frustrated,” he said. “You kind of think you’re going to have to go the route you did the previous year. I kind of just waited and waited and waited some more.”
General manager Dick Williams said Hernandez’s signing will likely be the Reds’ last significant free-agent addition this offseason. They might sign players to minor league deals to fill out the bench and provide depth following the departure of shortstop Zack Cozart, who became a free agent and joined the Angels.
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