Dodgers Dugout: And there was rejoicing throughout the land (Kiké is back)

Kiké Hernández celebrates after a double last season.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and we went almost an hour yesterday without someone, somewhere writing about Shohei Ohtani. What happened?

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In the 10 seasons I have been writing this newsletter, there has been one player who has stood above all others as far as being beloved by fans: Kiké Hernández. Everyone loves the guy. He brings a certain happiness and joie de vivre to every game, always cheering in the dugout. Sometimes, before home games, you can find him playing catch with a kid in the stands. He makes people smile. There aren’t enough people like that in the world.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I would get at least five emails a week during the offseason wondering, hoping, wishing the Dodgers would bring back Hernández. And the answer always was, there’s no room on the roster now, but if they can somehow trade Manuel Margot or Chris Taylor

Over the weekend, there were reports that Hernández had narrowed his choices to four teams, the Angels, Giants, Padres and Twins. It appeared the Dodgers were definitely out. Which is why you should never pay attention to unattributed internet rumors.

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Because on Monday, what needed to happen, happened. The Dodgers traded Margot to the Twins, and a little while later, announced they had re-signed Hernández to a one-year, $4-million deal.

Hernández doesn’t just bring joy to the dugout, he brings a glove that can play any position, and a bat that can still hit left-handers pretty well. After a poor 2022 and start of 2023 with the Red Sox, he was acquired by the Dodgers and hit .262/.308/.423 for the Dodgers in 54 games, good for a 95 OPS+, meaning he was 5% below a league average hitter. However, his glove and the intangibles he brings make up for that 5% difference, and he has a career 122 OPS+ against left-handed pitching.

Margot can only play the outfield, while Hernández can play everywhere and is solid defensively at each position.

“Obviously, Manny still fit really well,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “Kiké, we felt, just fit a little bit better. Once we were able to line up on the deal with Minnesota, it opened up a spot for Kiké and we were able to pull that one through.”

As an added plus, Hernández is one of the few players on the team last season who seemed to realize the postseason had begun, going three for seven with two RBIs in the NLDS sweep by Arizona.

So, the Dodgers’ chances in 2024 got a little bit better, as we bid a fond farewell to the Manuel Margot era, the question being if they retire his number immediately or wait until after his career ends.

Shohei Ohtani!

With breathless anticipation, Shohei Ohtani! (it seems an exclamation mark is needed every time his name is written) will make his exhibition game debut today for the Dodgers. What will we be able to take away from his first game? Nothing.

Unless he injures himself, it doesn’t really matter. It’s better if he goes four for four with four homers than zero for four with four strikeouts, but other than that, it really means little.

And this goes for most spring training results. Enjoy the games but don’t read too much into them. Some pitchers, especially veterans with a roster spot secured, could use a game to work on a third or fourth pitch. Sometimes they will throw that pitch exclusively just to get a feel for it and don’t care if they give up six runs. And the manager doesn’t care either. Sometimes batters are tinkering with a new swing.

Sometimes a young player few fans have heard of will have a big couple of games. When that happens, make sure you are paying attention to who is pitching for the other team. Veterans? A veteran who might be working on a specific pitch? Kids who will be in Class A this season? Ohtani! himself looked absolutely terrible in his first spring training with the Angels. Some were saying the signing was going to be a bust. Then the season began and he became Shohei Ohtani!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to downplay the greatness of Ohtani! Just don’t get carried away with how he looks in the spring.

The Margot trade

The Dodgers sent Margot and minor league infielder Rayne Doncon to Minnesota for minor league shortstop Noah Miller. The Dodgers also sent the Twins approximately $6 million to go toward Margot’s $10-million salary. Combined with the $4 million they will pay Hernández, it means they won’t add anything to the total payroll they had before the deal.

Miller, 21, hit .223 with eight homers and 60 RBI for High-A Cedar Rapids last season and was the minor league Gold Glove winner at short. He has hit .220 in three minor league seasons, so he is the prototypical good glove, no hit prospect.

Doncon, 20, hit 20 homers in 107 games for Rancho Cucamonga in 2023.

Cody’s back in Chicago

Cody Bellinger, who was supposedly seeking a $200-million contract after a resurgent year with the Chicago Cubs, agreed to a three-year, $80-million deal with Chicago instead. He will get $30 million in 2024, $30 million in 2025 and $20 million in 2026, and will have the ability to opt out of the deal after each season.

In case you missed it

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

Poised for improvement? Why Shohei Ohtani could be an even bigger offensive threat in 2024

Play ball! Dodger Stadium gondola project claims early-season victory

‘Cerebral’ Tyler Glasnow makes Dodgers debut, targets series start in South Korea

See-through pants. ‘Knockoff’ jerseys. New MLB uniforms trigger complaints, except from Dodgers

With rookie struggles behind him, Gavin Stone making a case for Dodgers rotation spot

Hernández: Ex-Dodger Andre Ethier relishes role of mentor with focus on Miguel Vargas

And finally

Highlights from Kiké Hernández’s 2023 season with the Dodgers. Watch and listen here.

Until next time…

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at [email protected], and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.

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