April 24, 2024

Kiké Hernández did a lot of waiting this winter.

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 for most of the offseason.

All along, he was hoping the Dodgers would eventually come around and try to re-sign him. But by the time spring camps opened in recent weeks, he was ready to sign somewhere, with some team, in order to start preparing for the upcoming campaign.

“I mean, 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 caliber players.

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

The reason Hernández, who struck a one-year, $4 million deal to return to the Dodgers this week, is no longer one of those unsigned players might partially be 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.

Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández signs autographs during spring training at Camelback Ranch on Thursday.

(Darryl Webb / Associated Press)

After Hernández had only gotten one formal offer this winter, from an unnamed team that he eventually turned down, he decided last week he had waited long enough.

So, before pursuing other potential offers from 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.

“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 previously been a full major-league 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.

“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 originally left the club as a free agent after the 2020 season, then was reacquired in a trade deadline day deal last season to much fanfare.

“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.

That doesn’t mean it resolved all of his lingering frustrations of free agency.

Before his media scrum at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch spring training facility Thursday, Hernández went on the “Foul Territory” YouTube show and seemingly suggested that MLB teams have colluded against free-agent players.

Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández gestures during spring training at Camelback Ranch on Thursday.

Dodgers infielder Kiké Hernández gestures during spring training at Camelback Ranch on Thursday.

(Darryl Webb / Associated Press)

“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 then expounded further with reporters at Camelback Ranch, claiming some owners have appeared to use industry-wide uncertainty over local television broadcast deals as an excuse for 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 being listed as one of them.

“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.”

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

“It feels like home,” Hernández said Thursday. “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, too.

“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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