As an analyst, Michel Hernandez means little to me. He's no longer the best option to start, and his upside is ... well he has no upside. Going to Durham seems pointless for him since John Jaso and Shawn Riggans are there, and neither is going to sit on the bench for a journeyman. Still, when I woke up this morning and saw the news confirmed, I was a bit sad. Not because this hurts the Rays, but, well, I've grown to root for Hernandez.
Nothing has come easy for this guy. He signed as an amateur free agent from Cuba back in 1998. As a 19-year-old he struggled in short-season ball, but the Yankees decided to promote him anyways and in 1999 he played for the Tampa Yankees. He never hit well, but the Yankees kept advancing him. He reached Double-A in 2001 and Triple-A in 2002 despite a career OPS of .602 in High-A. More of the same in Double-A, hitting .243/.297/.333 but since he was such a great organizational soldier - someone who fills the minor league roster holes without whining or costing much - he kept getting promotions.
In 2003, at the age of 24, he had his best minor league season. Hitting .280/.367/.372 and getting a cup of coffee in the majors, even recording his first career hit in the bigs. After the year the Yankees waived him, the Red Sox claimed him, then months later waived him again leaving the Phillies to claim him. He repeated Triple-A again, this time hitting .254/.328/.371. Once again he switched organizations and this time with St. Louis hit only .274/.336/.337 before being released in early 2007. As a 28-year-old minor league free agent catcher with no ostensible skills, Hernandez joined an independent league team; the Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League.
This is the point where Hernandez career takes a turn. After 25 games and a .342/.490/.539 line, the Rays came calling and signed him. I actually remember posting the news of his signing somewhere on this site. I was young and stupid at the time, and thought maybe he would help the Rays one day. After a relatively decent run in Durham that year he signed with the Pirates in 2008 and soldiered on.
Then, with the Rays heading towards the playoffs and adding a layer of depth to the catching depths, Hernandez was dealt back to Tampa Bay on August 31st, 2008 for cash. Making his Rays debut two weeks later, Hernandez saw his role increase as Shawn Riggans got hurt.
Hernandez was on the AL East clinching team, the team that beat Chicago and Boston, and the team that lost to Philadelphia, and while he never appeared in a game, he still was there. This year he spent months in the majors thanks to - what else - another Riggans injury. Prior to this season Hernandez had 20 career plate appearances, he topped that number in four of the five months he was on board this season.
I don't know what his future holds. Maybe he latches on somewhere, maybe an injury has him back with the Rays. Who knows? I'm still going to miss Hernandez a little though. All these years, all the bus trips, false hopes, and nights where he contemplated moving on, they all lead up to the past year where he could play a role on a championship team. His dream was realized but ultimately shattered. Hernandez probably won't sulk or pout; he'll pack his bags and hope for another shot down the line.
Thus is the life of an organizational soldier.