Orioles Trade Hernandez to RedsPosted on December 10, 2008
By Pete Kerzel
|During three seasons in Baltimore, Ramon Hernandez hit .264 with 47 home runs and 218 RBIs in 383 games. (Mitch Stringer/PressBox)|
Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations sent Hernandez to the Reds to clear a path for Wieters, the 2007 first-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech who hit .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 61 games at Double-A Bowie after beginning his professional career with Single-A Frederick, where he batted .345 with 15 homers and 40 RBIs in 69 games with the Keys.
"This trade was more about Matt Wieters, frankly. It's been our goal to try to familiarize ourselves with Matt," MacPhail told reporters at the Bellagio Hotel, the site of baseball's winter meetings in Las Vegas. "He had a really outstanding year for us in his first minor league season ... and it had been our goal to make sure we could introduce Matt into the major league scene somewhere in the course of the 2009 season -- not necessarily at the start, but we thought he could handle it after a little time at Triple-A possibly under his belt."
Two days of roster shuffling at the start of baseball's annual offseason swapfest has, however, left the Orioles without a catcher on the 40-man roster. Baltimore sent backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz outright to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday, along with right-hander Fredy Deza, clearing two roster spots. One option for the Orioles would be to take a player or two in the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held Thursday, the final day of the winter meetings.
"If you look at our roster and took a snapshot of our 40-man roster right now, we have zero catchers on our 40-man roster and that's not where we want to be," MacPhail said. "You can anticipate that we'll add at least one veteran major league catcher to our 40-man roster before we get to spring training."
Who that might be remains a mystery, and there's a thin crop of major league catchers in the free agent market. David Ross signed with Atlanta over the weekend, leaving the most attractive -- and affordable-- alternatives to be players like Adam Melhuse (who hit .167 with two homers and 15 RBIs with Texas and Colorado), Javier Valentin (.256, four homers, 18 RBIs with Cincinnati) or ex-Oriole Gregg Zaun (.237, six homers, 30 RBIs in 86 games with Toronto).
Because the Orioles would like a decent defensive catcher to help take some of the pressure off Wieters in his rookie season, Zaun would make the most sense. He's spent the past five seasons with the Blue Jays helping bring along a young pitching staff, and he would fit in with the Orioles' youth movement on the mound. Zaun played the first two seasons of his 14-year major league career with the Orioles and is a lifetime .251 hitter with 78 homers and 408 RBIs during stints with Baltimore, Florida, Texas, Kansas City, Houston, Colorado and Toronto.
MacPhail invoked the name of his grandfather, Hall of Fame baseball executive Larry MacPhail, in explaining the Orioles' decision to jettison Hernandez from the roster after he hit .257 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs in 2008.
"Given where our franchise is, our future is probably with Matt. As my grandfather used to say, better you make a trade a year early than a year late," he said.
Hernandez wore out his welcome after three seasons in Baltimore, during which he hit .264 with 47 home runs and 218 RBIs in 383 games. The 32-year-old, who signed a four-year, $27.5 million free agent contract with the Orioles in December 2005, established career highs with 23 homers and 91 RBIs in 2006, then tailed off offensively.
Last season, he seemed lackadaisical at times, drawing the wrath of manager Dave Trembley for not running out ground balls and base hits. Hernandez also struggled defensively, failing repeatedly to block home plate, which led to speculation that he didn't want to be injured for a last-place team with the walk-year of his contact looming.
In return for Hernandez and $1 million toward his 2009 salary, the Orioles get a versatile player in Freel, 32, who was limited to 48 games last year because of leg problems and hit .298 with 10 RBIs. Baltimore also received infielders Justin Turner and Brandon Waring in the deal.
Freel, a right-handed hitter who will earn approximately $4 million next season, can play all three outfield positions, plus second and third base. Before injuries wrecked his last two seasons, he had averaged five homers, 25 RBIs and stolen 110 bases from 2004 to 2006 with the Reds.
His acquisition gives the Orioles the flexibility to create a left-field platoon with Luke Scott, to give center fielder Adam Jones a day off, or to spell third baseman Melvin Mora or second baseman Brian Roberts. It also provides Baltimore with a veteran option at second base should Roberts be traded.
"He's basically two players in one. He can play all three spots in the outfield and we can move him around in the infield. That's really important for us," said Trembley, adding that he could use Freel at the top or bottom of the lineup. "I think the days of guys playing 162 games [are over] -- we like them to do that, but sometimes guys need a break. ... I like the fact that the guy's a high-energy player, and he'll be well-received in Baltimore."
Turner, 24, split 2008 between Single-A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga, hitting a combined .298 in 111 games. He then played for .337 with Peoria in the Arizona Fall League. Turner, a second baseman, is a career .310 hitter in three minor league seasons.
Waring, 22, is a third baseman who has hit 20 homers in each of his first two minor league seasons -- with Single-A Dayton last year and Rookie League Billings in 2007. A career .286 hitter in 188 minor league games, Waring was the Eastern Division's starting third baseman in the Midwest League All-Star Game last year.
Craig Heist contributed to this article.
Posted December 10, 2008