O's trade Hernandez, put pressure on Wieters

December, 9, 2008
I don't mean to put any pressure on the kid, but they might as well just rename Baltimore "Wietersville" and get it over with. In a trade with the Reds in which Baltimore received Ryan Freel and minor league infielders Justin Turner and Brandon Waring for Ramon Hernandez, the Orioles netted a useful, if slightly expensive, utility player in Freel. But the primary long-term purpose of the move was to clear a spot for Baseball America 2008 Minor League Player of the Year, switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters, who could probably start 2009 in the majors but will certainly be ready by midyear.

Freel had a three-year run as a good utility player who could get on base and fill holes in center or in the middle infield, but he has played less than a full season over the past two years because of injuries. Assuming the hamstring injury hasn't robbed him of his speed, he has value on the field and should attract trade interest in July.

Given the number of teams looking for catching help, it's a bit surprising that Baltimore couldn't get a package including at least one solid prospect. Turner is probably an extra guy in the majors, although with a little luck he could turn into an everyday second baseman. He is a well-below-average runner who makes a lot of contact but doesn't have power or hit many line drives. He can't be a utility player because he can't play short. Waring is an organizational outfielder with atrocious plate discipline; he struck out in more than one-third of his 2008 at-bats despite being old (23) for the Midwest League.

Freel was superfluous in Cincinnati, where the Reds already have more outfielders than they can use (once they acknowledge that Edwin Encarnacion can't play third), and they didn't give up any prospects they're likely to miss. They haven't gotten any offense from their catchers since 2006. Cincinnati catchers hit .234 BA/.330 OBP/.351 SLG in 2008 and .227/.286/.388 in 2007 -- a bar so low that Hernandez has cleared it in the past two years despite not hitting all that well himself. The problem with Hernandez is that his defense has gone in the tank the past two years, and he doesn't play with much energy at a position that demands it. It's possible that his contract year and diminished prospects will provide the kick in the shorts he needs, but that's a bit of a gamble for the Reds.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer


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