The first trade of the 2008-2009 offseason has been made. No, it was not by the often active New York Yankees; nor did the trade involve Jake Peavy. The trade involved the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles and the identical Cincinnati Reds. The Orioles traded veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder/infield utility man Ryan Freel and two infield prospects.
For the Baltimore Orioles, Ramon Hernandez has been a disappointment in the recent years. He was signed in the offseason after the 2005 season. He was signed to be what Javy Lopez was supposed to be - a defensive catcher who can also hit some balls out of the park as well as drive in runs. Ramon was almost the complete opposite. In 383 games in a Baltimore Orioles uniform, Ramon only hit 42 homeruns, drove in 218 runs, and batted .263. However, those numbers are inflated due to a career year in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, Hernandez played a total of 239 games with only 24 homeruns, 127 RBIs, and a .258 batting average. His numbers and durability has been on the decline ever since his hot season in 2006. Behind the plate, Ramon was not able to control the young Orioles pitchers and help tune them into a mediocre squad. In Ramon's breakout offensive season of 2006, he had a worse defensive year with a .985%. However, he has leveled out with a .990% in 2007 during a short injury season and a .988% year last year.
With Ramon, the Reds received something that they have been lacking for a long time. The Reds now have a veteran catcher to catch such talent as Edinson Volquez and Bronson Arroyo. Ramon Hernandez gets to go back to the NL for the first time since the 2005 season and hopes that he can provide some kind of a spark for the Reds' offense.
The Orioles received thirty-two year old Ryan Freel as the main piece of their deal. Albeit, his career average is .272, Freel has never batted below .271 in the majors. However, Ryan Freel is not the guy you depend on for a 20 homerun season... or a 15 homerun season...or even a 10 homerun season. In 7 big league seasons, Freel has put 22 homeruns over the fence. Also, his career RBI total is at 117. Twenty-two homeruns and 117 RBIs is considered a good season for a player. However, Freel is a good player to have coming off the bench. He can play the outfield positions as well as third and second. He will most likely become the Orioles' 2009 version of Jay Payton in 2008.
The main part of the deal is the fact that the Orioles received two minor league prospects that have promising futures. The Orioles acquired 22 year old 2B Brandon Waring and 24 year old 3B Justin Turner in addition to Freel. Waring is a second baseman that has seen some success in single-A ball in Dayton. This past season, Waring had a respectable .270 with a 20 homerun and 71 RBI total in only 119 games. At the prime young age of 22, Waring has plenty of time to develop and possibly become Brian Robert's replacement or even the Orioles' shortstop of the future. The twenty four year old third baseman Justin Turner has also experienced Minor League success but on a higher level. "Red," as his teammates call him because of his hair color, played for AA Chattanooga last season. He ended the year with batting .289 with 8 long balls.
The real story here is however the fact that most Oriole fans have been waiting to hear. Matt Wieters (AKA Baltimore's Jesus in Cleats Part II) will be the starting catcher on Opening Day 2009.