LAS VEGAS --- Getting catching help was something the Reds considered premium this offseason and Ramon Hernandez was on the short list from the start. After weeks of on and off talks, the Reds completed a trade on Tuesday that brought Hernandez to Cincinnati from the Orioles in exchange for utility player Ryan Freel and Minor League infielders Justin Turner and Brandon Waring.
According to sources, the Reds are believed to be receiving approximately $2 million in cash from Baltimore in the deal. Because more than $1 million was sent, the Commissioner's Office had to approve the transaction. "We set our offseason objectives, one of the big things for us was to try and acquire a quality catcher," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We felt there was something that we were lacking last year. We have a young catcher in Ryan Hanigan who I think will help a lot this year and learn with Ramon Hernandez." Hanigan impressed as a rookie after his August call up but will now take on a backup role behind Hernandez. According to Jocketty, trade talks with Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail about Hernandez began shortly after last season. "Ramon was a guy that was very high on our list," Jocketty said. "We felt this was the best fit for us for a number of reasons. He provides good offense, good defense and I think he'll provide leadership." The Reds targeted "two or three" other catchers, according to Jocketty. Another available catcher, Gerald Laird, was dealt from the Rangers to the Tigers on Monday. In 133 games last season, Hernandez batted .257 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs. A veteran of 10 Major League seasons with the A's, Padres and Orioles, the 32-year-old is a .263 career hitter with 137 home runs and 602 RBIs. His numbers could seek a bounce at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Hernandez is slated to make $8 million in 2009, with a 2010 club option worth $8.5 million that carries a $1 million buyout. With Freel scheduled to make $4 million next season and the cash coming over, the Reds are adding only around $2 million to the payroll after the deal. Hernandez was 2003 All-Star with the A's and was once considered very solid defensively, but that reputation took a hit last season. His 10 passed balls were third most in the Majors and his nine errors were the fourth highest in the league. He stopped just 20 percent (24-of-123) of runners trying to steal. Many observers felt Hernandez's frustration with the Orioles' losing ways affected his play and intensity. Baltimore was also ready to move Hernandez to make room for top prospect Matt Wieters. The Reds are banking that the change of scenery will benefit Hernandez. "I checked him out with a lot of different people and clubs he played with before," Jocketty said. "They all gave him very high marks. He's a strong character guy. That's another thing important to us now with guys we acquire." When he was with the Giants, Reds skipper Dusty Baker managed against Hernandez when he played for Oakland. With the A's, Hernandez caught for Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy in San Diego. "He's caught some excellent staffs," Baker said. "He's had them as young pitchers when he was young. He's an All-Star that's been in the playoffs. He'll bring experience." Hernandez was not available for comment on Tuesday night. Tuesday's trade marks the end of a six-year stint for Freel, who became a fan favorite in Cincinnati because of his versatility and hustle. "It's hard to say," Freel said of his emotions. "Right now, a piece of me feels excitement, and a piece of me, I'm upset, considering the relationship that I've had with Cincinnati. It's been tough. But one thing in life, you can't look in the past. You have to look in the future. I'm playing baseball. I'm kind of torn. It's an emotional job and it's part of it." Freel, who had been with the Reds since 2003, finally broke out of the utility role and became an everyday player in 2006. However, his constant all-out style of play often kept him off the field because of injuries. In 2007, he batted .245 in just 75 games and was sidelined for a month with a concussion and missed the final two months with torn cartilage. Last season, the 32-year-old Freel was limited to just 48 games and batted .298 with no homers and 10 RBIs. He did not play after June 3 because of a torn right hamstring tendon that required surgery. Freel was also often not on good terms with Baker, which probably played a part in his departure. A seventh-round Draft pick in 2006, Turner was a .310 career hitter in three Minor League seasons. The second baseman reached Double-A last season. Waring, a seventh-round pick in 2007, was a third baseman with Class A Dayton in 2008 and batted .270 with 20 homers and 71 RBIs. "The Orioles are getting three very good players and quality people, and in return we're getting a big fit for us," Jocketty said. "We think Ramon Hernandez is the right piece to help improve our club for next year."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.