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Ramon Hernandez Trade Examined

On Tuesday, the Orioles sent Ramon Hernandez and cash to the Reds for Ryan Freel and two minor leaguers.  Let's take a look at the fantasy fallout.

Hernandez is a classic "change of scenery" guy.  It doesn't hurt that 2009 is a contract year for him, too.  He posted a .257-15-65-49-0 line for the Orioles in '08, not too bad for a catcher but also not the 20 HR, 80 RBI form we've seen him flash.    I'd like to blame his early-season sore wrist, but the monthly trends don't fully support it.  He's 33 in May; will it ever come back?  Don't look for the ballpark to inflate his stats; both Camden Yards and Great American Ballpark boost right-handed HRs by at least 20%.  But the move back to the NL and the aforementioned factors make him a solid buy.  I can see him sneaking into the top ten for catchers, his strong contact rate boosting his AVG back past .270.

Freel says he's healthy now, but his hard-charging ways make him a constant injury risk.  He's not slated for full-time duty currently, but an injury or a Brian Roberts trade could change that.  This year he's only outfield-eligible until he racks up some games in the infield.  Freel is a guy who's going to attempt a steal 25-30% of the time he reaches first base, and that's his value.  He's a waiver wire pickup you can spot in for cheap thievery.

The Orioles made the trade to dump salary, but also to pave the way for Matt Wieters.  With Geovany Soto's top five catcher ROY performance, Wieters should get respect in drafts.  Soto received plenty of Cubs-related and projection system hype heading into the '08 season, and was drafted in the 14th round on average.  He was obviously well worth it.

Taking Wieters in that spot could be a risky move in 2009 for a couple of reasons.  First, the Orioles are mulling backup catcher options that might push for, say, 30% of the playing time (guys like Gregg Zaun or Michael Barrett).   Wieters is getting huuuuuge respect from the always-optimistic Bill James projections this year following his monster showing at Double A - they call for a .311-24-85-68-2 line if he is to reach 470 ABs.  The fantasy issue is mainly playing time, as Wieters might get a few months of Triple A seasoning.  In a 12-team mixed league with normal-sized rosters it will be tough to get nothing out of a bench spot for several months (trust me, I tried it with Roger Clemens a few years ago).  Wieters' potential call-up is a situation to be monitored closely.  But in the 14th round or so you're looking at some very solid starters and closers who do not have playing time issues (in '08 guys like Chad Billingsley, Joakim Soria, Brad Lidge, and Derek Lowe).

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