Reds send Freel to Orioles for catcher Hernandez

Published 5:22 am Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Cincinnati Reds plugged a hole behind the plate, acquiring Ramon Hernandez from the Baltimore Orioles for frustrated utilityman Ryan Freel and two minor leaguers Tuesday.

The rebuilding Orioles also receive infield prospects Justin Turner and Brandon Waring. As part of the deal, Baltimore will give Cincinnati cash to offset part of Hernandez’s contract. He is owed $8.5 million next year.

‘‘Ramon is a guy we put high on our list and stayed with it,’’ Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. ‘‘We set our offseason objectives and one of the big things for us was to try to acquire a quality catcher. We felt there was something that we were lacking last year.

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‘‘Ramon was a perfect fit for our club because he provides good leadership — got very good reports that sent several scouts out to watch him this year. He provides good defense, handles a staff well, and will give us a good offense. And in our park, we think he’ll have a very good year.’’

The 32-year-old Hernandez batted .257 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs last season in 133 games for Baltimore, making 119 starts at catcher. He hit .285 after the All-Star break.

The Reds like the fact that Hernandez has caught his share of top pitchers during his 10 major league seasons — including the former Big Three in Oakland of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Hernandez was an AL All-Star in 2003 with the Athletics.

‘‘The Ramon that I know was in Oakland as a young player,’’ Reds manager Dusty Baker said. ‘‘I saw him handle that staff up there in Oakland when I was with the Giants. We played him a number of times in spring training and in the Bay Bridge Series and interleague play. He’s going to be perfect for our team. We have a young staff, and he has caught some very good pitchers and very good staffs in the past.’’

Jocketty said this is the first deal he’s done with Orioles GM Andy MacPhail — and Jocketty had a tough time giving up the pair of prospects.

The Orioles are ready to bring catching prospect Matt Wieters to the majors and knew Hernandez wouldn’t want a part-time role.

‘‘Given where our franchise is, we also understood that our future was probably with Matt,’’ MacPhail said, adding that Freel provides depth and a quality right-handed bat.

The 32-year-old Freel leaves Cincinnati in frustration. He was limited to only 48 games and 26 starts in 2008 because of a torn tendon in his right hamstring that required surgery July 23. He missed the final 103 games of the season and batted .298 with 10 RBIs.

A .272 career hitter, Freel is known for his hustling, all-out play. He has played all three outfield positions during his seven-year career, in addition to third base and second base.

Freel had mixed emotions about the trade.

‘‘It’s hard to say right now,’’ he said on a conference call. ‘‘A piece of me feels excitement and a piece of me is upset about the relationship I’ve had with Cincinnati. It’s tough. One thing in life is you can’t look in the past. You have to look in the future. I’m torn.’’

Freel said he had already spoken with MacPhail, but they didn’t go into specifics about what Freel’s role would be next season. MacPhail said Freel would play some in center field.

‘‘They’re excited to have me,’’ Freel said. ‘‘I’m looking forward to a healthy upcoming season.’’