Free Agent Stock Watch: Ramon Hernandez

Ramon Hernandez was on the wrong side of history last night, as part of a Reds lineup that couldn't scratch out a single hit against Roy Halladay. But on the whole, 2010 has been a successful year for the Cincinnati backstop. Hernandez signed a one-year, $3MM contract with the Reds last winter, which included a vesting option for 2011. The 34-year-old fell short of playing the 120 games needed to guarantee his return to the Reds, so he could be heading to free agency this winter. Let's break down his stock, as the Reds prepare for Friday's game….

The Pros

  • Hernandez posted the best OBP and third-best OPS of his career in 2010. His final totals in 352 plate appearances were .297/.364/.428, which represents his best slash line since 2006.
  • His play behind the plate still appears solid. He threw out more than a third of potential basestealers and allowed just two passed balls over the last two seasons.
  • The Reds have a pre-arbitration catcher in Ryan Hanigan, and, as Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News points out, their minor league system seems to be "catcher-rich." As such, there's a chance the Reds will decide not to offer Hernandez arbitration, in which case he wouldn't cost a draft pick to sign.

The Cons

  • Hernandez split time this year with Hanigan, who earned 58 starts. Given that he'll turn 35 in May, Hernandez's days of playing 120+ games behind the plate might be behind him.
  • In addition to his age, Hernandez's health may be a concern. After undergoing knee surgery in 2009, the veteran spent some time on the disabled list in 2010 with knee soreness.
  • Unlike free agent catchers Victor Martinez and John Buck, Hernandez doesn't hit for much power anymore. He hit just 12 longballs during his two years in Cincinnati.
  • Hernandez projects as a Type A free agent, so if he turns down an arbitration offer from the Reds, clubs may be reluctant to give up a high draft pick to sign him.

The Verdict

Whether or not the Reds offer Hernandez arbitration will play a significant role in what sort of contract he earns this offfseason. If the team makes an arbitration offer, the catcher could very well accept it, knowing that his Type A status might hurt his open market value. Even without an arbitration offer, Hernandez may not do better than a one-year deal, given his age and injury history. While his productive 2010 campaign should earn him a raise on last year's $3MM salary, it appears to be a buyer's market for catchers.



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