These rumors have been simmering all night, but they’re looking a lot more concrete right now. Troy Renck of the Denver Post is tweeting that the Colorado Rockies are about to sign free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez to a two year deal, and then trade their incumbent catcher, Chris Iannetta, to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for pitcher Tyler Chatwood. Let’s break the particulars in this deal down one by one.
Hernandez will be turning 36 during the first half of the 2012 campaign, so he’s no spring chicken. He hasn’t played in 100 games since 2008 with the Orioles, and has spent the last three seasons with the Reds. Last year, he had a solid .282/.341/.446 season. He had a lot of power early in his career with the A’s and Padres, but that’s fallen off a bit in recent years. His .164 ISO in 2011 was his highest since 2006 with Baltimore. Charlie ranked Hernandez as the top free agent catcher on the market this offseason. Hernandez will make $6.5 million over the life of the two year deal, a slight increase on the $3 million he made in each of the last two seasons with the Reds.
Hernandez will likely be a placeholder for the Rockies, with top prospect Wilin Rosario possibly ready for major league duty in the very near future. Rosario spent a majority of 2011 in the AA Texas League, posting a .741 OPS. In a 16 game stint in the majors this year, Rosario had a .691 OPS. He ranked in the “outstanding” category in Mark’s ranking of the top ten Rockies prospects. As for the Reds, it appears that top prospect Devin Mesoraco will be the starter in 2012, splitting time with Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan split time with Hernandez last season, and posted a .713 OPS in the majors. In AAA Louisville, Mesoraco had an .855 OPS in 120 games. He ranked in the “elite” category in Mark’s ranking of the top ten Reds prospects.
Iannetta has been an infuriating player who’s been linked to the Red Sox a lot in the past. Batting average isn’t his strong suit, with just a .235 career mark. But where Iannetta shines, is his ability to get on base: he has a .357 career on base percentage with a 13.9% walk rate. However, there is a huge buyer beware notice about Iannetta: his career OPS away from Coors Field is just .707, and his ISO is a pedestrian .161, compared to .869 and .230 at Coors Field. You have to think that this acquisition spells the end of days for Jeff Mathis and his career .557 OPS for the Angels. Mathis split time last year with prospect Hank Conger, who also struggled with a .638 OPS, but has had a minor league history of hitting, as he posted an .848 OPS in 2010 in AAA.
Finally, there’s Chatwood. He made 25 starts for the Angels in 2011, and pitched to a 4.75 ERA. His predictors were just as dire, with a 4.89 FIP and 4.90 xFIP. In 142 innings, he struck out 74 and walked 71. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of potential for Coors Field success either, with just a 47.0% groundball rate in the majors last season. I’m not sure he’ll be one of the Rockies five best starters on opening day 2012 right now.
Overall, I think the Rockies did good in clearing a path for Rosario to get his feet wet in the majors without rushing him, for essentially the same cost as they would have with Iannetta ($3.55 million scheduled in 2012, with a $5 million club option for 2013). Colorado will be paying Hernandez a good $2 million less than they’d be paying Iannetta, for production that is roughly equal. But I think they could have done better than Chatwood for Iannetta. The Reds also come out as winners, as they’ll get a draft pick as compensation for losing Hernandez (who was a modified type B under the new labor deal, which means that the Reds will get a supplemental pick in the June draft). Opening the door for Mesoraco to get more playing time is also huge for the Reds. And as for the Angels, they get a solid offensive catcher to somewhat numb the blow of the dealing of Mike Napoli last offseason. Now, all they need to do is ensure that Mathis won’t be in town in 2012, and they should be good to go.