LAS VEGAS – The Baltimore Orioles completed a deal with the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, sending veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez for utility player Ryan Freel and minor-league infielders Justin Turner and Brandon Waring.
The Reds also will pick up a small portion of Hernandez's contract, but it was at least $1 million because the deal required the approval of the commissioner's office. Hernandez will be paid $8 million next season.
The Reds had identified catching as a top priority under new general manager Walt Jocketty. The only catcher on their 40-man roster with big-league catching experience was Ryan Hanigan, and he caught just 30 games last season.
Freel, a versatile player who missed much of last season with a torn hamstring muscle, has a guaranteed $4 million deal.
The Orioles were comfortable trading Hernandez because they expect that their top minor-league prospect, Matt Wieters, will be ready for a big-league promotion by midseason. Wieters, the fifth player drafted overall in 2007, is a 6-5, 230-pound switch-hitter who hit a combined .355 in his first season of pro ball in 2008, including .365 with 12 home runs in just 61 games in Double-A.
"From our standpoint, this trade was more about Matt Wieters," said Andy MacPhail, the Orioles' president of baseball operations. "He had an outstanding year for us in his first professional season in A ball and Double-A, and it has been our goal to introduce him to the major-league scene in the course of the '09 season, not necessarily to start right away, but we thought he could handle it eventually, after a little time in Triple-A possibly under his belt."
MacPhail said the Orioles expect to use the right-handed hitting Freel in a platoon in left field with Luke Scott, as well as using him in a reserve capacity in the other two outfield positions, second base and third base. Freel's playing time has been limited in each of the last two seasons by injuries: In 2007, he tore cartilage in his right knee.
"You've heard me talk about effort, energy, enthusiasm," MacPhail said. "It's hard to think of a poster child that more represents those things for a major league player than Ryan Freel."
Reds GM Walt Jocketty called Hernandez a perfect fit. "He provides good leadership, provides good defense and handles a staff real well, and he should provide good offense in our park," he said.