In a bit of a surprise, the Cincinnati Reds have brought back Ramon Hernandez on a one-year, $3 million contract to function as their starting catcher. The reason I say it was a surprise is because popular notion has been that the team is looking to slash payroll. In such a situation, the more adept defensive catcher (and younger… and cheaper) in Ryan Hanigan would figure to be handed the starting job.
However, Walt Jocketty brushed off payroll concerns, saying all that information was circulated by writers. I buy only parts of it: Francisco Cordero, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo have all been clearly shopped in the past. In addition, where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire.
As Mark Sheldon reports, the Reds have $65 million tied up in just nine players for 2010. There’s no way they can afford to fill out the rest of the roster with competent players for only $10 million more. (Their payroll was $73 million last year, and amid declining attendance, I don’t see this payroll rising.)
I remain convinced one of the high-salaried players will eventually be jettisoned, but that’s for another time. RIght now, Hernandez is back with the Reds and despite an off season with the bat (.258/.336/.362) and missing two months due to knee surgery. He still has some pop left in his bat, though, which was likely the motivation behind the deal. Hernandez can also serve as a backup first baseman on the days Joey Votto takes a breather.
I’m not opposed to this deal from a one year perspective because I totally buy the Reds being leery of handing the job to Hanigan with only one full major league season to his credit. It was a good one, but it’s not a line you clear the way for .263/.361/.331. I think the power has the potential to uptick, and you can’t argue the plate discipline.
What throws me off is a vesting option for 2011 that gives Hernandes $3.25 million should he play in 120 games. That figures to be easily attainable provided Hernandez doesn’t have any long-term injury issues. A that point, the club will be wasting millions on a 35-year old catcher at risk for injury.