As I wrote this morning, the Yankees have gotten next to nothing out of their Russell Martin-Chris Stewart catching tandem this year, meaning it’s only logical to explore potential trade options for help behind the dish. Unfortunately the crop of catchers around the game consists of elite backstops (Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, etc.) or absolute garbage (Kurt Suzuki, Miguel Olivo, etc.). There seems to be no middle ground, though one name caught my eye when MLBTR published a list of potentially available catchers earlier this week: Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies.
Hernandez, 36, is currently on the DL with a left hand strain but he started a minor league rehab assignment last night. He was off to a slow start this season — .216/.260/.398 with four homers (58 wRC+) — but it was only 101 plate appearances and his hand was barking. The Rockies are going nowhere fast (31-50) and Hernandez’s injury has allowed catcher of the future Wilin Rosario to emerge as an everyday option (100 wRC+), so it seems likely that they’ll look to move the veteran backstop for prospect depth. Frankly, they should be selling off anything not nailed down. The Yankees need catching help and Hernandez is a catcher, but it’s not that simple. Let’s see what he has to offer…
- Despite this year’s numbers, Hernandez can still hit a little. He posted a .282/.341/.446 batting line with a dozen homers (111 wRC+) in 328 plate appearances last year for the Reds and has hit .280/.341/.432 (105 wRC+) in nearly 800 plate appearances since Opening Day 2010.
- Most of that damage has come against same-side pitchers. Hernandez has tagged right-handers to the tune of .279/.338/.450 with 21 homers (109 wRC+) in 538 plate appearances over the last three seasons. He’s held his own against southpaws as well: 95 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances.
- Beyond the raw production, Hernandez’s best offensive trait is his ability to put the bat on the ball. His career strikeout rate is a miniscule 12.7% and he’s never deviated too far from that number in any season, even as he’s crept up into his mid-30s.
- Beyond the Box Score rated him as one of the game’s better defensive backstops in both 2010 and 2011. Click through for the full analysis. Hernandez has also been consistently above average at stopping the running game, throwing out a hair more than one-third (33.8% to be exact) of attempted basestealers since the start of 2010. League average is generally in the 27-29% range. As an added bonus, Hernandez has started 30 games (44 appearances total) at first base in recent years. Versatility is always nice.
- Hernandez spent three years with the Orioles so he’s familiar with the AL East and all that stuff. I don’t put a ton of stock into that but I do think it’s worth mentioning. Knowing the lay of the AL East land is better than coming in blind. Hernandez has always been considered a strong clubhouse guy — that’s one of the primary reasons why Colorado signed him in the first place — and again, always a plus.
- Catchers get hurt, it comes with the territory, but Hernandez has been on the DL five times in the last six years. His injuries include an oblique strain (2007), a groin contusion (2007), knee surgery (2009), knee soreness (2010), and now the hand issue. Hernandez is no longer an everyday backstop and has been unable to top 85 starts behind the plate or 360 plate appearances in a single season since 2008.
- We can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from his performance this year, but Hernandez’s ground ball and line drive rates have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. The same can be said of his once strong walk rate. This isn’t atypical of older hitters.
- Mike Fast’s now famous study on pitching framing rated Hernandez as one of the game’s worst at turning borderline pitches into strikes in recent years.
- Hernandez is no rental. The Rockies signed him to a two-year deal worth $6.5M this offseason, and he’s still owed approximately $1.6M for the rest of this year plus $3.2M next year. Tying up future payroll with a midseason trade is not ideal.
On paper, Hernandez seems like a pretty good fit for the Yankees. He could split catching duties with Martin down the stretch and since he’s under contract at a reasonable price next year, he could serve as a nice veteran caddy for a young kid like Austin Romine. His contract then expires right as the 2014 payroll plan takes effect. Simply put, he’d be a stopgap for next season.
That said, we are talking about a 36-year-old backstop who probably should have turned into a pumpkin two or three years ago. His slow start this year could just be small sample size noise or the sign of impending doom. Catchers do fall off quickly and drastically without warning, so any team that trades for him could be stuck with a dud backstop eating up future payroll. There’s quite a bit of risk here but the cost — both financially and in terms of players in the actual trade — shouldn’t be exorbitant, plus the benefits could be compounded since Martin tends to play better with extra rest. The catcher pickin’s are slim and Hernandez just may represent the best of the bunch.