According to Ken Rosenthal, the Royals have signed free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez to a minor league contract. The 37 year old Hernandez spent 2013 as part of the Dodgers’ and Blue Jays’ organizations, though he only compiled 74 total plate appearances. In his 15 year career, Hernandez has hit to the tune of .263/.327/.417, and a wRC+ of 96, while playing for 7 different franchises.
As a hitter, Hernandez has decent plate discipline and pretty solid contact skills, as evidenced by a career walk rate of 7.5% and strikeout rate of 12.9%. His .154 ISO is right in that average range, as well. Despite being a right-handed hitter, he doesn’t have much of a platoon split, with a 101 wRC+ against lefties and a 97 wRC+ against righties. In his prime, Hernandez had a four year stretch between 2003 and 2006 in which he posted a 111 wRC+ and was worth 12.9 fWAR, the 4th highest total among catchers in that timeframe. Of course, 2006 was a long time ago, so I wouldn’t expect him to bring that kind of value in 2014. Defensively, Hernandez rates as an above average catcher, although again, his skills have likely deteriorated slightly. To his credit, Hernandez has thrown out would-be basestealers at a 30% clip, including 4 of the last 5 seasons at no worse than a 33% rate.
The minor league deal for Hernandez includes a spring training invite, which means he’ll likely have an opportunity to compete for the backup catcher job along with Brett Hayes and Francisco Pena. Once the Royals designated George Kottaras for assignment and subsequently traded him to the Cubs for cash, Hayes appeared to have a firm grip on that position, although rumors had surfaced about a month ago that the Royals were still on the hunt for catching help. Now it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Hernandez break camp with the big league club. Hernandez could provide his veteran
presents presence in the clubhouse and help Salvador Perez out in whatever way possible. Hayes is out of options, meaning that he, like Kottaras, would have to be designated for assignment, but if he were to go unclaimed, the Royals could stash him in Omaha unless and until he is needed back on the 40 man roster.
Even if Hayes wins the backup job in spring training, Hernandez could just spend some time in Omaha, where he should be able to thrive offensively in a hitter-friendly environment. While there, Hernandez could serve as a mentor of sorts for Pena, who has had troubles in his time as a professional. So in a best case scenario, the Royals have a proven, competent backup for Perez. Even in a worst case scenario, Hernandez is nothing more than AAA depth. Overall this appears to be a good signing for Dayton Moore, who’s continuing to have a solid offseason thus far. Hopefully, he’s not done yet.