Rockies sign a catcher, trade a catcher

According to Fox Sports, the Colorado Rockies have signed catcher Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.4 million free agent contract and traded catcher Chris Iannetta to the Angels for right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood

Hernandez, 36, spent 2011 with the Cincinnati Reds and enjoyed one of his better offensive campaigns (he posted a .788 OPS in 328 plate appearances) despite being a complete non-factor in the second half with the stick (he hit .220/.287/.305 in the second half). The 12 home runs he hit last year were the most he's had in a season since 2008. 

Iannetta, 28, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2004 draft by Colorado and has spent his entire career with the organization. Although he's not a star, Iannetta has put his particular set of skills to use in the majors. Specifically his power, plate discipline, and arm strength. This is basically the skill-set of a poor man's Mike Napoli, sorry Angels fans. 

Although Iannetta posted a terrific .370 OBP in '11, the Rockies were content to part with his bat because of his production or lack thereof away from Coors Field the past three seasons. He hit .181/.308/.300 away from Coors the last three years, essentially providing nothing with the bat on the road. The newly acquired Hernandez hit .220/.268/.369 on the road last season to go with his monstrous .362/.430/.546 line at The Great American Ballpark. In fact, he's hit much better at home during each of his three years with the Reds. The Rockies can't say that they acquired a catcher who can hit on the road today. 

Then we have the bounty of the deal in Chatwood, 21, coming to the Rockies. A second round pick in 2008, Chatwood pitched to a 4.75 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 142 innings pitched at the big league level in '11. He showed better command in the minors in '10 as he pitched to a 2.84 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 155 innings across three levels, but struggled mightily in the major leagues. Chatwood allowed more hits than he had innings pitched (10.5 H/9) and issued a walk every other inning (4.5 BB/9). He had an ERA+ of 80 and allowed more earned runs (75) than he recorded strikeouts (74). Sure, he was a rookie and a 21-year-old to boot, but Chatwood's major league resume leaves much to be desired. 

On a scouting level, Chatwood mostly works off a fastball in the 92-95 mph range and a sinker from 89-92 mph. His best secondary offering is a curveball that can sometimes be considered a plus pitch and he has a changeup that's sometimes an average pitch. He stands at six-foot even, is skinny, and lacks the physical projection you would associate with a front of the rotation starter. His fastball lacks deception and horizontal movement, making it less effective than the above average velocity suggests. He doesn't miss bats, not even in the minors, and he still struggles with command and control. Prior to the 2011 season, Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein listed Chatwood's perfect world projection as a third or fourth starter. I don't think we've seen anything to change that projection drastically. 

My questions about this trade are quite simple. If Chatwood is merely a back-end power arm, then why get eight years older at catcher just to acquire him? Or to turn around that question: why trade Ubaldo Jimenez for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and Joe Gardner when acquiring a low-upside pitching prospect can be as painless as parting with Chris Iannetta?

It's fairly clear that the Rockies didn't improve drastically behind the plate today either as Hernandez' presence will likely be felt most in the clubhouse mentoring catcher of the future Wilin Rosario. It's not clear where Chatwood currently stands in the organizational pitcher rankings. However, the Rockies clearly think highly of him based on this trade, so it's fair to assume that he'll be in the mix with Pomeranz, White, and Esmil Rogers in Spring Training. Though Pomeranz and White have made their MLB debuts, they'll still enter 2012 as prospects and more promising players than Chatwood, ultimately. 

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