In trading Chris Iannetta for Tyler Chatwood and signing Ramon Hernandez, the Rockies are probably thinking that they made at worst a sideways move behind the plate and picked up a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter in return.
And in thinking that, they are most likely very wrong.
Hernandez is coming off two fine years for the Reds in which he finished with OPSs right around .790, making him one of the NL’s better offensive catchers. Going by OPS+, they were the second and third best seasons of his career, with only his 2004 coming out better.
Hernandez, though, turns 36 in May, his defense can only be charitably described as average and he hasn’t played in 100 games since 2008.
Iannetta, meanwhile, is likely still on the upswing. He turns 29 in April, and while he hasn’t had a typical offensive growth curve, he also wasn’t always used properly by the Rockies under Jim Tracy. In spite of that, 2010 was the only rough year he’s had in his last four. He finished at .238/.370/.414 last season. Alex Avila and Carlos Ruiz were the only full-time catchers with better OBPs.
It’s not a slam dunk that Iannetta will outhit Hernandez over the next two years. He will do more defensively, though, and he’ll be able to handle the greater workload. And my guess is that he will be the superior hitter. Going from Coors Field to Anaheim will be a bit of a shock to the system (he had massive home-road splits last season, though that wasn’t the case in previous years), but he’ll definitely benefit from not hitting in front of the pitcher every night, as was the case in Tracy’s lineup.
And I really don’t expect the Rockies to get a whole lot in return for the downgrade. It was somewhat impressive that Chatwood held his own in the majors as a 21-year-old last season, but he had a brutal 74/71 K/BB ratio to go along with his 6-11 record and 4.75 ERA in 142 innings. A fastball-curveball pitcher without a quality third pitch, he needs more Triple-A time and he’s far from a lock to ever have a successful stint in the Rockies rotation.
So, score one for the Angels and new GM Jerry DiPoto here. The upgrade from Jeff Mathis to Iannetta behind the plate should net them three wins or so next year. The Rockies, meanwhile, are still floundering, in large part because Tracy believes a player is only as good as his last 75 at-bats. GM Dan O’Dowd should be worrying more about talent than catering to his manager.