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Activated 1BR Aaron Bates and RHP Junichi Tazawa from the 60-day DL. [11/13]
Released C-L George Kottaras. [11/16]

Once Jason Varitek decided he just didn’t want to go anywhere else, you knew there’d have to be a dead man’s party for Kottaras’ benefit. They already had Victor Martinez‘s option picked up, after all, and with Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito entering the picture as viable alternatives in case of injuries to Tek or V-Mart, there wasn’t a lot of reason to preserve Kottaras on the 40-man roster. He should nevertheless land somewhere; lefty-batting catchers have their uses as caddies, and it’s hard to suggest his catching statistics from last season hold that much meaning, because 18 of his 25 starts were assignments to catch Tim Wakefield. Given Varitek’s notorious unwillingness to take turns stabbing at the flutterball, how much should we read into Kottaras’ few non-Wake frames? He’ll never be more than an adequate defender, but his ISO marks from the three years he was a regular at Double- or Triple-A from 2006 through 2008 were in the .160-.200 range, and his walk rates have been around 10 percent or better. If a team’s got a right-handed starter who’s a good receiver, Kottaras could make a decent alternative for a year or two; add in that he’s Canadian, and maybe he’s a good fit for the Blue Jays?

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Signed C-R Edward Bellorin to a minor league contract. [11/14]
Activated RHP Doug Waechter, SS-R Mike Aviles, and OF-R Jose Guillen from the 60-day DL. [11/16]

As much as I just twisted myself in knots to try to believe in the Hernandez deal, I don’t think there’s a lot of point in doing likewise for Bellorin’s benefit. He’s an arm behind the plate, and four years in some of the friendliest of friendly hitters’ paradises in the PCL suggest he’ll never hit. He’s a catcher and he’s willing to be a Royal, and that can be enough. Credit his agent for lining him up with one of the best possible teams, because he might actually get his first 10 at-bat season in the major leagues given the Royals‘ alternatives.

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Released RHP Juan Morillo. [11/16]

Having just turned 26, Morillo may no longer be only a lad, but as one who throws with triple-digit velocity now and again, it appears that he’s going to follow in the footsteps of Marc Kroon to try his hand at relieving in the Japanese leagues, apparently joining recent Twins castoff Justin Huber in the land of reptiles and samurai.

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Re-signed SS-R Jack Wilson to a two-year, $10 million contract extension, superceding his $8.4 million option for 2010. [11/13]

This was an interesting bit of budgetary buy-back, as the Mariners achieved a certain security in terms of who they’d be employing at short while having him leave a smaller footprint on this year’s budget and next, while also preserving the team’s commitment to better defense. Considering that Jack Zduriencik inherited a $9 million minimum expense for employing Yuniesky Betancourt through 2011 (assuming they would have bought out his 2012 option), the Mariners were already stuck with a substantive bill for a player whose benefits had reliably been insubstantial. Although the team’s still paying $2 million for the privilege of making Betancourt a Royal, and $10 million for Wilson, that’s still just $3 million over two years more than they were already committed to, and given the more measurable virtues of having Wilson play shortstop while chipping in on offense, that’s a significant upgrade for a relative pittance.

Assuming the Mariners bring back Russell Branyan as a free agent re-signing to leave things be at first base, this really simplifies their winter, as they’d effectively only be left with questions about left field and third base as far as their lineup’s concerned, while also hoping to wind up with a veteran starter to shore up the rotation. At least notionally, they may well elect to fill both slots internally by relying on Bill Hall and Jack Hannahan at third (until Matt Tuiasosopo is deemed ready), and they may elect to similarly go with “staff” in left field until they’re convinced the job belongs to Michael Saunders. However, I’d expect them to shop for something at one position or the other, as long as it doesn’t involve forfeiting any draft picks (with which we all expect Jack Zduriencik to work his usual magic).

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Activated OF-S Brandon Boggs, LHP Matt Harrison, and RHP Eric Hurley from the 60-day DL. [11/13]

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Re-signed C-R Ramon Hernandez to a one-year, $3 million contract with a vesting option for $3.25 million for 2011; activated RHPs Mike Lincoln and Edinson Volquez from the 60-day DL. [11/16]

What weird science is this, going from Ramon Hernandez for $8.5 million to stay, or $1 million to go, and then $3 million to stay after all? Well, to put the happiest ray of sunshine on the exchange, it does save them $4.5 million net, which isn’t such a bad thing given the Reds have other needs. But why not go the whole hog and save all $7.5 million?

The disappointment is that Hernandez didn’t really improve all that much while moving to a bandbox in the weaker league; hitting .281/.377/.391 in the Gap isn’t special and didn’t prop his numbers all that much, so he delivered a third straight season in the .250s as far as his all-time Equivalent Average. That’s not the end of the world, of course, but it represents a climb-down from his former stardom and another reminder that the “catchers develop late” story is just that, and not a universal truth.

To his credit, however, he remains sound in every phase of a catcher’s responsibilities, doing well as both a receiver and as far as keeping the running game in check, throwing out 35 percent of opposing thievery attempts. At the plate, he does a good job of making contact and getting balls in play, consistently hitting line drives and spraying the ball around. If he was healthy over a full season in the Gap, you could hope that he’ll be the same man he was before, but because he’s not much of a pull hitter, I don’t see him busting out and truly exploiting the park.

The other thing to keep in mind in bringing back Hernandez is that, while contributing to making “Red menace” an oxymoron, it’s the product of an unhappy recognition that the market for catching help this winter borders on ghastly. Consider the “choices” among free-agent catchers, where shoppers for notional starter types can pick between one or the other of the lesser Molinas, Jason Kendall, Rod Barajas, someone formerly known as Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Schneider, Yorvit Torrealba, Ramon Castro, and Miguel Olivo. It might have been keen to dig around and sort out which of these guys might best profit from hitting in the Gap, but the answer’s probably just Bengie Molina, for his ability to pull and get the ball in the air, and he wouldn’t cost a mere $3 million for one year. Ramon Castro or Rod Barajas might have been interesting, but Castro’s disappointed people before, and racing out to go get Rod Barajas… see, right there, I’m still trying to shake off the cognitive dissonance that comes from just typing it.

Faced with that field, Walt Jocketty’s decision to just stick with what he had might be understandable, but that doesn’t make it defensible. The frustration that some Reds fans may feel ought to come from the fact that the Reds already had someone very similar to Hernandez in terms of modest offensive contributions and decent receiving and throwing skills in Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan’s headed into his age-29 season, so he’s not a prospect, but he walks some and makes contact reliably, and that’s about the most you can say for Hernandez’s game at the plate these days. Maybe it would have been more low-end creative to scare up a slightly different sort of player to let Dusty Baker mix and match behind the plate, but given that opportunity in 2008, Baker went gaga for Paul Bako. Reap what you sow, I suppose.

The frustration is even more understandable when you see how much the Reds’ 2010 offense involves an awful lot of wishcasting. Their offensive bed is effectively made or rumpled over the questions involving the health of Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen, the development of Bruce and Drew Stubbs, and correctly picking a left fielder. While the sad fact is that, barring a wildly creative deal, there wasn’t much of a fix to be found among the catchers, having settled for re-upping a placeholder, if Stubbs isn’t ready and Paul Janish continues to flail, the Reds will once again be stuck with a lineup with too many slots from which opponents have nothing to fear. In that situation, no matter how far back Bruce or Rolen bounce, they’ll once again have problems putting up enough runs for their rotation.

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Activated LHPs Jeff Francis and Greg Smith, RHP Greg Reynolds, and SS-R Chris Nelson from the 60-day DL. [11/13]

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Activated UT-S Alfredo Amezaga from the 60-day DL. [11/16]