Rays GM Erik Neander explains reasoning behind acquiring Chris Mazza, Jeffrey Springs from Red Sox

On Wednesday morning, the Red Sox traded left-hander Jeffrey Springs, right-hander Chris Mazza, and $100,000 in cash considerations to the Rays in exchange for catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez and infield prospect Nick Sogard.

Both Springs and Mazza had just been designated for assignment by the Sox, so it came as somewhat of a surprise that Boston was able to acquire a highly-touted prospect such as Hernandez — formerly Tampa Bay’s No. 13 prospect according to Baseball America — for two pitchers they were surely prepared to outright or part ways with for nothing in return.

Having said that, why would the Rays strike a deal with their division rival that seemingly strengthens that rival’s minor-league pipeline in exchange for Springs and Mazza, who combined to yield 36 runs (32 earned) in 50 1/3 innings pitched a season ago?

Tampa Bay’s general manager, and Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s friend and former colleague, Erik Neander explained the process behind that decision recently.

“This guy is a really talented player and a great person,” Neander said of Hernandez when speaking with reporters via video conference Wednesday night. “I think for us, it’s a situation where it was probably more about the two guys that we’re bringing in. It’s safe to say that in Mazza and Springs, both are talented, we have more optimism than their 2020 ERA’s would suggest. We think they are players that — Mazza in more of a length capacity, Springs in a shorter relief capacity, but can get stretched a little bit — we think are going to be additive to our group and help us win.

“Ultimately, the track records underneath those guys is not extensive by any means, obviously,” he continued. “But, forward-looking on both of them, we’re optimistic that they are better than they’ve been and are players that are going to help us. And with respect to Ronaldo, he’s a good, young talent, and we wish him nothing but the best, certainly. He’s gone about his business with us the right way and is going to continue to develop into being a major-league player one day.”

Mazza, 31, owns a lifetime 5.05 ERA and 4.00 FIP over 18 appearances (six starts) and 46 1/3 major-league innings between the Red Sox and Mets since 2019.

Last season with Boston, the California native ranked in the 83rd percentile among qualified big-league pitchers in regards to exit velocity and ranked in the 8th percentile in regards to hard-hit percentage, so that ability to limit hard contact must be a part of Mazza’s game the Rays find appealing.

Springs, meanwhile, owns a lifetime 5.42 ERA and 4.66 FIP over 59 appearances (two starts) and 84 2/3 innings pitched between the Red Sox and Rangers since 2018.

Last season with Boston, the 28-year-old southpaw ranked also ranked in the 83rd percentile among qualified big-league pitchers in regards to exit velocity while ranking in the 95th percentile in regards to whiff rate.

On top of that, both Mazza and Springs have at least one minor-league option remaining, so Tampa Bay would have the ability to send each of them down this coming season without worry if necessary.

This is the first trade the Red Sox have completed with the Rays since Bloom took over Boston’s baseball operations department a little less than 16 months ago.

“It was different. I think this was our first one, so I told him, ‘You’re making this one easy. Trying to throw you a softball the way it’s perceived. So go ahead, enjoy it,'” Neander said jokingly of his conversations leading up to the trade with Bloom. “It is what it is. We have a good relationship. There’s a lot of trust there. I think that helps cut through a lot of the negotiations that usually take place…. It was different, but it’s been over a year. We’ve grown used to these roles we’re in, and it was nice to work with each other to agree to a trade.”

(Thank you to the Tampa Bay Rays for providing BloggingtheRedSox.com with Erik Neander’s full video conference from Wednesday)

(Picture of Erik Neander: Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

A sampling of scouting reports — and more — on newest Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández

In case you missed it, the Red Sox acquired catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez and infield prospect Nick Sogard from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday morning in exchange for left-hander Jeffrey Springs and right-hander Chris Mazza, as well as $100,000 in cash considerations.

Among the two minor-leaguers Boston received in this deal, Hernandez is without a doubt the most highly-touted.

The 23-year-old was originally signed by the Rays out of Colombia for $225,000 in 2014 and worked his way up to earning a spot on the club’s 40-man roster in November 2019 to avoid being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

Despite not getting to experience a minor-league season last year on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez did spend the entirety of the major-league season at the Rays’ alternate training site, so it is not like 2020 was a complete wash for him.

Having said that, the 6-foot-3, 23o pounder saw his offensive production decline the last time he took the field for organized minor-league action in 2019.

Compared to his 2018 slash line of .284/.339/.494 to go along with 21 home runs and 79 RBI over 109 games with Class-A Bowling Green, Hernandez posted a .265/.299/.397 slash while clubbing just nine homers and driving in 60 runs in 103 games with High-A Charlotte two years ago.

He did bounce back by producing an .894 OPS over 42 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League after the season ended, but there still might be some lingering concerns there.

On the other side of the ball, Hernandez has thrown out 120 of the 288 (42%) of the base runners that attempted to steal against him over the course of his four-year professional career. He is also averaging more than 13 passed balls per season over that span.

Taking what he does offensively and defensively into consideration, here is a sampling of scouting reports from 2020 on Hernandez from various baseball outlets.

FanGraphs:

“If you just look at raw tools, Hernandez compares to Gary Sánchez and is not only a potential everyday catcher but one who might have real impact. He has big raw power and run-stopping, plus-plus arm strength, but his approach is bad (which might impede the power), and his swing only generates power in certain parts of the zone. He loads his hands very high and deep and then cuts down through the typical hitting zone, which causes Hernandez’s power to come toward the top of the zone and out in front when his swing starts to lift, making his point of impact of paramount importance to his power production… His defensive ability, specifically the receiving, might still be a problem and is part of why Kevan Smith was ahead of him on last year’s depth chart. He’s still a high-variance prospect with some flaws that may be exploited in a significant way at the big league level, but Hernandez has a shot to be an everyday player due to his power.”

MLB Pipeline:

“Hernández has a pair of plus tools in his raw power and arm strength, but he’s still learning the nuances of the game and seeking consistency on both sides of the ball. Big and strong, he makes hard contact with strength-driven bat speed and shows feel for finding the barrel thanks to good hand-eye coordination. That Hernández’s power plays almost entirely to his pull side during games speaks to his aggressive approach and leads some scouts to question his overall hitting ability. While he doesn’t strike out much, Hernández does chase contact too often and will need to adopt a more selective approach as he works his way through the Minors.

“A rocket, 70-grade arm and solid catch-and-throw skills help Hernández control the running game, and he’s thrown out 36 and 39 percent of base stealers, respectively, in his first two full-season campaigns. He’s improved as a receiver but still has a way to go to become average, and the same goes for Hernández’s blocking skills. Improving his body and conditioning should help with the latter, and the Rays expect some gains to occur naturally as Hernández gains much-needed experience behind the plate. If it all clicks for him, Hernández could develop into an average defensive catcher who hits for enough power to compensate for his lack of average and receiving issues.”

Baseball America:

“Hernandez’s 2018 breakout season with low Class A Bowling Green has started to fade into the background, but his trade in a swap for a designated for assignment player is still a surprisingly low return for a catcher with significant power potential. Hernandez was not a particularly good fit in a Rays organization that emphasizes receiving ability far above offensive contributions from its catchers.

“Hernandez struggles as a future fringe-average receiver and will have to improve in this facet of the game to earn an everyday role in the majors. His power comes from a very pull-heavy approach that may be exploited by more advanced pitchers. That said, Hernandez has plus power and a plus arm and he’s only 23, so he has a chance to refine some of his current issues. He’s a very useful addition to the Red Sox farm system as a catcher to develop. And if MLB eventually goes to computerized ball-strike calls, his biggest liabilities will largely diminish. Hernandez had to be added to the 40-man roster before the 2020 season and has used one option. He will head into 2021 having not played above high Class A.”

Hernandez was regarded by Baseball America as the Rays’ No. 13 prospect headed into the 2020 season.

According to SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield, the young backstop will likely rank somewhere between No. 11 and No. 2o in regards to the site’s ranking of the Red Sox’ top prospects.

That in turn, would make Hernandez one of, if not the top catching prospect in Boston’s farm system, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

On the subject of Red Sox minor-league catchers, Hernandez will join a position group that includes the likes of Connor Wong (also on the 40-man), Jhonny Pereda, Roldani Baldwin, Kole Cottam, Chris Hermann, Jhonny Pereda, and Austin Rei at major-league camp the onset of spring training.

It’s already been said, but in a matter of 12-plus months, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have seemingly transformed the organization’s catching depth from an area of weakness to an area of strength. Not too shabby.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Red Sox acquire catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández, infield prospect Nick Sogard from Rays in exchange for Chris Mazza, Jeffrey Springs

The Red Sox have traded right-hander Chris Mazza and left-hander Jeffrey Springs as well as cash considerations to the Rays in exchange for catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez and infield prospect Nick Sogard, the team announced Wednesday morning.

Both Mazza and Springs were recently designated for assignment by Boston so that the club could make room on its 40-man roster and accommodate the additions of Martin Perez and Hirokazu Sawamura.

Mazza, 31, posted a 4.80 ERA and 4.26 FIP over nine outings (six starts) and 30 innings pitched in his debut season with the Sox after being claimed off waivers from the Mets in December 2019.

Springs, meanwhile, put up worse numbers than Mazza (7.08 ERA, 4.81 FIP) in 2020, but there is plenty of appeal in what he does on the mound. That much was highlighted by the fact that over a nine-game stretch from August 31 through September 23 last season, the 28-year-old produced a 2.53 ERA and 2.39 xFIP over 10 2/3 innings of relief.

Considering that Mazza and Springs both have at least one minor-league option remaining, it’s not too surprising to see a team — especially a team like the Rays — take a chance on the hurlers via trade.

As for who the Red Sox are acquiring, let’s start with Hernandez.

The 23-year-old backstop entered the 2020 season as Tampa Bay’s No. 13 prospect according to Baseball America.

Although he did not see any big-league playing time in 2020, Hernandez did spend the entirety of the year at the Rays’ alternate training site on account of his being added to the team’s 40-man roster the previous November in order to be protected from the 2019 Rule 5 Draft.

Leading up to that protection, the Colombian posted a .265/.299/.297 slash (104 wRC+) to go along with nine home runs, 60 RBI, and seven stolen bases across 103 games for High-A Charlotte. He also threw out more than 39% of the base runners that attempted to steal against him.

Following the 2019 minor-league season, Hernandez played for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League and posted an OPS of .894 over 11 games played and 42 plate appearances.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 230 lbs., the right-handed hitting Hernandez will join a catching mix at Red Sox camp that includes the likes of Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki, Connor Wong, Jhonny Pereda, and Roldani Baldwin. More on Plawecki in a minute.

Turning to Sogard now, the 23-year-old was the Rays’ 12th-round selection in the 2019 amateur draft out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

The Southern California native was not included in Tampa Bay’s 60-man player pool this past season, but he did enjoy moderate success in 2019 by slashing .290/.405/.313 with five doubles, 21 RBI, and 20 swiped bags across 63 games for short-season Hudson Valley.

A switch-hitting infielder listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 lbs., Sogard has garnered experience at every infield position besides first base as a professional thus far. He will presumably start the 2021 minor-league season at one of the Red Sox’ Class-A affiliates (Salem or Greenville).

Circling back to Plawecki, the Sox placed the 29-year-old backstop on the COVID-19 related injured list on Wednesday, which cleared up a 40-man roster spot for Hernandez.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Plawecki can spend as much time on the COVID-19 injured list as he needs and will not count against Boston’s 40-man roster during that time.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Eric Espada/Getty Images)