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12/09/08 12:07 AM EST

O's, Reds talking Hernandez-Freel deal

MacPhail doesn't confirm or deny trade talks between clubs

LAS VEGAS -- There was no confirmation, but no flat denial. Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail responded directly to a question regarding a potential trade of catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Reds on Monday, and he made sure not to lean too hard either way on the expression meter.

"There's been some discussions on different fronts," said MacPhail. "I wouldn't say there's nothing to it, but I have no idea -- like a lot of trade discussions -- of what the end result's going to be."

Several sources have reported that the Orioles are close to dealing Hernandez to the Reds in exchange for Ryan Freel and a mid-level prospect, a trade that would seem to make sense for both teams. Hernandez is blocking the ascent of hot prospect Matt Wieters in Baltimore, and Freel is boxed out of a regular job with Cincinnati.

The monetary aspects of the rumored deal appear to lend it more credence. Hernandez is due $8 million in 2009 and Freel is on the books for half of that, giving the teams a healthy starting point. Some sources have speculated that Baltimore may have to make up some of the difference, but MacPhail wouldn't evaluate the specifics.

"The phone could ring and something could happen right away," MacPhail said, speaking generally about the way things shake down during this time of year. "We've had enough preliminary discussions at the [General Manager] Meetings and getting here where that could happen on a variety of different patterns. But there's nothing right now that I'm thinking, 'Gee, when you guys leave this room, we're this close to doing something.'"

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty was asked a similar question Monday and appeared to give his answer away with a telling lift of his eyebrows. But all he would say is that the Reds are evaluating their options.

"We've had conversations with a number of clubs," he said. "I'm not going to mention names."

MacPhail alluded to that same phenomenon earlier in the day, when he said that it's hard enough for teams to ascertain what they want let, alone what their trading partners may have in store for them.

"Some of these clubs are pretty good at poker faces here in Vegas about where they are and what their options are," said MacPhail.

Hernandez, who has a limited no-trade clause and an option for $8.5 million for the 2010 season, has been on shaky ground since the Orioles took Wieters with the fifth overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. And after Wieters crushed the competition at Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie in 2008, things are even more dicey.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley acknowledged that fact as part of his Monday media session, when he was asked a general question about his catching corps and found a way not to mention Hernandez at all.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Wieters. I think everybody is," Trembley said of the switch-hitting backstop. "You know, I've been playing with guys in the Minor Leagues for a long time, and those guys don't come around very often. And when they do, you'd better make sure they get better. And that's how I feel about Wieters.

"He's got a chance to be very good, and if you're a coach or a manager or instructor, your job is to make sure they get better. You can't afford to not do everything you can to not get that guy the best he can be."

But even if there's a deal, that might not cement Wieters as the Opening Day catcher. MacPhail wouldn't lean either way, but he said that if Hernandez is traded, it wouldn't necessarily be a coronation for his other catcher.

"When you think about Matt only having 200 something at-bats in Double-A," said MacPhail, summarizing the prospect's brief but impressive track record, "I think we'd still be looking for other options there as well."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.