The Reds have signed Ryan Freel to a two-year deal, and I’m pretty enthusiastic about the terms:

According to the Associated Press, Freel will earn a $1.3 million base salary in 2006 and $1.7 million in 2007. Incentives can bring his second year dollar figure to $2 million with 200 plate appearances in 2006 and to $2.65 million with 650 plate appearances. He earned $405,000 in 2005.

“It hasn’t really sunk in,” Freel said from his home in Jacksonville, Fla. “It doesn’t seem real right now.”

I think this is a good signing by GM Dan O’Brien. I don’t see Freel reaching the upper limits of the incentives, but it’s a fair deal all the way around for a player who has more value than I would have thought the Reds realized (after trading for Tony Womack recently). Plus, this allows the Reds to avoid arbitration with Freel, and who knows how that would have ended up.

So, why did the Reds trade for Tony Womack, anyway? Well, that’s the subject of today’s mailbag over at New beat writer Mark Sheldon tries to answer the question:

What was the strategy in getting Tony Womack? Isn’t he basically the same model as Ryan Freel, just a little older?
— Nathan D., Madison, Miss.

Unlike the wait-and-see approach I’m taking before judging the Sean Casey-for-Dave Williams trade, I’m just not getting the Womack deal right now.
The Reds like Womack’s speed, but for a quick guy, his on-base percentage is relatively low — .316 for his career. Meanwhile, Freel’s lifetime on-base percentage is .369. I would think a guy able to draw walks and get on base more often would better set up run-producers like Griffey, Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena. The club considers Freel’s utility play off the bench a luxury and appeared to want to keep that flexibility by not moving him into an everyday role.

Womack is also 36 and will receive $1.1 million from the Reds, plus $900,000 sent from the Yankees as part of the trade. That eats into the savings from shedding Casey’s $8.5-million salary, money that was purportedly to be used to help land a top-end starting pitcher.

I’m already impressed with the new guy (Sheldon formerly covered the Twins for He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.