When the Los Angeles Dodgers announced on Thursday that beloved catcher A.J. Ellis had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies (alongside prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later or cash considerations) for cash and Carlos Ruiz, another longtime backstop — it was nothing short of shocking.
It was a unique trade to say the very least: both Ellis and Ruiz were the longest-tenured players for their respective organizations. The former being drafted by Los Angeles in 2003, and the latter signing with Philadelphia in 1998.
Ellis made his Major League debut for the Dodgers in 2008 and had consistently been with the club since 2012. Ruiz, on the other hand, debuted in 2006 and was a mainstay on the Phillies roster since becoming an everyday player in 2007.
Both veteran catchers are adored by their individual fanbases, which is why the trade was so stunning. Nobody anticipated such a deal, especially at this stage in the season and when several players in the Dodgers clubhouse have spoken of growing closer over recent weeks.
As much as the transaction stings on a personal level for both sides, this move actually makes a ton of sense from a baseball perspective.
For one, the rebuilding Phillies offered little-to-no playing time for the 37-year-old Ruiz, as evidenced by him appearing in just 48 games despite remaining healthy all season.
While his leadership in the Phillies’ clubhouse is invaluable, similar to Ellis in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, the team rightfully allowed him the chance to pursue another World Series ring.
What’s more, the man they call “Chooch” will reunite with former teammates Joe Blanton and Chase Utley in quest for a second championship together.
Additionally, the Phillies will receive two lottery ticket-type prospects, similar to the return they received for Utley last season.
While it must be extremely difficult trading away franchise icons, adding any kind of potential assets to the organization should be the main priority during a rebuild.
With the emergence of Yasmani Grandal as one of the game’s best all-around catchers and the fact that Clayton Kershaw has been sidelined since the end of June, there just weren’t that many openings for Ellis in Los Angeles anymore.
After his second-half resurgence during the 2015 season, Ellis struggled mightily for all of 2016. In 161 plate appearances, he batted a mere .194/.285/.282 with six extra-base hits, making him a liability when he was in the starting lineup.
If Grandal were to get injured, Ellis wouldn’t make a suitable replacement and with the recent injury scare to prospect Austin Barnes (though he should be fine after being hit on the hand with a pitch), the front office couldn’t pass on the opportunity to upgrade the roster.
On the bright side for Ellis, he will be a free agent at the conclusion of this season and may receive more playing time in Philadelphia — giving him roughly five weeks to improve his stock. Assuming he wants to continue with his career in 2017.
Ellis’ lovable presence alone will help the young Phillies’ starting staff as much as it did for the young arms in the Dodgers organization.
Meanwhile, Ruiz is in the midst of one of his best seasons since being selected to National League All-Star team in 2012. Over 193 plate appearances, he has posted a .719 on-base plus slugging with excellent defensive metrics.
Among catchers with a minimum of 175 plate appearances, Ruiz’s .368 on-base percentage ranks third behind Sandy Leon of the Boston Red Sox and Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Since the beginning of 2012, Ruiz ranks seventh in FanGraphs WAR (10.6) among catchers, and 10th with a .267 batting average.
One of the prominent reasons why the front office decided to acquire Ruiz is for his success against left-handed pitching. This season, he is slashing .250/.421/.409 with a stellar 134 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances.
To put that into perspective, the Dodgers as a whole are hitting just .222/.300/.351 with a 78 wRC+ for the season off lefties, which ranks 28th in the Majors. Leaving them only ahead of the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and Phillies.
Acquiring a starting-caliber catcher like Ruiz, who has caught four no-hitters, and has plenty of postseason experience over the course of his 11-year career, will benefit the Dodgers in so many ways.
When a tough lefty is on the mound, he can easily slot into the lineup and immediately produce, while also giving Grandal much-needed rest during the stretch run. Dating back to his time with the Phillies, Ruiz was regarded as one of the better game-callers in the league with multiple aces that loved throwing to him.
In 2011, he handled a pitching staff that featured the likes of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt — four big-names that thrived with his calls behind home plate and there’s no reason to believe this wouldn’t be the case if he were to catch Kershaw either.
Another underrated aspect of Ruiz is his ability to speak fluent Japanese, Spanish and English, so he will get accustomed right away with whomever he catches — whether it be Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, et al.
The Dodgers hold a club-friendly option for Ruiz next season at $4.5 million, so if everything works out the way the front office envisions, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them bring him back for 2017.
For a team with World Series aspirations, this was a trade that was necessary — even though it was a very somber one at that.