UPDATE (Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m. PT): The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly traded Carlos Ruiz to the Seattle Mariners.
The first Los Angeles Dodgers trade rumor since their 2016 season came to an end had the club reportedly open to dealing backup catcher Carlos Ruiz. Los Angeles holds a $4.5 million option on Ruiz’s contract for next season, and it also includes a $500,000 buyout.
Although Ruiz had key hits this postseason, he’s expendable in some sense because the Dodgers have Austin Barnes waiting in the wings, biding his time before he finally gets his opportunity to start in the Majors.
Barnes and Ruiz have different skill sets and levels of experience, which makes for an interesting decision when determining who the Dodgers should retain as their backup catcher next season.
In some circles, there’s no substitute for experience. Ruiz has played in over 1,000 Major League games, he’s been an All Star, he’s received MVP votes and he won a championship with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
As a matter of fact, Ruiz has played in more postseason games than Barnes has played Major League games.
Ruiz has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career, which a main reason the Dodgers acquired him. He’s lauded for his clubhouse presence as well as his ability to work with a pitching staff.
Ruiz is admired by teammates, past and present. His $4.5 million club option for next season is equal to the salary the Dodgers and A.J. Ellis agreed upon to avoid arbitration.
The Heir Apparent
While one evaluator may want to look at where a player has been, another may choose to look at where a player is going. Barnes has only been catching full time since 2013 and has just under 120 Major League innings behind the plate. But oh, the possibilities.
Barnes has a career .388 on-base percentage in the Minors. He’s also stolen double-digit bases each of the last three seasons. He’s played 165 games at second base in the Minors and spent 24 games at third. He’s also regarded as one of the best framing catchers in the Minor Leagues.
With all of that information, who do you want backing up Yasmani Grandal? The player who’s been in the Majors for 11 seasons, or the versatile upside play?
If recent events are to be believed, perhaps Barnes is better served remaining with Triple-A Oklahoma City as their starting catcher rather than getting sporadic playing time with the Dodgers.
That isn’t to say Barnes doesn’t deserve to be in the Majors. On the contrary. He should probably be starting by now, but it’s unrealistic to assume he supplants Grandal.
Ruiz seems like a fine backup who will receive approximately 40 starts next season against righties. And that’s why it’s puzzling that the Dodgers are shopping him. How much value does a soon-to-be 38-year-old backup catcher making $4.5 million have?
Unless he were part of a bigger deal, it’s doubtful Ruiz would yield any player of significant value in return. Barnes likely has more trade value right now, with more potential and several years of team control.
While either (or both) could be traded this offseason, it would make more sense to retain both, with Ruiz as the Major League backup and Barnes encased in glass in Triple-A (in case of emergency, break glass).
With Grandal’s injury history, having a backstop capable of starting is invaluable and, if something were to happen to Grandal, hopefully it would be Barnes, not Ruiz, who takes his spot in the lineup. As the Dodgers proved time and time again in 2016, you can never have enough depth.