Normally, a trade of backup catchers who are both in their mid-to-late 30s does little to move the needle. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies swapping A.J. Ellis and Carlos Ruiz isn’t your ordinary trade.
Both catchers were part of their respective organization for more than a decade. Ellis, at 13 years, was the longest-tenured Dodger. While Ruiz had been with the Phillies since signing as a amateur free agent in 1998.
The loss of Ellis didn’t come as a surprise because of rousing success at the plate. He was revered in the clubhouse for his ability to work with a pitching staff and connect with teammates.
The same is now expected of Ruiz, which made the trade all the more manageable. “Obviously, it was a tough decision on a personal level We felt like from a baseball standpoint, Carlos fits our team extremely well,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman explained.
“I could go on and on about A.J. and his attributes and what he brings to a team. If Carlos didn’t possess similar things, we wouldn’t have made the trade. In terms of leadership ability, ability to call a game and manage a pitching staff, Carlos rates extremely well.”
Friedman added the team mulled the deal over for multiple days and decided against seeking the opinion of players in clubhouse as a means to avoid Ellis learning of the potential trade from secondhand sources.
“The very first thing we wanted from our standpoint was to treat him with the respect he deserves and for him to hear it from us, not a teammate,” Friedman said. What primarily separates Ruiz from Ellis is being under team control for 2017 and his ability to handle left-handed pitching.
The Dodgers hold a club $4.5 million club option on Ruiz for next season, which also includes a $500,000 buyout. Overall this season, 37-year-old is batting .261/.368/.352 with six doubles, three home runs and 12 RBI in 193 plate appearances over 48 games.
Ruiz is a .250/.421/.409 hitter against southpaws, giving the Dodgers a viable option behind the plate on days Yasmani Grandal sits. “What he brings to our lineup in terms of left-handed pitching, we felt like was something we were focused on for ways to improve,” Friedman said.
His trade left rookie manager Dave Roberts with a saddened and stunned clubhouse. Roberts didn’t believe that would carry into Thursday night’s game, much less the remainder of the season. He did, however, acknowledge the void left by the deal.
“Personally and professionally, when a guy like A.J. Ellis is traded, it’s impactful. It impacts the players, coaches, front office, the fanbase, media, everybody,” Roberts said.
“A.J. has a way about him that’s infectious. For him to have been part of this organization for nearly 13 years and seven years here in L.A., he’s definitely contributed a lot to the culture that’s here and the winning environment.”
Just as Ellis raved about his time with the Dodgers organization, Roberts returned the favor. He credited the 35-year-old catcher for aiding him grow in his first season as a manager, spawned from several conversations the two had about in-game decisions and leading a clubhouse.
As for any disconnect or disruption to the chemistry several players recently pointed to as being key in their turnaround this season, Friedman ensured there was an understanding of the trade, even if it wasn’t a move others agreed with.
“The biggest thing is sometimes assumptions run rampant. It was more (about) communication and being transparent about why we do certain things and what went into it,” he said.
“All of our interests are perfectly aligned in terms of doing everything we can to bring a world championship back to Los Angeles.”