Dodgers Roster: Was the A.J. Ellis Deal Really Necessary?

(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)

In an age of baseball when it’s commonplace for six different members of a front office crew to pound statistics, logarithms, and even players’ reflexive reactions into extremely complex spreadsheets hoping for better results on the diamond, it’s easy to understand how a few tenths of a WAR point would be compelling enough to trade away one of the club’s most valued leaders.

After all, today’s sabermetric-driven analysis establishes an infinite number of parameters that actually draw conclusions from the formulas which gather data. The whole problem, however, is that there’s no subjectivity in this philosophy, never taking into consideration someone’s personality, leadership qualities, or an individual’s desire to compete. And there’s really no data that measures the friendship and comradery that trickles from the resident ace of the team’s pitching staff the whole way down to a rookie who’s up for a quick cup of coffee.

On Thursday afternoon, the Dodgers’ front office ignored all the subjective arguments of the squad’s chemistry, and acquired catcher Carlos Ruiz and cash considerations from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later.

All the hours of negotiating, mountains of paperwork and careful managing of the public relations, and the Dodgers didn’t even get Jeremy Hellickson as an a la carte to help a battered starting rotation and an overworked bullpen.

That’s not to say that Ruiz isn’t an exceptional catcher. He’s probably among the finest of his generation. Ruiz, 37, has played in more than 1,000 games for the Phillies after being signed by the team as an amateur free agent in 1998. The native of Venezuela made his Philadelphia debut in 2006 and has been a mainstay behind the dish, hitting .266 with 68 home runs, 401 RBI and 213 doubles in 1,069 career games.

Ruiz made nine career Opening Day starts for the Phillies and was instrumental in five National League East Division championships, two National League pennants, and one World Series Championship. In 11 career World Series games, Ruiz has a .353 average with a .488 OBP, 1.194 OPS, four doubles, a triple, two home runs, five RBI in 43 plate appearances.

This season, Ruiz is batting .261 with three homers and 12 RBI in 48 games, but has been very productive lately, going 16-for-47 since the All-Star break.

The 2012 All-Star owns the highest career fielding percentage among all qualifying catchers in Phillies’ franchise history and ranks fourth in in games caught, trailing only Mike Lieberthal, Red Dooin and Bob Boone. He is one of only two catchers in Major League history, along with Jason Varitek, to have caught four separate no-hitters.

He struck out only 456 times in 3,884 career plate appearances, giving him the fifth-best strikeout rate among all active major league players over that span trailing only Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Jose Reyes and Martin Prado.

So of course it’s safe to say that Ruiz will fare a few ticks higher in just about every statistical category. And dollars aside, there’s probably a lot more to this deal which we as fans are ignorant, like A.J. being on the fringe of an ailment preventing him to perform, or even the idea of having a better mentor for budding catcher Cameron Rupp. And we’re probably even more ignorant to claim to know just how much Ellis meant to his teammates on a personal level, and to what degree his leadership was appreciated in the dugout.

Regardless, today’s trade is certainly a tough lump of news to swallow. Pitcher Brandon McCarthy took to social media shortly after learning of the deal, and offered a few very kind words regarding his former battery mate.

“It’s rare that a player can wholly embody a club’s energy and ideals. Dodgers inside and outside the clubhouse walls will miss A.J. Ellis.”

Was the deal really necessary? For those of us who took a particular liking to Ellis from the early days on the farm to his clubhouse presence in 2016, we seem to think not — at least until this roller coaster ride of a season comes to an end on a long-awaited championship note.


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