This is the debut entry from new Phillies Nation guest contributor Mike Murphy.
Baseball is never usually kind to players who are over 35. It is rare that a player finds all-star caliber success late in his career. Fortunately for Ruiz and Howard, they may receive one more chance at a diamond-studded ring around baseball’s Christmas, the July 31st trade deadline.
“Chooch” was always a fan favorite in Philadelphia, known for his durability, timely hitting, and most importantly his ability to call a baseball game. A potential suitor for Ruiz will not be receiving his all-star hitting from 2012 but a leader for a pitching staff looking for an edge down the stretch and into the postseason.
The team that would fit Ruiz right away would be the Texas Rangers. Ruiz’s former teammate Cole Hamels will probably be more than delighted to see the 5-foot-10 catcher enter the Rangers clubhouse in August. Texas does not have a lot of depth at the catcher position at the major league level. A combined 118 major league games have been played between both catchers on the depth chart, making a stronger case for bringing on the veteran. Starters Derek Holland, Yu Darvish (when he gets off the disabled list), Colby Lewis, and Hamels could benefit from Ruiz’s game calling and leadership.
The veteran catcher is very adaptable and in the past is able to create a repertoire with a pitcher mid-season. Take for example Cliff Lee back in 2009 and how dominant he was with Ruiz calling games behind the plate. Ruiz could be a mid-season addition that may go under the radar but make a difference in the playoffs.
In return the Phillies could target outfield prospect Ryan Cordell, who hit .311/.376/.528 in the Class A Advanced California League last summer. So far this season, the six-foot-four 195-pounder has an average of .356 with seven doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs in just 12 games played. The size, consistent average, and power could add depth to the future outfield.
Meanwhile for Howard a trade to Boston would be beneficial on both ends. The Phillies would finally be able to shed what remains of his contract while ushering in the future. The Red Sox may be able to replace David Ortiz next season.
The word “replace” is used loosely.
Howard entered spring training looking lean and limber, which is a plus for him in such a pivotal year. In essence the 36-year-old power hitter is playing for a job next season, since it is inevitable that the Phillies would probably not pick up their team option in 2017.
Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez could split time with Howard at both first base and designated hitter. If he fits the lineup and performs to a standard of 25-30 home runs, he could be brought back in 2017.
Besides dumping the rest of Howard’s contract, the front office could target RHP Chandler Shepherd, a mid-inning reliever in the lower levels of the Red Sox farm system. He possesses a fastball topping out at 91-93 mph with a bit of a “run and sink” action, complimented by a low 80’s change up and slider. His addition may be able to solve some of the Phillies bullpen issues in time.
A few other teams could benefit from both players’ leadership in the second half of the season, including younger clubs like the Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians.
We have seen in the past that a veterans’ presence can make a difference on a team. Jonny Gomes back in 2013 with the Red Sox was a key catalyst who came up with unlikely, but timely, clutch hits. Although he was not a mid-season trade, the company of a veteran bench player can make all the difference in some cases.
Fans in Philadelphia can always be grateful for the times they had witnessing Ruiz and Howard in their prime, from the powerful playoff runs from 2007-11 to the four no-hitters by the Phillies pitching staff. Better days are coming in south Philadelphia, but Howard and Ruiz won’t be a part of them.