Philadelphia Phillies: A.J. Ellis should be retained for 2017


The Philadelphia Phillies obtained veteran catcher A.J. Ellis from the Los Angeles Dodgers last month in a trade package for franchise icon Carlos Ruiz. Early indicators suggest that Ellis should be retained for next season.

General manager Matt Klentak insisted that veteran catcher A.J. Ellis be included in a waiver trade the Philadelphia Phillies made with the Los Angeles Dodgers last month for Carlos Ruiz. Obtaining Ellis enabled catching prospects Andrew Knapp (Triple-A) and Jorge Alfaro (Double-A) to remain in the farm system and complete their minor league seasons. However, the 35-year-old former lifetime Dodger has quickly bonded with the pitching staff and starting catcher Cameron Rupp since arriving. That’s why the Phillies should offer him a new contract for the 2017 season.

Ruiz was given an option, according to Klentak. ‘Chooch’ could remain with the team through the end of the season, thereby completing his current contract in red pinstripes, or waive his no-trade clause if an acceptable contending team was interested in trading for him. Ruiz chose to pursue another ring, which set events in motion. He was subsequently traded with cash to the Dodgers. In return the Phillies received a player to be named later, Single-A pitcher Tommy Bergjans and Ellis. That was a good return for the beloved player who was going to be bought out ($500,000) after the season ended.

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Rupp’s efforts deserve to be mentioned. He’s surprised many by hitting above, and in some cases well above, his career averages this year. After taking over for Ruiz midway through last season as the team’s top receiver, he performed nicely at the plate and posted a 1.0 defensive WAR score.

Among all catchers who have appeared in more than 90 games, Rupp ranks third in the National League in home runs (15), sixth in RBI’s (48) and ninth in slugging percentage (.458). However, one recognized advanced defensive metric ranks Rupp eighth (4.8) among NL starters. The leader, J.T. Realmuto of the Miami Marlins, sports a 10.4 ranking. Rupp’s traditional fielding percentage (.995) ranks fifth in the League.

Ellis has filled the defensive catcher specialist role during the bulk of his major league career, which began in 2008. However, he was the Dodgers starting catcher in 2012 and 2013. At this point, his retention is being suggested because of the positive influence he could have on Rupp, assuming the Phillies plan to keep him, on the team’s receiving prospects and also the entire pitching staff. His modest offensive abilities also wouldn’t be overly exposed because of the low number of games he would start next season.

Similar to the role veteran utility man Andres Blanco has played for the Phillies, Ellis’ seasoned influence is needed moving forward. Rupp is a capable and durable catcher, but he hasn’t yet demonstrated the ability to call a consistent game and has difficulty framing pitches. He also doesn’t possess the type of resume needed to be as strong of an influence on a young staff as Ellis is and could be.

The Phillies need to improve their lineup in order to become a plus-.500 team. But, the vast number of encouraging arms in the starting rotation, bullpen and in the minor league system need to be handled carefully in order to maximize progress. Pitching coach Bob McClure and bullpen coach Rick Kranitz appear to be performing well in their positions.

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But, both men’s efforts would be bolstered by this trusted veteran catcher remaining with the team next season, if not longer. Ellis is earning $4.5 million in the last year of his contract, which matches Ruiz’ salary this season. Re-signing this pending free agent in a similar price region would make sense on many levels.