A year ago, dealing Ryan Howard made a lot of sense, and the Phillies would have loved to be able to make a move. Apparently though, there was none to be made. This season, he's still on the block, and recent reports say there are at least a couple teams sniffing around on the one-time National League Most Valuable Player.
Carlos Ruiz has had a great career with the Phillies and is a fan favorite. As his contract winds down, his playing time has dwindled, thanks in part to both age and the emergence of Cameron Rupp. Like Howard, there are at least a couple teams with some mild interest in the veteran catcher.
So, do the Phillies take what they can get for either or both of the veteran players? Not so fast. There just might be some value to keeping one or both of the players for the remainder of the season.
It would have been very easy for Howard to become a distraction on the team. For the past couple seasons, the Phillies have openly shopped him and there was even talk of simply dumping him and eating his salary. All along, Howard could have been complaining about playing time and holding nightly media gatherings at his locker to talk about how he just needs more playing time. Even when Tommy Joseph was brought up from Lehigh Valley and told he would be getting more and more playing time to see just what he could do, Howard didn't mope. Instead, he openly supported Joseph and even congratulated him on his playing time and performance. The Big Piece has been there as a sounding board for Joseph and an occasional bat against a right-hander, even though he's only batting just .171 against righties, who he has pounded throughout his career. Overall, he's batting just .164 (.095 against lefties).
With those numbers, Howard isn't going to be much of a help to a team in playoff contention. Even if the Phillies eat what is left of the $25-million he's owed this season and the additional $10-million on his buyout for next season, just what is another team going to give them in return? Maybe a journey-man Triple-A guy who becomes a potential bit player for the Phillies? Or, more likely, a young guy in the lower levels of the minors with a somewhat questionable future as a potential major leaguer? Sure, the guy could turn out to be a decent player who helps the Phillies at some point down the road, but the odds are long.
So, what is the expected return on Ruiz? He's still playing pretty well (3-11-.260 in 38 games), has been through playoff runs and knows how to handle pitchers. The expected return is a bit better than that for Howard, especially if the Phillies eat the remaining rest of the $8.5-million he's owed this season and the $500-thousand he gets as a buyout on his $4.5-million deal for next season. Don't get your hopes too high though. There's not going to be a Nick Williams or Jake Thompson coming back in a deal for Ruiz. Think more along the lines of one of those "good arms" type of guys like Phillippe Aumont. Or a guy with "all the tools" like Tyson Gillies. Again, they could work out, but the odds aren't great.
Or, the Phillies could keep either or both Howard and Ruiz. What would that give them? In the case of Howard, it would give them a guy who has given the city a lot during his career. He would finish his season - and possibly, his career - with the team that drafted him and brought him to the majors. He would get to play occasionally and maybe thrill the home crowd with another blast or two. And, he would be a veteran presence for the young players who are on the team now and will be joining the team in September.
Ruiz would offer much the same, with one added feature; he knows how to handle young pitchers much like the ones filling the Phillies staff. He's also got some experience with them, more than a veteran the team might bring in to fill his role.
A potential question is, are Howard or Ruiz blocking anybody from coming to the majors?
You can say that Howard is blocking Darin Ruf, but if there was ever a guy in need of a change of scenery, it's Ruf. He's not going to take playing time away from Joseph, the outfield is already crowded and he's shown himself to be ineffective if he doesn't get regular at-bats. Brock Stassi? There really isn't a lot there to make anybody think he's going to be a quality major league player. Decent numbers with Lehigh Valley (8-38-.271 in 82 games), but he can only play first base. Again, he's not going to take many at-bats away from Joseph and he can't play anywhere else, so you have a young Ryan Howard on the roster, although he is above average defensively at first.
As for Ruiz as a blocking agent. Yes, there's Andrew Knapp at Lehigh Valley and Jorge Alfaro at Reading. Knapp (7-37-.265 in 79 games) isn't overwhelming anybody offensively, but he's capable - not great - as a defensive catcher. He's a switch-hitter, so he could get some at-bats against right-handed hitters, but whether he would be able to get, or would deserve, enough at-bats over Rupp is a question mark. One scout mentioned Knapp as a potential trade chip for the Phillies. If the Phillies see his future as a major league back-up, then it may be worth bringing him to the majors and getting him started in that role. If they believe he's something more, than they have to question whether the playing time is there and whether he's ready for the majors. Dave Brundage, Knapp's own manager recently questioned whether he was ready for the majors.
If anything, moving Knapp to the majors would allow the Phillies to push Alfaro, who is having a very good season with Double-A Reading (12-53-.295 in 72 games) to Lehigh Valley, where he deserves to be at this point.
If the Phillies don't move Ruiz or Howard right now, they could always move them next month. Yes, they would have to clear waivers, but if a team claimed Howard, they would have to pay him what he would be owed for the remainder of the season, which would be upwards of $4-million, plus the $10-million buyout. Nobody is going to do that. Ruiz would be a little more cost effective and would be more likely to be claimed, even to block him from going to another club.
The bottom line is that the return for Howard and/or Ruiz isn't going to be that great and it might be outweighed by the value of keeping them around until their contracts run out. It never hurts to add a young player here and there, but it also never hurts to have veteran players to work with these young guys and lead by example at the major league level.