The Dodgers probably got better on Thursday, with the addition of Carlos Ruiz as their backup catcher. But that doesn’t make it any less painful that A.J. Ellis is gone.
The writing was on the wall with Ellis a free agent at season’s end, hitting just .194/.285/.252 in limited duty in 2016. But I always assumed that breakup would happen in the offseason.
Ruiz is better against left-handed pitching, something that has plagued the Dodgers all season long, and Yasmani Grandal as productive as he is needs to rest now and then. He started 15 of the last 17 games, and Friday night marked the first time Grandal has started five consecutive days all season.
With Austin Barnes getting hit by a pitch on the hand earlier in the week, the Dodgers’ catching depth suddenly looked awfully thin, so adding Ruiz made perfect sense.
But with rosters expanding in September, just a week away, Ellis at least in theory could have been kept around, even if he was lower on the depth chart. But in actuality that seems like a pipe dream, with Phillies general manager Matt Klentak telling reporters he was "adamant" Ellis be included in the deal, per CSN Philly, to be around Jorge Alfaro and the other Phillies catchers over the final month.
Ellis, drafted in 2003, loved being a Dodger. He was the longest-tenured player in the organization, was immersed in the club’s history, and was always available, for teammates, reporters, fans, anyone.
"One of the great things about being a Dodger is all the legends you get to see," Ellis said on Wednesday during an MLB.com chat. "I have two legends I got to spend a lot of time with and build a relationship with. You still see their competitiveness, you still see their greatness years after they retired, in Don Newcombe and Sandy Koufax."
On Thursday, Ellis visited children at Cedars Sinai, while also visiting teammate Rob Segedin and his newborn son. Speaking of Segedin...
Thanks @AJEllis17 4 everythin u did for me on and off the field. u always looked out for us rookies and guided us through this transition.— Rob Segedin (@robsegedin25) August 25, 2016
This is the sentiment from someone who was a teammate of Ellis for all of three weeks, plus spring training.
That was Ellis.
That said, to say the Dodgers ignored clubhouse chemistry in making this trade doesn’t fly. A team not interested in clubhouse chemistry doesn’t send Yasiel Puig to the minors for reasons that went beyond his performance on the field.
The loss of Ellis will be felt, certainly, but to think the Dodgers clubhouse would be ripped apart because of it does a disservice to the players as professionals.
Ruiz has a great reputation within baseball as well, and will help fill some of the void.
Ellis and Clayton Kershaw were obviously close, and Kershaw loved throwing to Ellis, and Ellis loved catching Kershaw. Even in a worst-case scenario that Kershaw would be so angry at this move that he wants out as soon as possible, the Dodgers have two years to mend that fence before Kershaw can actually opt out.
But again, the reality is that Kershaw is a professional and will handle it accordingly, and still be Clayton Kershaw when he pitches, no matter who is catching.
Despite being drafted in 2003, Ellis didn’t reach the majors until 2008, and played only sparingly in his first four years in the majors. But he got his first full-time gig at age 31 and ran with it, hitting .270/.373/.414 as one of the most durable catchers in the league.
Ellis hit the division-clinching home run in 2013 in Arizona, setting off a wonderful pool party.
A master of timing, Ellis even knew to make sure to get his picture taken with Vin Scully last homestand rather than at season’s end, the 67th and final season of Scully’s career.
Through countless hours of work on his swing, he made himself a major league hitter, and has a lifetime .340 on-base percentage. Ellis notched a spot for himself in Dodgers franchise lore, 10th in the last 104 years with 485 starts behind the plate.
His 12.4-percent walk rate is second-highest among all Dodgers catchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances, trailing only Joe Ferguson.
Ellis just wasn’t producing this season, and that’s why the Dodgers traded for Ruiz. That doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
One of favorite Ellis stories came in 2012, when he described how his wife Cindy had confidence in him during his toil through the minors:
"I asked my wife right after we got engaged, 'Do you want me to keep going?' I hadn't even played a game in Double A yet, and had just finally became a part time player. Edwin Bellorin was the other catcher," Ellis said. "I asked her what she thought, and she said, 'We're going to do this. You're going to play in the big leagues. We're going to keep going until they tell you you can't play any more' I never myself felt like that.
Here’s hoping that Ellis keeps going as long as he wants, wherever that may be.