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Minor Thoughts -- August 4, 2005

When the trade deadline came and went on Sunday afternoon, I'll admit to disappointment that Billy Wagner was not traded. For once, the Phillies possessed the most valuable chip at the deadline, and with a readymade replacement already in tow in the person of Ugueth Urbina, this was the perfect opportunity to atone for last year's deadline prospect purge and restock the farm with some quality players. As usual, though, Ed Wade wanted "major league" players and was unable to see past potential public relations repercussions in having to justify why he traded an elite (but still overpaid) closer with the team still clearly a contender for a playoff berth.

That said, there was one deal for Wagner that I am glad wasn't made...

That being the reported package of players the Phillies might have received from the Boston Red Sox. Though still a rumor and one that should always be treated as such, it was reported that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was offering RHP Bronson Arroyo, 3B Kevin Youkilis, and C Kelly Shoppach for Wagner. While not terrible by any means, none of those three players excited me to the point that I would have taken Boston's offer over what the White Sox were reportedly dangling, an offer that included a true top prospect in Brandon McCarthy.

On the Boston package:

  • Arroyo is an average major league starter who will always have a better chance to put up a 4.50 ERA than a 3.50. Additionally, none of his rate stats point to him being anything but average -- not that that is a bad thing, getting lots of average innings at a cheap price can be very beneficial to any team, but, at this point, we have enough options at both the major and minor league levels that he was not a needed commodity. His acquisition also would have opened the door for Charlie Manuel to finally remove dangerous rookie Robinson Tejeda from the rotation despite his sub-3 ERA and excellent BAA.

  • Youkilis may be the Jewish God of Walks, but his slugging proves him to be yet another mere mortal and is, in fact, not very good. Though he'd represent an offensive upgrade over Bell because of his significantly better on-base skills in addition to potential salary relief if Bell were moved, I think we can all agree that the likelihood any scenario other than David Bell playing out the entirety of his terrible contract as this team's starting third basemen is an unlikely one indeed. This last point segues quite nicely into the crux of this column...

  • Finally, we get to catching prospect Kelly Shoppach and my ultimate point here. Though highly touted because of an impressive pedigree and 2nd-round draft selection, Shoppach is merely a good player who would be further congesting the backlog of catchers we will have to sort out in the coming years. In particular, Shoppach would block intriguing and rising prospect Carlos Ruiz who, in my opinion, should have a shot to be this team's everday catcher as early as next season if a buyer can be found for Mike Lieberthal.

Though a year older than Shoppach at 26, Ruiz has been nearly as solid an offensive player through both AA and AAA. In 2004 when both players played in the Eastern League, Shoppach posted an .841 OPS to Ruiz's .822, which has been followed up this season in the International League by OPS's of .906 and .842 respectively. Breaking the numbers down further, Shoppach's OPS is weighted much more heavily towards slugging, whereas Ruiz's is more evenly distributed thanks to a batting average 50 points higher. Hanging one's hat on batting average can be a tenuous thing to do, however, because of the fluctuating nature of the statistic. Still, it would not surprise me to see these two produce at an equivalent level in the major leagues in terms of OPS. Shoppach reminds me of Todd Hundley in his non-awesome years and Ruiz compares favorably with Bengie Molina -- in other words, good defensive catchers who produce above the positional average for catchers (low-mid .700s OPS).

Note: (I'd really love to take a look at comparitive minor league EQAs for each player but those numbers are unfortunately unavailable at the moment from BP)

What pleased me most, however, was the fact that, for once, even if unintentional, the organization showed some confidence in their own player. Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle has had good words about Ruiz whenever asked about him, and, hopefully, he was considered when they turned down the deal. Do I think that actually happened? Likely not, but it's still a nice thought and hopefully a sign of change from the standard modus operandi of recent years when the Doug Glanvilles of the world were brought back as unnecessary "insurance plans" in case Marlon Byrd slipped in his sophomore year, and major league bullpens were required to have a minimum of four overpaid, aging veterans when better replacements were two hours up the turnpike.

Carlos Ruiz will be a major league player but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to fill a starting role or not. Before that determination can be made though, he must first and foremost be given a chance. After all, every crafty vet was a rookie who needed a chance at one point.