Brandon Moss holds no ill will for Phils over '11 snub

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Brandon Moss holds no ill will for Phils over '11 snub

MINNEAPOLIS -- Most of the attention in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game went to Derek Jeter and Mike Trout.

And with good reason.

Jeter, the five-time World Series winner and longtime darling of the New York Yankees, played in his 14th and final All-Star Game. The 40-year-old shortstop delivered two hits and walked off with a gaudy .481 (13 for 27) career batting average in All-Star play.

Next stop for Jeter, Cooperstown -- well, after the remainder of this farewell season and the required five years in dry dock.

Trout, 18 years Jeter’s junior and possibly the most gifted player in the sport, captured MVP honors in the game with an RBI triple -- man, can he run -- and an RBI double.

Many good stories were swept over by the mania surrounding Jeter and Trout.

The man who replaced Trout in the American League’s lineup late in the game was one of them.

His name is Brandon Moss, and of course we’ve heard a lot of that name in these parts because he’s the latest coulda-woulda-shoulda-been-a-Phillie, capping a list that includes Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler, San Francisco pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and Angels reliever Jason Grilli. All have gone on to have big-league success after being released from the Phillies’ minor-league system.

Vogelsong and Grilli were both veterans trying to rebuild their careers in Triple A. They were both let go and went on to make the National League All-Star team with different clubs.

Ziegler, a 20th-round pick by the Phillies in the 2003 draft, was let go after just one season in the system. At the time, he was an over-hand thrower headed nowhere. He went to an independent league, re-invented himself as a submarine-style reliever and has pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He led the NL in appearances last year and is doing so again this season.

And now, Moss.

Four springs ago, he was a non-roster player in the Phillies’ spring-training clubhouse looking for a job.

This week, he was an All-Star, representing the best team in baseball, the Oakland A’s.

Even Moss, two months shy of his 31st birthday, seemed a little surprised at his ascension.

“No one could have anticipated I would go from struggling at the beginning of my career to now I'm in an All-Star Game,” he said. “I was given an opportunity and made the most of it.”

Moss is the first to admit that he was given plenty of opportunities in the past and did not always seize them. He was Boston’s opening day rightfielder in 2008, Pittsburgh’s in 2009. He hit just .236 that season with a .668 OPS. Moss specifically mentioned that missed opportunity with the Pirates during a media availability at the All-Star Game.

Unable to seize opportunities for regular work in the majors, Moss bounced in and out of Triple A.

“I was labeled as more of a 4-A guy,” he said, referring to the murky world in which a player is too good for Triple A but not good enough for the majors.

Moss, a lefty hitter who can play both corner outfield spots and first base, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies before the 2011 season and put up good numbers -- .275/23/80/.877 OPS -- under manager Ryne Sandberg at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies had a killer team in 2011. They won a club-record 102 games, the most in the majors that season. Even Moss admitted there was no way he was cracking that lineup.

Late in the season, however, Phillies management was looking to fine-tune its roster and add a lefty hitter to its bench. On the surface, Moss seemed to make sense. But the Phils traded for another lefty hitter who was having a good season in Triple A -- John Bowker, then with the Pirates’ Triple A affiliate. Bowker spent a month with the club and went hitless with seven strikeouts in 13 at-bats.

Moss finished the season with the Phillies as a September call-up. He went 0 for 6. He was around for the Phillies’ NL-East clinching celebration. That was about it.

Moss would love to have gotten a shot at the job Bowker got, but he said he holds no hard feelings toward the Phillies for their choice. Again, he pointed to the 4-A label.

“You get labeled something and it’s hard to break that label in the big leagues,” he said. “I had a good year in Triple A. At the same time, they were trying to win the East and go to the World Series they felt Bowker could help more than me.”

Why didn’t Moss get a chance?

Well, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there were organizational concerns about whether Moss’ swing would hold up coming off the bench.

Moss understands the Phillies’ thinking.

“Not very well,” he said when asked about how his swing would fare if he were a bat off the bench. “There is so much timing involved in my swing because I have an open stance and I have a kick and movement with my hands. That's one of the reasons I didn't do well in Pittsburgh because I wasn't really an everyday player.

“Last year in the playoffs (when Moss was 2 for 18) we had four days off and you come in and face top-line pitchers, it's very hard to get that timing back. Once you do it stays, but once you lose it, it takes a little while to get it back. Timing-oriented hitters don't do well on the bench.”

Moss liked his experience in the Phillies’ organization. He actually considered signing back with the club for 2012, but took a similar minor-league deal with Oakland because he believed playing in the Pacific Coast League, where altitude and light air can inflate power numbers, would make him more attractive to a Japanese team and the big pay days they offer.

Moss opened the 2012 season in Triple A and was summoned to Oakland in June. He has been a stalwart for the A’s ever since, helping them make the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.

In 318 games with the A’s since coming up, Moss has hit 72 homers and has an .890 OPS. He has played first base and both corner outfield spots. This is where it begins to sting for Phillies fans. They have gotten little production from left field this season and had to sign free-agent Marlon Byrd to get production out of right field. At first base, Ryan Howard has not been close to the same player he was before he blew out his Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 season. He has just 40 homers and a .724 OPS in 244 games since he got back on the field at mid-season 2012.

With the Phillies continually struggling to score runs, Moss would look pretty good in red pinstripes right now.

Instead, he wears the green and gold of the Oakland A’s.

He got an opportunity.

And he has seized it.

“You can't hold it against an organization when you're not the guy they’re looking for,” Moss said. “You just have to hope for another opportunity. I’m just happy I got one in Oakland.”

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

The Phillies were one strike away from winning the World Series and Citizens Bank Park was in a full roar.

Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound for a quick chat with closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge wanted to try to put away Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinkse with his signature slider, a pitch that had helped him go 48 for 48 in save chances during that magical season. Ruiz was in complete agreement. After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.

On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider. Ruiz fished it out of the dirt and Harry Kalas shouted, “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball” as the stadium erupted in euphoria. Ruiz, the kid who wasn’t even a catcher when the Phillies first scouted him in the summer of 1998, sprinted to the mound, collapsed to his knees and joined Lidge in a joyous hug, the image of which will remain emblazoned in the minds of Philadelphia fans, well, forever.

Ruiz’s words to Lidge — Give me the good one — gained new resonance on Thursday because the veteran catcher, beloved by teammates and fans, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later (see story).

Ruiz spent 11 seasons with the Phillies and when you consider where he came from and what he accomplished, well, he always gave the team and its fans the good one.

“I’m excited, but also sad,” Ruiz said moments after the trade became official.

Excited because at age 37, and firmly in the twilight of his career, he has the chance to join a first-place team and get to the postseason one more time.

And sad because, “I have so many memories in Philadelphia.”

The greatest, of course, was the World Series championship, catching the final out and rushing to the mound to join Lidge as the pitcher dropped to his knees, looked to the heavens and shouted, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series!”

But there were so many others.

Ruiz was a backbone member of five NL East championship teams and the best catcher a Cy Young winner named Roy Halladay ever pitched to. Halladay said it himself. Ruiz caught four no-hitters, including two of Halladay’s. He was an All-Star in 2012.

All in all, it was a pretty good run for a guy who signed for $8,000 off a sandlot in Panama in 1998. That same year, the Phillies signed Pat Burrell for $8 million. Ruiz would have signed for nothing.

“All I wanted was a chance to play professional baseball,” he said. "I'm thankful the Phillies gave it to me."

At the time of his audition for the Phillies, Ruiz was a 19-year-old second baseman. Phillies scouts were skeptical of his ability to make it as an infielder. They warmed to him when he said he’d give catching a try. He learned the position on the fly and made a steady progression up the ladder until arriving in the majors in 2006 and becoming a regular in 2007, the year the Phillies broke a 14-year playoff drought and won the NL East.

Ruiz was a favorite in the clubhouse for his good nature and team-first attitude. He would do anything for the team, anything to win, and you can’t fake that stuff. That won him the admiration of teammates. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his love for Ruiz in typical Papelbon style. He called Ruiz “a Panamanian redneck.” Years later, Cameron Rupp, the man who supplanted Ruiz as starting catcher, praised Ruiz for his mentorship. It’s not easy for a player to groom the man who will take his job, but Ruiz did it earnestly and graciously. Today, Rupp is arguably the most improved player on the Phillies’ roster.

“Carlos was the everyday guy for more than eight years,” Rupp said. “I’m sure it was hard. It can’t be easy. But he never stopped helping me. There might be guys who wouldn’t do something like that, but not him.

“I can’t tell you how much he helped me. He’s awesome.”

Ruiz’s hustle, his non-stop effort, and, oh, yes, his place on championship teams — that’s what Philadelphians love most — earned him a special spot in the hearts of fans. Cup your hand to your ear and you can still hear those fond shouts of Choooooch from the stands.

They will be heard again when Ruiz goes on the team’s Wall of Fame someday. But for now, he heads off to Los Angeles to join another former Phillies fan favorite and champion, Chase Utley, in a late-career run at one more moment of postseason glory.

You gave us the Good One, Chooch.