The Dodgers will eventually have to cut bait with either Will Smith, Austin Barnes and Keibert Ruiz.
After all, it’s quite likely that LA has the most powerful catching conglomerate in the game, taking the general weakness of the position league-wide into account.
But anyone who foresaw a potentially clear path to playing time for top prospect Keibert Ruiz in the not-so-distant future got their theory cut off at the head again this Valentine’s Day.
Though Ruiz isn’t projected as anyone’s backup (any consensus top-100 prospect catcher should profile as a starter, period), that was at least a way to get him phased into the Dodgers’ offense in the coming years.
Perhaps Will Smith would continue to get the bulk of the duty while sharing responsibility with Ruiz starting…what, midway through 2021? We thought Austin Barnes stood out as a fairly clear salary casualty, and thought LA might thank him for his service after the trophy presentation.
Well, guess again. Barnes just got his arbitration process bought out with a two-year deal, further emphasizing that the Dodgers like their current backup just fine.
So, wither Ruiz?
It’s worthwhile to hoard assets, and cementing your farm system with one of the game’s most electric catching prospects gives you something pleasant to look at, but at a certain point you’re doing Ruiz a disservice by blocking his path more deeply by the day.
Yes, he’s only 22. But sometimes, unexpectedly talented players pass you by. The Dodgers coddled both Smith and Ruiz, and Smith showed significant aptitude, seizing a starting job on a world champion at the age of 25. He will probably continue to grow and progress as the Dodgers’ starting catcher until free agency.
Now, with Barnes also locked down, Ruiz is expected to crack the bigs in a less-than-ideal role at…24?
Moving Ruiz for an upgrade elsewhere isn’t an urgent need, seeing as the Dodgers, well…don’t particularly need urgent upgrades anywhere on the roster. But at the first sign of trouble, or when a midseason opportunity provides something no one saw coming, Ruiz should be the leader of every trade package.
Hoarding is fun. Maximizing an asset is better.
And if the Dodgers feel comfortable committing to Barnes in a part-time role for two more years, Ruiz as the third head of a trio probably isn’t the best use of his potent bat.