The Philadelphia Phillies need a right-handed power bat in their lineup.
Darin "Babe" Ruf's Reading Phillies' teammates branded him with his now famous nickname this summer because he was slugging his way through Double-A franchise history. Even though his position was shifted from first base to left field in August, might he actually offer the Phillies a future alternative to Ryan Howard?
Only 759 away from Bonds
Anyone can be traded at any time, as Cliff Lee and every Seattle Mariners' fan knows. But, the idea of the Phillies actually trading "The Big Piece" at this point in time seems to be a stretch.
Howard isn't fully recovered from his Achilles' surgery and is still the best proven cleanup hitter that the team has under contract. But, what if Ruf does well in the Venezuelan League this offseason, has a good spring training and plays well next year in left field? Assuming that chain is linked, will he create a new first base option for the Phillies?
Some people just had an emotional knee jerk as they were reading that last paragraph. They're the ones my family, friends and I heard this summer saying that Ruf wouldn't hit 30 home runs. They readjusted their conjecture along the way and proclaimed that the 26-year-old wouldn't break Howard's Reading Phillies' home run record.
Ruf hit 38 regular season home runs in Double-A and then sent three bombs (in 33 at bats) over some major league fences after his September call-up. At that point, every "Darin Detractor" decided that this young man hadn't proven anything. Those personality types forgot to end their latest adapted statement by saying that Ruf hadn't proven anything to them.
As for the rest of the baseball world, we're just waiting to see how far this Nebraska native's feel-good story goes. We're also not using our hopes to limit his potential. People who behave in that manner must be disguised as opinionated grumps with baseball caps on their heads. Halloween is approaching, so I could be wrong about that mental assessment.
Ruf to replace Howard?
Baseball, just like life, is all about creating options.
The Phillies won't trade Ruf if they feel that he's about to become a full-time major-leaguer. He will be dealt if another team offers something that seems to be more appealing than he is, which is baseball barter at its best.
Ruf's natural position is first base, but Howard has four more guaranteed years on his contract that total $95 million. It's certainly conceivable that this potentially emerging slugger will be given every possible
consideration. Doing so might enable the more realistic option of trading Howard at some point in the relatively near future.
Howard will turn 33 in November and will have 10/5 rights (10 years in the major leagues, five years with the same team) prior to the end of his current guaranteed contract.
I haven't concluded that the Howard torch pass to Ruf is certain to happen. But, seasoned fans have always taught me that working through such scenarios is a fun part of the game. Grumps, on the other hand, just don't feel the same way. Hopefully someday they will realize that baseball can be enjoyed in many different ways.
Sean O'Brien's professional writing career began in 1990, when he first began working in the Philadelphia Phillies' farm system. He was a freelance sports writer for five years and is currently a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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