The Phillies Need To Sign Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz, please come back. - Doug Pensinger

The Phillies' exclusive negotiating window with their long-time catcher is closing. Will Carlos Ruiz sign with the Phils before free agency starts? And if he doesn't, what are the alternatives?

With the World Series over, the Hot Stove can officially begin. And for the Phillies, it appears it will be another busy off-season.

There are holes to fill in the starting rotation and another outfielder is desperately needed. Perhaps one more bullpen arm wouldn't hurt either. However, at least at the catcher position, there appears to be one clear answer.

Job number one for the Phillies must be to re-sign Carlos Ruiz.

Both sides appear to want his. Back in September, Ruben Amaro told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki...

"We'd like to bring him back. He knows we'd like to bring him back. We'll see what happens. It wouldn't be the first free agent [we've had]. … I'd like to have as much balance [in the lineup] as we can, we haven't been very good against left-handers. It's well documented."

And Ruiz told The Philadelphia Daily News' Ryan Lawrence after the season was over...

"I would like to stay here and finish my career here. But at the same time, this is the big leagues. I hope I can finish here, but if I have to go somewhere else. . . . I'd definitely like to stay and wear one uniform. Like I've always said, it's not in my hands."

So while neither side was throwing around guarantees, it seems both parties would like to get a deal done.

Until 11:59pm ET Monday, the Phils have exclusive negotiating rights with Carlos. He can talk generally with other teams, but may not formally negotiate with them until the exclusive window with the Phillies closes.

So, is a deal going to happen? If so, will it happen before Tuesday? And if it doesn't, does that mean a deal is dead? And if it's dead, who would the Phils consider to take Ruiz' place?

Chooch's start to the season was rocky, beginning with the 25-game suspension for Adderall. When it was over, he never got on track, hitting .235/.286/.275 in his first 56 PAs before going on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.

However, after coming off the DL, he caught fire. In his next 249 PAs (67 games) he hit .305/.355/.434 with 5 HRs and 14 doubles, bringing him to a season total of .292/.342/.404 on September 14th. A slump in his last nine games (3 for 33) brought his final numbers down to .268/.320/.368 for an OPS of .688, with 5 HRs and 37 RBI.

Ruiz compiled a bWAR of 1.7 and an fWAR of 1.4 last year. And there's no doubt the Phillies got an absolute steal when they signed him to a 4-year, $13.35 million deal before the 2010 season. The Phils got 13.1 bWAR and 13.5 fWAR out of that $13.35 million, which is just insane value.

Ruiz will likely not get a qualifying offer from the Phillies, which makes him particularly appealing to other teams. He gets on base more than most catchers and still hits for a higher average than most as well. And while his power dipped in 2013, but that's to be expected of a player that will play next year at 35 years of age. He is especially valuable to the Phils in that he is one of the team's few right-handed hitters, capable of bashing left-handed pitching.

His negatives are that his defense is declining, and has visited the disabled list at least once in each of the last five years.

So what is Ruiz worth? MLBTR suggests that Ruiz' agent will likely seek a three-year deal for his client, but that his ceiling is likely akin to what the Pirates gave Russell Martin last year, two years at $17 million. They peg his likely contract at two years and $14 million.

When you consider that, in today's baseball economics, one win is worth about $6-7 million, a $7 million a year deal for Ruiz is probably fair.

However, even if the two sides cannot come to an arrangement before the exclusive negotiating window closes doesn't mean the Phils won't be able to keep him. A deal can still happen after Tuesday.

But what if a deal doesn't happen? Where can the Phils turn?

The marquee name that will draw the attention of the some of the big spenders in free agency is Brian "Captain Fun" McCann, and other options like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski and Dioner Navarro will also be available.

McCann is not a good fit for the Phils, mainly because he is 30 years old and will require a multi-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and $80-85 million. That's too big of a commitment for an aging catcher who, like most Phillies hitters, doesn't hit lefties well (.234/.271/.372 since 2012).

He's also kind of a dillweed.

Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter, but his splits (career .795 OPS against righties, .599 against lefties) are a negative as well. Pierzynski is a left-handed hitter, although his numbers against lefties were a bit better last year (.279/.318/.400 in 176 PAs).

One intriguing option is Chicago's Navarro, who turns 30 next year. Navaro hit .300/.365/.492 with 13 HRs in 266 PAs for the Cubs last year, compiling a bWAR of 2.0. He is a switch hitter who hit .361/.451/.672 for an OPS of 1.123 in 71 PAs against lefties last year, and over his career has hit .267/.337/.441 for an OPS of .778 in 661 PAs against lefties. Navarro signed a one-year, $1.175 million deal with Chicago before last season, and could probably be had on a two-year deal at a substantially cheaper rate than Ruiz. My guess is a 2-year, $6 million deal might be enough to snag him.

Less sexy options include John Buck, and Geovany Soto, both of whom kinda stink on ice.

The in-house options are even less appealing. Sebastian Valle has seriously regressed as a hitter, Tommy Joseph missed all of last year with a concussion, and most see Cameron Rupp as a back-up. There is no young stud in the pipeline at the moment.

Perhaps an upgrade via trade is possible. The Angels might be willing to deal one of Hank Conger or Chris Iannetta in a deal that includes one of their outfielders. But the more likely route is free agency.

And the most appealing option is for the Phils to retain Ruiz. It just makes sense for all sides.

Whether or not they can do it before Tuesday is the off-season's first intriguing plot line.

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