Carlos Ruiz: Right Player, Wrong Deal

Jeff Zelevansky

After signing Carlos Ruiz to a 3-year, $26 million deal, the Phillies have shown they cannot stop living in the past. And it's killing their future.

Carlos Ruiz was the right catcher for the Phillies to sign.

Ruben Amaro was right to make re-signing Chooch one of this top off-season priorities. Of all the catchers on the market, Ruiz was the best fit for the Phillies. Unlike Brian McCann or A.J. Pierzynski, Ruiz is a right-handed batter in a lineup full of lefties. He was a better option than switch-hitter-in-name-only Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and more reliable than Dioner Navarro or John Buck.

And while Ruiz was coming off a season in which he played in only 92 games due to an Aderall suspension and hamstring issues and finished with his lowest OPS (.688) since 2008, he was still the best option to fill the team's catching vacancy.

That said, giving Chooch a guaranteed three years, with a downright silly team option for a fourth, was just not smart.

And it is so Ruben.

Amaro doles out extra contract years like they are candy. He offered three years to a 37-year-old Raul Ibanez, and three years to a 34-year-old Placido Polanco. He rushed to offer two years to a 36-year-old Marlon Byrd. And seriously, what is with all these "team option" year deals? I know it's superfluous, but was a fourth-year team option really necessary to nail down Chooch?

Reports are the Red Sox had offered Chooch a two-year, $20 million deal, and that was the offer the Phils were trying to beat. In order to do that, Amaro decided it would be better to give Ruiz a third guaranteed year, rather than increase the average annual value of the contract.

And that seems to be Amaro's MO. Rather than risk going over the luxury tax by a few million dollars, he decided it was better to hamstring himself by locking the team into a 2016 season with Carlos Ruiz earning $8.5 million at 37 years old.

In case you were wondering, the number of effective 37-year-old starting catchers in Major League Baseball are scant.

It's an indication that, despite a new cable TV deal on the horizon and very deep pockets, the Phillies are going to hamstring themselves in terms of roster flexibility in the future in order to stay under the tax this year.

That's a very shortsighted plan.

So, why not just let Ruiz go? Even though he was the best option for the Phillies, the best option is sometimes only best if it can be had at a reasonable price. Three years, even at the reasonable cost of $8.5 million a year, is just not smart, especially when there were other viable, if less ideal, alternatives on the market.

Would it really have been so bad to sign someone like Dioner Navarro, who turns just 30 years old next year and posted an fWAR of 1.7 last year in just 89 games, to a one or two-year deal worth about $5-6 million a year? Is the difference in these two players really worth the extra money and extra year given to Ruiz?

Surely, much of the Ruiz signing was based on nostalgia. I don't know what kind of pressure Amaro was under to make sure Chooch was re-signed. Perhaps it was a lot, and Ruben really had no choice. Maybe it was mandated from up on high that Carlos Ruiz be brought back into the fold, no matter what.

If that's the case, then this franchise is in worse shape than we thought.

This team just cannot say goodbye to 2008. They are like the Phillies of the mid-80s, trying to patch and fill and recapture one last season of glory from their magical 1977-83 run. They got lucky in '83, and then, because there was no firm plan for the future in place, wandered through the valley of Lance Parrish and Tom Herr-winless baseball until 2007 (with the exception of the fluky 1993 season).

They cannot seem to put the past behind them. They keep thinking all these veterans who won a championship five years ago will suddenly recapture their primes and deliver another parade down Broad St. I hope they're right, but the odds are long that will be the case.

Either that, or they just really like all these guys and want to keep them around because they think the names will keep people coming to the ballpark.

Phils fans, we all need to adjust our expectations. I include myself in this rebuke. We need to stop thinking about this team, and the moves it should make, in our terms. Amaro and the Phillies still believe this is a 90-win team, capable of winning the division or competing for a wild card, and believe they are just a Marlon Byrd or Carlos Ruiz away from making that happen.

All of us who want the team to turn the page and move forward, we need to just stop. It's not happening. That much was clear when they signed Chase Utley to a contract extension. That much was clear when they brought Jimmy Rollins back. That much was clear when they signed Jonathan Papelbon.

They think the window is still substantially open, and they are sacrificing the future to try and climb through that window in 2014. And hey, that's their prerogative. I just disagree.

Amaro and the Phillies believe you win with veterans, especially ones who played for the 2008 world champions. And just realize that, the lineup you see in 2014 will likely be the one you see in 2015 too (ages are in parenthesis below).

  • CF Ben Revere (27) - under team control, unless traded
  • SS Jimmy Rollins (36) - likely to hit option
  • 2B Chase Utley (36)
  • 1B Ryan Howard (35)
  • LF Domonic Brown (27) - unless he is traded
  • C Carlos Ruiz (36)
  • RF Marlon Byrd (37)
  • 3B Cody Asche/Maikel Franco (25/22)

There is $113 million in guaranteed money for seven players in 2015 already. That's two years from now. And the average age of those players in 2015 will be 35. That salary number balloons to $124 million if Jimmy Rollins' option vests (which is likely, barring injury).

And you also have your top two starters (Cliff Lee, 36 and Cole Hamels, 31) and closer (Papelbon, 34) locked up for the 2015 season as well.

In addition, the Phils are committed to $71.5 million in payroll for the '16 season. You don't want to know the average age of the players they're locked into there. Needless to say, we're talking about the new Wheez Kids, guys.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the Ruiz' three-year deal is the lack of success the Phillies have had in developing their catcher-of-the-future. Certainly, trading Travis d'Arnaud as part of the Roy Halladay trade is something all of us would do again. But Tommy Joseph's concussion issues seem to have pushed him out of the catcher position altogether, and Sebastian Valle is no longer considered a real prospect.

Joseph or Valle were supposed to be ready at some point. It now appears neither are in the team's long-term plans. The Joseph situation is particularly disheartening, because it means the Phils basically got back nothing of any value when they traded Hunter Pence to San Francisco.

In a vacuum, the Ruiz deal isn't terrible. If the rest of the team wasn't already so old, and if so much money hadn't already been allocated for 2015 and '16, than the Ruiz deal would be perfectly acceptable. But coming on the heels of the Byrd signing, and the recent memory of the final years of the Polanco and Ibanez deals, the idea of offering what seems to be an unnecessary third year to a catcher who will be in his late 30s during the last year of his contract is downright unpalatable.

At the end of the day, Ruiz will be a fine addition to the 2014 Phillies. He may even work out OK for the '15 team. And this is not the worst deal Amaro has ever made.

But it is an overpay, and one that will likely hurt the team in 2016.

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