The Phillies announced they have re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three year, $26,000,000 deal to remain the team’s catcher. The contract includes a 4th year team option or $500,000 buyout. Ruiz can also earn an additional $500,000 a year if he starts 125 games, though he’s never started that many in his eight-year Phillie career. Ruiz will be 35 years old before pitchers and catcher report to camp in February.
This contract is another example of why it’s so important to build your team from within by drafting and developing good, young, cost-controlled players to offset the veterans who are worth what they’re earning. There’s a systematic problem in major league baseball which rewards free agents for what they have done in the past, not what they’re likely to do under the term of the new contract they just signed. Unfortunately the Phils have no one ready to come up and start at catcher next year, leaving Amaro with few options other than to sign yet another mid 30’s player to a multi-year deal. The Phils will open the 2014 season with five position players between the ages of 34-36.
If I sound less than thrilled with this deal it’s because I am. First Amaro signs 36 year old Marlon Byrd who’s coming off a career year at age 36. Now he re-signs an obviously declining catcher whose coming off the worst year of his career. Ruiz finished 2013 with a weak September where his slash line was .227/.311/.288 with four doubles and no HR’s. This followed the one strong month of Ruiz’s 2013 campaign. In August Ruiz line was excellent – .333/.370/.563 with eight doubles and four HR’s.
Apparently that one strong month in August and the lack of quality catching available this year greatly enhanced Ruiz value. With his new contract he’s now the 4th highest paid catcher in the game behind Buster Posey, Yadier Molina and Miguel Montero. Minnesota is expected to move Joe Mauer to 1st base this year. After McCann signs Ruiz will drop to the 5th highest paid catcher.
To Ruiz credit he is still an excellent defensive catcher, though he’s never won a Gold Glove. I’m sure his handling of the pitching staff was another reason to keep Ruiz, but the simple fact is he’s an aging, declining player on a team full of aging, declining players. According to baseball-reference.com Ruiz’s dWAR was 2.7 over the last three years. The two years that preceded 2011-13 his dWAR was 3.1, so even his defense is in serious decline.
How Amaro can tell us, the fans, with a straight face that the Phillies are re-tooling and are serious World Series contenders is beyond me. It was obvious in 2013 the Phillies needed to begin the rebuilding process. They should have started by moving veterans that had value who won’t be here when this team is ready to contend again. Apparently the word rebuilding is not a word Amaro is comfortable using. The concept of actually doing it is probably even less comfortable for the Phils GM as he heads into his 6th year as the architect of the Phillies.
Does Amaro really believe he’s fooling the fans? Does he think we’re all know-nothing dummies who will continue buying tickets as long as we see the familiar names from the glorious 2008 season? When you look at Carlos Ruiz stats it’s obvious 2012 was an outlier and he’ll never approach those numbers again. The same thing applies to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and yes, even Chase Utley. While Utley is still a productive 2nd baseman who is worth what he’s making, he too is in decline. Gone are the .300/30/100 days where Utley was one of the best players in all of baseball.
History tells us players performance after age 35 is usually a precipitous free fall littered with injuries on the way down. In that vein, Ruiz has spent time on the DL in each of the last 5 seasons. The window is closed on the 2008 core. Trying to keep it open is a nothing more than delaying the inevitable. The Phillies need to get younger and better. Today they did neither.