Over the next several weeks we’ll unveil a list of potential free agents and trade targets the Phillies could pursue this offseason, one in which they’ll need to plug holes behind the plate, in the corner outfield and, most importantly, on the pitching staff.
Today, we'll take a look at the Phillies' free-agent catcher:
Age: 34, turns 35 in January
2011-2013 statistics: 338 games, .293 batting average, .365 on-base percentage, .432 slugging, averaged 9 homers, 48 RBIs
Most recent contract: Four years (2010-2013), $13.35 million
Throughout the final days of the 2013 season, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg frequently mentioned that upgrading the team’s starting pitching depth was an offseason necessity.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. frequently mentioned the need for a right-handed hitter.
Both men agreed that figuring out who was going to be the team’s catcher was a priority.
Carlos Ruiz fills both specifications. He has been a stalwart behind the plate since 2007 and hits right-handed.
Ruiz became a free agent after the World Series and is now on the open market. Amaro says he wants to re-sign the catcher, who will turn 35 in January.
“He is a priority just because of the position,” Amaro said at season’s end. “We don't have anybody who is going to step in. [Cameron] Rupp has done a nice job. [Erik] Kratz, when he played, did OK. But I can't anoint either one of those guys as an everyday catcher.”
The Phillies don’t have anyone in the minor leagues ready to catch every day in the majors. Top prospect Tommy Joseph essentially missed a year of development in 2013 as he recovered from a concussion. Joseph is doing well now and is headed to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball (see story). But he won’t be ready to challenge for the big-league job in spring training.
Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski are all free-agent catchers. McCann, the prize of the catching market, projects to join an American League team (where he can eventually be a designated hitter) on a megadeal. He hits left-handed. So does Pierzynski. Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter who struggles from the right side.
Ruiz is the guy the Phillies want.
He is also the guy Phillies pitchers want. Roy Halladay always swore by Ruiz. Jonathan Papelbon sang his praises at the end of the season.
The Phillies have been negotiating with Ruiz, but things have not moved quickly. That much is clear as the Phils had more than a month of exclusive negotiating rights and didn’t get anything done. Now Ruiz is on the open market, where real values are established.
A number of clubs are looking for catching and Ruiz will be attractive. The Denver Post has reported the Rockies’ interest in Ruiz. The Red Sox, according to sources, are quietly doing their due diligence on Ruiz. The Yankees, Blue Jays, Rangers and Angels all could look to upgrade at catcher.
In short, the Phillies have some competition.
Ruiz wants to remain with the only club he has played for.
“I’m really happy here,” he said at season’s end, “but at the same time it’s not in my hands.”
In other words, he wants to get paid. Ruiz has been a bargain his whole career. He was signed off a Panamanian sandlot for $8,000 and became a World Series champion. He became an all-star during the life of his recently completed four-year, $13.35 million contract.
Ruiz is likely looking for a multiyear deal with an average annual value that would double his 2013 salary of $5 million.
Ruiz can negotiate off his handling of the pitchers, his career season in 2012, and a strong second half in 2013.
The Phillies could point to his advancing age, time missed with back, foot and hamstring injuries, and a well-publicized 25-game suspension at the start of 2013 for testing position for using Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, without clearance from Major League Baseball.
Ruiz’s agent, Marc Kligman, has used Twitter to point out his client’s value. Kligman points out that from 2010 to 2013, Ruiz was second on the Phillies in games played and first in batting average, on-base percentage and defensive wins above replacement.
The Phillies have a lefty-heavy batting order so Ruiz’s right-handed bat is a plus in the equation. Managers Charlie Manuel and Sandberg have commented on his value by using him in the heart of the batting order –- everywhere from second to fifth.
“I’ve talked to Carlos,” Amaro said last month. “He’s talked to me. I think mutually we would like to continue the relationship. But again, it takes two to tango.”
Tomorrow: Corey Seidman takes a look at Brian McCann, A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia