Carlos Ruiz has spent his entire eight-year major-league career with the Phillies. (AP)
Updated: 2:15 p.m.
First it was Ryan Howard. Then it was Jimmy Rollins. Then Cole Hamels and Chase Utley.
Now, for better or worse, the Phillies have locked up another core member of their 2008 World Series championship team with a long-term contract.
Carlos Ruiz joined Howard, Rollins, Hamels and Utley when he agreed to a three-year, $26 million contract with the Phillies on Monday morning. The deal is expected to be officially announced Thursday.
Ruiz, who turns 35 in January, had been on the free-agent market and drew attention from Colorado and Boston. His new contract with the Phillies includes a fourth-year club option. Ruiz can make an additional $500,000 per year if he starts 125 games behind the plate. His career high is 113 starts at catcher.
After considering trading Ruiz in July, the Phillies decided to attempt to re-sign him based on his strong play in the second half of the 2013 season. The club actually started negotiating with Ruiz before the season ended.
“We’d like to re-sign Carlos, but it takes two to tango,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said frequently throughout the process.
Ruiz has been a bargain throughout his career. He signed out of Panama for $8,000 in 1998, the same year the Phillies gave No. 1 draft pick Pat Burrell $8 million. Ruiz rose to the majors, became the favorite catcher of Phillies pitchers, helped the team win a World Series in 2008 and made his first all-star team in 2012. He recently completed a four-year contract that paid him $13.35 million.
Ruiz was intent on getting paid this time around and made it no secret that he wanted a three-year deal. In the end, Ruiz garnered enough interest that the Phillies had to go three years to get the deal done. The average annual value of Ruiz’ deal is $8.6 million, just over the $8.5 million per season that Russell Martin got from the Pirates last winter.
Phillies officials had done some preparation for Ruiz's potential departure. According to a source, they did extensive background work on free agent A.J. Pierzynski, and got positive feedback on Pierzynski’s character from former White Sox teammate Jim Thome.
The Phillies have attempted to add youth to their roster in recent years and the additions of Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Cody Asche have helped in that regard. But there’s still no disputing that the Phillies are carrying a lot of age (and checkered health histories) at important positions. Utley, Rollins, Ruiz and Cliff Lee will all play at 35 in the coming season and Ryan Howard, who has not been completely healthy since 2011, is 34. Consistent with the age theme, the Phillies signed free-agent rightfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract last week. He is 36.
The Phillies have been forced to take age and health risks on the free-agent market because they either haven’t produced enough in-house talent to fill holes, or are not comfortable with that in-house talent. The team had long been looking for a right-handed hitting rightfielder and had Darin Ruf in-house, but Amaro basically ruled him out of consideration at the end of the 2013 season. That led to the targeting and signing of Byrd.
In recent years, the Phils had a couple of promising catchers moving toward the majors, but Travis d’Arnaud was traded for Roy Halladay -- a completely understandable move -- and Tommy Joseph hit a developmental roadblock after suffering a concussion last summer. Factors like these led to the Phillies’ decision to bring back Ruiz, who will be 37 in the third year of his contract.
Interestingly, the Phillies were open to the idea of trading Ruiz in July. He began the season by serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive in 2012 for using Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, without Major League Baseball approval. (According to Fox Sports, Ruiz has taken the proper medical steps and has received MLB approval to take the drug.) Ruiz struggled when he returned from the suspension, then missed a month with a hamstring injury.
Ruiz rebounded in the second half and hit .313 with five homers, 28 RBIs and an .860 OPS in his first 43 games after the all-star break before tailing off over the final days of the season as he battled a bruised left hand.
Ruiz had a career year in 2012 when he hit .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games.
Having addressed the need for a right-handed hitting outfielder and a starting catcher, the Phils are still looking at mid-market starting and relief pitching. They would also like to add another outfielder as they seek to upgrade their defense in that area.