Phillies Stay or Go: Darin Ruf

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Phillies Stay or Go: Darin Ruf

The Phillies' first losing season since 2002 is sure to bring wholesale changes in the offseason. But who should stay and who should go? We’ve asked that very question for the last two weeks and will finish up our look at the roster in the coming days.

Thursday, we examined Cliff Lee (see story) and today we take a look at a homegrown power bat who filled in well in 2013:

Darin Ruf
Position: Corner outfield/first base
Status: Made a prorated portion of the major-league minimum in 2013; under team control through at least 2018

Season as a whole
Ruf had a very consistent second half filling in for Ryan Howard at first base and for the released Delmon Young in right field.

Ruf reached base at least once in 58 of 70 starts, and reached at least twice in 34 games. He hit 14 home runs in 293 plate appearances, which put him on a 32-homer pace over a full season.

His plate discipline was nearly as impressive. Ruf had 33 walks and was hit by seven pitches, giving him an on-base percentage 101 points higher than his batting average. The Phillie with the next largest gap between OBP and batting average was Chase Utley, at 64 points.

There were flaws in Ruf’s game, though. He struck out way too much -- 91 times in all. Extrapolate that over a full season and you have 202 strikeouts.

His outfield defense was shaky. Ruf, who had never played the outfield professionally prior to the winter of 2012, impressed at first because he wasn’t a train wreck like many expected. But as the season wore on his deficiencies in route running and throwing became apparent.

According to Fangraphs, he cost the Phillies 8.8 runs on defense. Is that number completely accurate? Probably not, because defensive metrics are all flawed. But it does match up enough with what our eyes saw to help determine that Ruf was truly a below-average corner outfielder.

Again, not his fault. He’s a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who had almost no experience chasing after fly balls.

Stay or go
The decision on Ruf will be one of the most interesting of the Phillies’ offseason. He certainly proved in 2013 that he can hit major-league pitching. But if the Phillies head into 2014 with a corner outfield of Domonic Brown and Ruf they’ll again struggle with outfield defense, which has been a problem the Phils have talked about correcting (but haven’t) for two straight seasons.

Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted at the end of September that Ruf isn’t an everyday rightfielder, and that despite his strong offensive half he’ll have to battle for a job next spring. It’s difficult to pinpoint what that job may be. Is Ruf a platoon first baseman with Howard? Is he a bench bat? Is he a super-sub who might see 3-4 days per week in the starting lineup between first base and the corner outfield?

Or is he trade bait? At 27, Ruf isn’t the kind of young centerpiece teams look for in deals. But that might not matter as much as most think. He’s still incredibly cheap and under team control for five-plus years. He’s just entering his prime. We’re talking about a player with 30-home run potential who will make about $500,000 next season. The Phillies could make use of that if they didn’t have so much money committed at first base or if they didn’t have so many defensive problems in the outfield.

Five years ago Ruf would have been a great fit for the Phils. He could have played left field with Shane Victorino in center and Jayson Werth in right. He has many of the same skills as Pat Burrell, who was also a weak defender. But it’s a new day. And unfortunately, the young, improving, inexpensive guy may be the odd man out.

Considering right field is essentially the only everyday position the Phillies can upgrade this offseason, it’s safe to assume Ruf will either be a super-sub for the Phils or a player who gets traded as part of a package for a star. (Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Bautista, anyone?)

It’s not because Ruf isn’t or can’t be productive. It’s because the fit just isn’t there. That’s more of an indictment of how the Phillies have spent their money and filled out their roster than of Ruf’s play.

What they're saying ...
“In right field, we don’t know what we’ve got. That’s a hole for us. Ruf is not a rightfielder. I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us. He’s going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form.

“Can he add some depth to our bench, to our club overall? Can he play a little left, can he play a little right, can he play a little first and give [Ryan] Howard a blow? He can become valuable in that regard. But I don’t know he’s an everyday player yet. It’s hard to say that he’s an everyday player in the outfield. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice, because we just need to be better in the outfield defensively. ... We have the type of pitching staff that is going to rely on us catching the baseball.”

--Ruben Amaro, September 2013

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.