The Phillies came into the 2013 season with a plethora of potential catchers in their farm system, and it seemed certain one of them would be taking over for Carlos Ruiz in 2014.
But as the calendar is about to flip to October and the Phils season is about to end, it’s clear the Phillies must bring back Chooch to be their everyday catcher next year, and perhaps even for 2015 as well.
Luckily, the Phils seem to understand that, too.
“We’d like to bring him back,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “He knows we’d like to bring him back. We’ll see what happens. It wouldn’t be the first free agent [we've had]. … I’d like to have as much balance [in the lineup] as we can, we haven’t been very good against left-handers. It’s well documented.”
“The way he’s performed, I would hope he’d be back,” said manager Ryne Sandberg. “He’s a right-handed bat. His status here, him being comfortable here, maybe the ball’s in his corner and he could help with that decision. It could come down to that, where he wants to go. That’s a big hole that needs to be filled. The sooner the better.” – quotes per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki
So, it seems like Ruiz will certainly be back for next year, at the very least.
Tommy Joseph, the young catching prospect acquired from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade, suffered from concussions this year and is likely no longer going to even play the position moving forward. Regardless, he barely played this season, making him a non-factor for the big club next year.
Sebastian Valle‘s days as a top prospect are long gone, with the 22 year-old catcher hitting .203/.245/.359 in 379 ABs with AA Reading this year. He struck out 88 times and walked just 19. He’s pretty bad.
Cameron Rupp had a nice season at both AA and AAA, hitting .258/.318/.437 with 14 HRs, but he will likely be competing with Erik Kratz for the back-up job in spring training. He is not a starting catcher.
As for free agency, the Phillies could go after someone like Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but both would not be ideal fits in a lefty-heavy Phils lineup (Saltalamacchia is a switch hitter but is pretty much useless from the right side of the plate, hitting just .216/.308/.293 as a righty this year).
So, it’s Ruiz. Now, back in June and July, when he first returned from suspension and the disabled list, Ruiz struggled mightily, hitting just .248/.298/.293 by the end of July. But since August 1, he has been the productive offensive player we’ve come to expect the last two years, hitting .299/.352/.463 for an OPS of .815 with 4 HRs and 12 doubles in 161 PAs. And in an injury and suspension-shortened season, he’s accumulated a bWAR of 1.7 and an fWAR of 1.5.
And even though he will be 35 next year, Ruiz is still at the top of his defensive game as well. Signing him makes the most sense.
So what’s a fair deal for Ruiz? Ideally, the Phils would like to give him a one-year deal with an option for a second year. However, given Ruiz’ offensive resurgence the last two months, it’s likely some other team would give him a two-year deal. And make no mistake, the Phils have gotten a huge bargain from Ruiz these last few years.
Chooch earned $5 million this year, after signing a four-year, $13.35 million deal after the 2009 season. That’s a little over $13 million for 13.1 WAR. You can’t do a whole lot better than that.
His age would likely keep him from earning top dollar on the free agent market, but a raise to about $7 million a year probably sounds about right. A two-year, $14 million deal, with a team option for a third year, sounds like the sweet spot to me, especially when you consider how expensive a free agent like McCann or Saltalamacchia would be.
With that said, I’d like to post my favorite Carlos Ruiz moment now. August 12, 2010, Phils down 9-2 in the 8th inning to the Dodgers, when they make a miraculous comeback and beat… well… just watch.