A few weeks ago, the Phillies signed 34-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three-year deal. This comes after signing 34-year-old Chase Utley to an extension during the season. If you questioned why the Phillies thought it was a good idea to re-sign these elderly players, some enlightenment can be provided by two relatively minor transactions made by the team today.
Five years ago, it didn’t seem likely that the Phillies would be in this situation at catcher, since they appeared to have good organizational depth at the position. In Baseball America’s January 2009 organizational rankings, the team had two catchers listed among their top ten prospects: Lou Marson and Travis d’Arnaud.
Later that year, the Phillies traded both of them away in separate deals. It was risky for a team to trade two catching prospects (even though they got Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in return), but the Phillies still thought they’d be okay because they had another good catching prospect in their system: Sebastian Valle.
In 2010, Baseball America had Valle rated as the organization’s sixth best prospect, and at first Valle looked like he had a bright future. He hit 16 homers in low A ball in 2010, and represented the team in the Futures Game the following season. It wasn’t difficult to imagine Valle being ready to take over for Ruiz in a few years.
In 2012, Valle’s development hit a bit of a snag. He continued to show promise as a power hitter, but his awareness of the strike zone proved to be a huge impediment. In 2012, he had a low .271 OBP thanks in large part to walking only 13 times as opposed to 114 strikeouts. In addition, his defense didn’t seem to be progressing as quickly as the team had hoped.
When the Phillies acquired Tommy Joseph at the 2012 trade deadline, Valle was supplanted as the organization’s top catching prospect. In 2013, as Valle continued to struggle, he was also passed on the ladder by Cameron Rupp. Valle’s fall continued today when he was dropped from the 40 man roster in order for the team to sign pitcher Roberto Hernandez. While the move doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t stay in the Phillies organization, it is a pretty good indication that the team no longer envisions him as part of their future.
In an ironic twist, the man who might end up replacing Valle in the organization is Lou Marson, who signed a minor league deal with the Phillies earlier today. Since being traded away, Marson has spent parts of the past five seasons on the Indians major league roster, but was never able to provide more than replacement level production. If he sticks with the team, he’ll probably be assigned to the minor leagues.
It would have been nice if the Phillies could have let Ruiz leave and replaced him with a younger player, but that would have only improved the team if the team had a young replacement capable of playing at a high level. For varying reasons neither Marson, d’Arnaud, nor Valle turned out to be that type of player, and that is why Carlos Ruiz will once again be the Phillies starting catcher in 2014.