COMMENTARY | I have no idea why everyone in the media and the fans are complaining about the three-year, $26 million contract the Philadelphia Phillies just gave to catcher Carlos Ruiz. In my mind, it was a very fair contract and it was a smart move for the Phillies.
The average annual value of the contract will be $8.67 million, which is the going rate these days for a good starting catcher -- and that's what Ruiz is, a good catcher. He's not great, but he was the perfect fit for this Phillies team and that's what makes this contract a good one.
Anyone who wanted the Phillies to sign Brian McCann or A.J. Pierzynski needs to read my stuff more often. The Phillies' lineup is already filled with left-handed bats and both McCann and Pierzynski bat left. Ryan Howard at first, Chase Utley at second, Cody Asche at third, Domonic Brown in left and Ben Revere in center all hit left-handed.
It explains why they signed Marlon Byrd to play right. His right-handed bat and relatively low contract (2 years, $16 million) enabled the Phillies to spend this money on Ruiz, who also bats right-handed. SS Jimmy Rollins is a switch-hitter.
Some people said the Phillies overpaid for Ruiz, but McCann will get more than $10 million per season on a multi-year deal and Russell Martin signed a two-year, $17 million deal with the Pirates last winter. For my money, and the Phillies', I think Ruiz's deal is the better bargain.
Just because Ruiz's numbers were down a bit last year, doesn't mean he's washed up at 34 (turns 35 in January). Ruiz had a career year in 2012, when he hit .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games. Then his 25-game suspension for using Adderall at the beginning of last season got him off to a slow start. That was compounded by missing another month with a hamstring injury. But Ruiz rebounded in the second half of the season and hit .313 with 5 homers, 28 RBIs and an .860 OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) in his first 43 games after the All-Star break before fading in the final days of the season due to a hand injury.
And in case you're worried that his career-season in 2012 was only due to his use of Adderall, you'll be happy to know that Ruiz can use it legally now. You see, Major League Baseball allows players to use Adderall if they have a prescription for the drug, which Ruiz now has.
Another reason why this is a good deal is that the Phillies suddenly don't have any in-house catching prospects ready to take over at the major league level. They obtained top prospect Tommy Joseph in the Hunter Pence trade, but he lost virtually all of last season with concussion issues. Prospect Sebastian Valle is having trouble with his plate discipline lately. Cameron Rupp and Erik Kratz are nothing more than backups. And former top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud was traded in the package for Roy Halladay.
The Phillies needed to sign one of the free-agent catchers and Ruiz was the best of the right-handed options. Jarrod Saltalamacchia faded so badly that he was benched by Boston in the playoffs. And even though he is a switch-hitter, Salty can't hit lefties, which defeats the purpose of signing him when the Phillies needed a catcher who can hits lefties. Dioner Navarro? Kurt Suzuki? John Buck? No. No. And no.
Ruiz was obviously the best right-handed hitting catcher on the free-agent market, so giving him that third year was what it took to get the deal done. Will his production be declining by that third year? For sure. But he will still be a great defensive backup catcher in his third year, which is something every team would like to have. And remember, by then, the Phillies will have that new regional television contract money in their pocket, so exceeding the luxury-tax threshold shouldn't be a problem.
Speaking of the luxury tax, this deal still leaves the Phillies with plenty of money under the $189 threshold to sign a good relief arm in free agency, which the team sorely needs.
Ruiz was also the best defensive catcher available in free agency, by far. McCann is probably headed to the American League to DH half the time and none of the other options offer Ruiz's combination of hitting and defense. The Phillies' pitchers love throwing to Ruiz and that point can't be underestimated. Plus, he is a leader in the locker room and will be a mentor and translator for Cuban defector Miguel Gonzalez, who they expect to fill a rotation spot next season.
The final thing I saw everyone complaining about was that Ruiz is old. So what? He fits right in with the "veteran" roster that GM Ruben Amaro has assembled. Amaro needed to take one more run at a championship with this veteran core. Not just for the sake of winning, but to keep the stands full and the TV ratings up for that new contract. Don't be naive. Whether you want to admit it or not, money rules baseball and all other professional sports.
I think Carlos Ruiz is worth the money he got from the Phillies in this three-year contract. He was the best fit for what the team needed and he's far from over-the hill. His defense and leadership are as valuable to this team as his offensive output, and all that makes this a smart contract for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Bob Whalon is a life-long Philadelphia sports fanatic who follows the home teams religiously, but isn't above pointing out what they're doing wrong. The highlight of his sports fandom was the Phillies' 2008 World Championship, and he isn't quite ready to let go of the greatest era of Phillies baseball just yet.
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