The Phillies agreed to re-sign Carlos Ruiz Monday, a move that could set the free agent catching market into motion. Ruiz obtains a three-year contract to spurn his other suitors and stay with the organization that first signed him out of Panama in 1998.
2013 stats: .268 average, .320 OBP, .368 slugging, 5 home runs, 37 RBI, 1.7 wins above replacement
Draft implications: Not linked to draft pick compensation
Roster impact: Ruiz is an above-average catcher because of his bat and durability, so he makes the Phillies better in the short term. He has a career .358 on-base percentage and hit 16 home runs as recently as 2012. Plus, he has also averaged 114 games played per season over the course of the last seven years (a figure that would have been higher had he not served a 2013 suspension for using a banned amphetamine). It’s no surprise that teams including the Colorado Rockies, Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays also showed interest in signing him.
But Ruiz will turn 35 in January, an age beyond which few regular catchers offer much on offence. In the last five decades catchers have played in 100 or more games with an OPS at or above the league average just 23 times. In other words, if Ruiz maintains this level of production for three more seasons, he’ll be the exception.
Erik Kratz sat atop the Phillies depth chart while Ruiz explored free agency, but he won't be more than a backup entering the season.
Analysis: This deal sets the bar high for other free agent catchers. Ruiz had been viewed as a more affordable option than Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who both figure to demand more years and dollars. This is encouraging news for free agent catchers such as McCann, Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski since it reflects strong demand for backstops.
Few expected Ruiz to sign for these terms, but it's worth noting that $26 million doesn't buy a superstar in today's game. Last off-season, for example, Cody Ross, Jeremy Guthrie and Brandon League obtained three-year contracts in the $22.5-26 million range.
The Phillies have been by far the most aggressive team in free agency this winter. They signed outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million deal last week, which means they have now committed $42 million to players who will be 35 or older in 2014. These commitments alone won’t transform an 89-loss team into a contender.
On a related note, this deal makes Russell Martin's two-year, $17 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates look even more team-friendly. The 30-year-old hit 15 home runs with a .327 on-base percentage for the Pirates in the first year of his deal, contributing 4.3 wins above replacement.
All things considered: This is an excellent deal for Ruiz, who obtains a three-year commitment two months before his 35th birthday. Meanwhile, the Phillies spend top dollar for a capable but aging catcher.
General manager: Ruben Amaro Jr.
Agency: Marc Kligman