By Matt Gelb

The Phillies and Carlos Ruiz mutually expressed a desire to maintain their relationship, which began 15 years ago when Ruiz was signed for $8,000 as a second baseman. And, after weeks of negotiations with their longtime catcher, they have agreed to a three-year, $26 million contract, according to a source.

Ruiz, who turns 35 in January, was the Phillies' first choice because of his defense and familiarity with the team's pitching staff. The Panamanian is coming off one of his worst offensive seasons, a year that was marred by his 25-game suspension for unsanctioned Adderall usage.

But the Phillies preferred a righthanded bat behind the plate, and Ruiz was cheaper than Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalmacchia, the top two catchers on the market.

The deal, a source said, includes a $4.5 million club option for a fourth season. It is pending a physical examination, which could happen sometime this week.

Ruiz will be paid $8.5 million per season from 2014-16. The buyout for the club option is $500,000. Ruiz also has a limited no-trade clause, although his 10-and-5 rights will activate during the third year of the contract.

Ruiz's durability is of prime concern for the Phillies. He has required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last five seasons and averaged 97 games started over the last three seasons. The team could supplement him with a more experienced backup, but they have depth in Cameron Rupp and Erik Kratz. Tommy Joseph's future at catcher is murky because of the 22-year-old's concussion problems.

From 2009-12, Ruiz was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball with an .829 OPS. He became a fan favorite with key hits in postseason play. His teammates, specifically the pitching staff, regard him as an influential presence in the clubhouse.

The Phillies have yet to hire a pitching coach and will rely on Ruiz to soften the transition from longtime mentor Rich Dubee. They have grand plans for Cuban defector Miguel Gonzalez. Ruiz will be tasked with tutoring the starting pitcher during spring training.

The return of Ruiz means five of the team's projected position players — Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd — will play 2014 at 34 or older. The Phillies have committed $135.17 million in annual average value (AAV) to 10 players for 2014.

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