WASHINGTON - With Chase Utley re-signing and both Cody Asche and Darin Ruf making the jump from the minor leagues to the major leagues, the potential starting lineup for the 2014 Phillies is coming into view.
Ben Revere and Ryan Howard will eventually come back from their injuries. Domonic Brown and Jimmy Rollins will be returning for 2014, too.
While neither Asche or Ruf is guaranteed an everyday job - their play in the next 7 weeks will go a long way in determining that - there appears to be just one hole to fill for next year's everyday starting eight.
Who's behind the plate?
Catcher Carlos Ruiz will file for free agency for the first time in his career in less than 2 months. And unlike with Utley, the Phils aren't in talks to retain Ruiz before the end of 2013.
"We're probably going to play it out," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "That may change, but it's probably likely [we'll wait]."
Utley and Ruiz are the same age - both turn 35 this winter - but went in opposite directions this season.
Utley, coming off his second straight season in which he missed significant time with knee injuries, is having his most productive offensive season since 2009. Ruiz, meanwhile, has followed up an All-Star season with an underwhelming 2013.
Ruiz is batting .257 with two home runs and 13 RBI in 57 games.
Among the 33 major league catchers with at least 200 plate appearances entering play yesterday, Ruiz' eight extra-base hits ranked 32nd (only the New York Yankees' Chris Stewart has fewer). Ruiz' .636 OPS (27th) and .326 slugging percentage (29th) also ranked near bottom of the list.
Ruiz enjoyed a career year last season, hitting .325 with a .935 OPS, 32 doubles, 16 home runs and 68 RBI.
"It's been hard - a tough year for me," Ruiz said yesterday. "So I'm going to do my best in the 40-something games we have left. I'm feeling healthy, that's very important for me. So hopefully I can finish the season, and we'll see what happens after that."
Although the Phillies are in no apparent rush to re-sign Ruiz, that does not rule out a return in 2014.
Catching prospect Tommy Joseph, 22, recently had his season shut down due to continuing concussion symptoms. Joseph, acquired in last summer's Hunter Pence trade, was limited to 36 games this season; he will not be major league-ready in March.
Erik Kratz has showed occasional power in the last year, but he also is hitting .217 with a .678 OPS in 53 games.
Soon-to-be free agent Brian McCann would be an obvious offense upgrade. The 29-year-old Braves catcher has 17 home runs and an .879 OPS.
But unless the Phils' lineup is somehow reshuffled, McCann isn't an ideal fit simply because he'd be another lefthanded hitter in an already lefthanded-heavy lineup. Other free-agent options include Dioner Navarro, Geovany Soto, John Buck and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
"Catching is going to a very big priority for us - maybe the biggest," Amaro said. "There are some players out there. But there's not a lot of catching in the industry. It's going to be a tough decision for us. We might have to look to try to acquire it via trade. Or we could be looking right here at Chooch [Ruiz]."
"I definitely want to stay here," Ruiz said. "But right now I'm not thinking about that. We still have the rest of the season to play out. But this is my home, where I got started."
Even if Ruiz' bat heats up in the season's final 7 weeks, he's had a forgettable 2013 season. It began with serving a 25-game suspension after testing positive for an amphetamine, then blowing out a hamstring 3 weeks after returning, forcing him to miss another month of action.
But Amaro believes Ruiz, a favorite of the pitching staff, still has something to offer offensively. Ruiz hit .303 with a .388 OBP and .842 OPS from 2010-12.
"I think he's got value - absolutely," Amaro said. "He started behind the eight-ball and then got hurt. I think he's been trying to play a lot of catch-up. It's no secret it's a free-agent year for him. He's trying to up his value and do what he can to help the team, but it's been tough for him."
Ruiz signed a 3-year, $8.85 million deal in January 2010 that included a club option of $5 million for the 2013 season. The Phils could benefit from Ruiz' declining numbers this season by getting him at a discounted rate this winter, perhaps in the form of a 1-year deal.