The Phillies would not offer Carlos Ruiz a $14.1 million salary on Monday, and their devotion to the popular and productive catcher will be tested in the coming weeks.
Ruiz officially became a free agent when he was not offered arbitration for 2014. That decision was a mere formality. The two sides are interested in maintaining their relationship, and Monday's decision had no effect whatsoever on those negotiations. If anything, the Phillies widened Ruiz's market by not tying him to draft-pick compensation.
The team's other free agent, Roy Halladay, was not offered arbitration, either. He is a candidate for an incentive-laden deal signed sometime after the new year.
Ruiz is believed to be seeking a three-year deal with a significant raise from his $5 million salary last season. The Phillies will want to limit the length of any deal - a two-year agreement with a vesting option is possible.
Interest in Ruiz is expected to be strong. He turns 35 in January and endured his worst offensive season since 2008 - and this season was marred by a suspension for unpermitted Adderall usage. But dependable catching is at premium and the Phillies are not alone in their need.
The Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Blue Jays and Rockies have catching deficiencies. The Denver Post reported Monday that Ruiz is among Colorado's top targets.
Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the other available backstops. McCann is viewed as an American League player. Saltalamacchia is young and powerful but he is not without flaws; Boston benched him for the final three games of the World Series.
Both of those players could command at least four years on their new contracts. That could play into Ruiz's favor, too.
Ruiz's durability is of concern. He has required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last five seasons. Still, Ruiz's 459 games played since 2010 rank second on the Phillies behind Jimmy Rollins (546).
The $14.1 million salary is derived from an average of baseball's top 100 salaries. Free agents offered arbitration have seven days to accept or decline the offer. Few will accept because the market is high in demand and low in supply.
In most cases, teams must surrender their first-round draft pick if they sign such a player. The Phillies, however, are exempt from that because their pick is among the top 10. Instead, they will forfeit their second-round pick.
Halladay, 36, was 4-5 with a 6.82 ERA last season. He had right shoulder surgery in May.