Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would not wait for Carlos Ruiz, but the true intentions of the Phillies general manager were understood. For all of September, Amaro spoke about retaining his longtime catcher. A reunion made sense: The Phillies value familiarity, and the best available alternatives could not hit lefthanded pitching.
When Ruiz emerged as a priority for the defending world champion Boston Red Sox, a source said, the Phillies acted to secure the stocky Panamanian they once signed for $8,000 as a second baseman. The price for another aging player was significant at three years and $26 million.
Ultimately, the Phillies did not wait for another team to capture their catcher. According to a source close to the negotiations, Ruiz received numerous offers of two guaranteed years. There was a match when the Phillies upped their pitch to three years and made Ruiz one of the highest-paid catchers in baseball with Monday's agreement. "Chooch" will turn 35 in January.
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 this week. The Phillies will not comment until then.
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.
It is an expensive contract for an older player, but Ruiz plays a premium position and the Phillies lacked credible alternatives despite Amaro's public insistence. The team preferred a righthanded bat for their lefty-laden lineup. Ruiz will be cheaper than Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the top two catchers on the market. And third-tier players such as A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck, and Dioner Navarro were flawed.
Ruiz was rewarded after his worst season in five years. He lost the first 25 games to suspension for unsanctioned Adderall use. His swing suffered. He applied pressure in a contract season. An improved second half helped restore faith.
But durability for a catcher his age will always be of prime concern. Ruiz has required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last five seasons and averaged 97 starts over the last three seasons. The team could supplement him with a more experienced backup to limit his workload, although money now may be better spent on the National League's second-worst pitching staff.
Cameron Rupp and Erik Kratz provide reserve catching depth. Prospect 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 aid in the transition from longtime mentor Rich Dubee. They have grand plans for Cuban defector Miguel Gonzalez. Ruiz will be tasked with tutoring the inexperienced 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 this season at age 34 or older. The Phillies have committed $135.17 million in annual average value to 10 players for 2014. That does not count their five arbitration-eligible players, all of whom are expected to be tendered contracts.
Ruiz's $8.67 million average annual value makes him the fourth-highest-paid catcher in baseball behind Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, and Miguel Montero. McCann and Saltalamacchia are likely to eclipse Ruiz's value later this winter.
The Phillies, however, were not willing to risk Ruiz's landing elsewhere.