Ruiz has hit .301 with 12 doubles, four home runs, 26 RBIs and an .823 OPS in 41 games since Aug. 2.
“We’d like to bring him back,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “He knows we’d like to bring him back. We’ll see what happens. It wouldn’t be the first free agent [we’ve had]. … I’d like to have as much balance [in the lineup] as we can, we haven’t been very good against left-handers. It’s well documented.”
Said manager Ryne Sandberg: “The way he’s performed, I would hope he’d be back. He’s a right-handed bat. His status here, him being comfortable here, maybe the ball’s in his corner and he could help with that decision. It could come down to that, where he wants to go.
“That’s a big hole that needs to be filled. The sooner the better.”
At the beginning of September, I wrote about Carlos Ruiz’s surge after a shaky start following his 25-game suspension. He went into a bit of a lull since then, especially in the power department, but otherwise, he has been essentially the same player we have seen over the last few years.
Ruiz will be 35 years old in January. Teams in need of a catcher will target the likes of Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia — five and six years Ruiz’s junior, respectively — on multi-year deals. Teams that miss out won’t be in the position to commit to Ruiz beyond two years. A one- or two-year deal makes perfect sense for the Phillies as it allows them to bridge the gap between the Ruiz era and the era of their next catcher (Cameron Rupp, perhaps?) without going headlong into a heavy multi-year contract, the type that has crippled the team lately.
Rupp will also benefit from a full season at Triple-A. If he performs well enough, he can be promoted to the Majors and serve as Ruiz’s understudy, absorbing valuable information from a tried-and-true veteran. In other words, Rupp will have as little pressure as possible, considering he is currently the most-developed, realistic catching talent in the system right now.
Furthermore, getting Ruiz on the books for 2014 will allow Amaro to devote his focus towards other areas of need, like finding a corner outfielder. Let’s say Ruiz decides to test the open market. Would Amaro be disciplined enough not to sign Brian McCann for four years? The same money that would be used to acquire a catcher could instead be used to fill other areas of need, such as signing Shin-Soo Choo. (This is merely an illustration, not a suggestion.)
Plus, of any position where familiarity can legitimately be considered a virtue, it’s catching. Ruiz has a long-standing relationship with most of his pitchers. They trust him, and he understands their strengths and weaknesses when calling a game. There’s a reason why Roy Halladay credited Ruiz for his success — a perfect game against the Marlins during the regular season, a no-hitter against the Reds in the NLDS, and the NL Cy Young award — in 2010.
Finally, the Phillies may not be ready to compete, even if they do make big splashes in free agency and via trade. For all the things that went wrong in 2013, they still out-performed their Pythagorean record by seven games. Going by runs scored and runs allowed, the Phillies should actually be 65-92 (the fourth-worst Pythagorean record in the Majors), not 72-85. Delmon Young, Michael Young, Laynce Nix, and Chad Durbin may be gone, but the man responsible for their inclusion on the roster in the first place still remains. If Amaro hasn’t learned from the mistakes that dragged the team into the mud over the last two years, it won’t matter who catches games as the Phillies will be watching the playoffs from their couches anyway.
To fans who are tired of hearing about how old the team is, the thought of bringing back a 35-year-old catcher may be unappetizing, but Ruiz is still among the best in the business. It may not seem like it, but bringing Ruiz back may just be one of the more important decisions to make during the off-season.