Some Thoughts on the Carlos Ruiz Contract

Earlier today, the Phillies and catcher Carlos Ruiz agreed to continue their partnership by agreeing to a three-year contract worth $26 million. The deal also includes incentives and a fourth year club option worth $4.5 million with a $500,000 buyout. Ruiz turns 35 years old on January 22.

Dating back to the off-season following the 2010 season, only one catcher has earned a contract greater than two years in length. The Marlins gave John Buck a three-year, $18 million back in November 2010. Seven others were given contracts of two years in length. The rest were given one-year deals. Amaro is stepping into relatively uncharted waters in order to retain Ruiz. To put the deal in perspective, MLB Trade Rumors predicted a two-year, $14 million contract for Ruiz. It would have been in line with historical precedent.

Player Team Yrs Amount Signed
Gerald Laird Braves 2 $3,300,000 2013
Russell Martin Pirates 2 $17,000,000 2013
David Ross Red Sox 2 $6,200,000 2013
Ramon Hernandez Rockies 2 $6,400,000 2012
John Buck Marlins 3 $18,000,000 2011
Miguel Olivo Mariners 2 $7,000,000 2011
A.J. Pierzynski White Sox 2 $8,000,000 2011
Yorvit Torrealba Rangers 2 $6,250,000 2011

Ruiz is the first catcher taken off the board in a catching-rich market that also includes Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He was generating interest from a handful of teams including the Rockies and Red Sox. GM Ruben Amaro is making no friends among the other 29 GM’s as he is heavily influencing the market for mid-tier outfielders with the Marlon Byrd signing and the catching market with Ruiz. Those GM’s who plan to aggressively pursue McCann, for instance, must now do so knowing he can use the Ruiz contract as leverage to ask for more guaranteed years. (If a 35-year-old can get three guaranteed, the soon-to-be 30-year-old McCann can steadfastly negotiate five or even six years.)

Since 1991, only seven catchers 35 years old or older had a season in which they qualified for the batting title. There are nine player-seasons in total, with Pierzynski and Benito Santiago repeating. The only above-average offensive outputs came from Jorge Posada in 2007 (153 OPS+) and Pierzynski last year (117). The rest were around the league average or worse. Going by Wins Above Replacement, half were able to beat the average (2 WAR), but only Posada went above and beyond (5.4 WAR).

We can lower the plate appearance threshold to 17 player-seasons, removing to some degree the survivorship bias. It’s not a great-looking group:

Player WAR/pos PA Year Age Tm
Jorge Posada 5.4 589 2007 35 NYY
A.J. Pierzynski 2.9 520 2012 35 CHW
Benito Santiago 2.6 517 2002 37 SFG
Jason Varitek 2.3 518 2007 35 BOS
Carlton Fisk 1.9 501 1991 43 CHW
A.J. Pierzynski 1.6 529 2013 36 TEX
Ivan Rodriguez 1.4 515 2007 35 DET
Terry Steinbach 1.4 465 1998 36 MIN
Brad Ausmus 0.6 451 2005 36 HOU
Terry Steinbach 0.6 489 1997 35 MIN
Jason Kendall 0.5 490 2010 36 KCR
Jason Varitek 0.5 483 2008 36 BOS
Benito Santiago 0.4 515 2001 36 SFG
Tony Pena 0.3 450 1992 35 BOS
Paul Lo Duca 0.2 488 2007 35 NYM
Jason Kendall 0.1 526 2009 35 MIL
Brad Ausmus -0.3 502 2006 37 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2013.

Since 2009, Ruiz has posted WARs of 2.7, 4.1, 2.8, 4.5, and 1.7. If Ruiz matches his 2013 WAR next season (which would be slightly below-average), he will have had the sixth-best season by a catcher age 35 or older in the last 23 years. But it’s not really 2014 or even 2015 that we’re worried about; it’s the controversial third guaranteed year in 2016, when Ruiz will be 37 years old, that is worrisome.

Player WAR/pos PA Year Age Tm
Mike Piazza 2.9 439 2006 37 SDP
Benito Santiago 2.6 517 2002 37 SFG
Greg Myers 2.4 369 2003 37 TOR
Jorge Posada 1.6 438 2009 37 NYY
Jason Varitek 1.5 425 2009 37 BOS
Benito Santiago 1.5 434 2003 38 SFG
Jorge Posada 1.3 451 2010 38 NYY
Terry Steinbach 1.2 380 1999 37 MIN
Ivan Rodriguez 0.1 448 2009 37 TOT
Ivan Rodriguez -0.1 421 2010 38 WSN
Brad Ausmus -0.2 397 2007 38 HOU
Brad Ausmus -0.3 502 2006 37 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/18/2013.

Again, keep survivorship bias in mind. Catchers that are 37 years old and not that good either already retired or weren’t given responsibilities that included grabbing 350 or more plate appearances. The above list is the best of the best among old catchers and it’s uninspiring. Amaro is making a $26 million bet with the odds stacked firmly against him.

However, retaining Ruiz was necessary. The Phillies had two options otherwise: jump into the bidding for McCann and/or Saltalamacchia, or settle for a lessor option such as Dioner Navarro. The first option would have left them with very little wiggle room to round out the rest of the roster and it would have added yet another lengthy, bloated contract to the pile. The second option would have been a step backwards in terms of their ability to compete in 2014. Additionally, for whatever it’s worth, Ruiz has developed a great rapport with the pitching staff.

Noticeably absent? In-house options. The Phillies have had a great deal of trouble developing their own catchers over the years. Jason Jaramillo, Lou Marson, Sebastian Valle, and Tommy Joseph have all failed in one way or another, even once they left the organization. Amaro traded away the one catcher who looks like he might pan out, Travis D’Arnaud, in the Roy Halladay deal. Cameron Rupp has had exactly one season above A-ball. No matter what the Phillies did, they were going to pay for a catcher, whether through free agency or via trade as they do not yet have a Major League-caliber starting catcher in the system.

Amaro certainly went out of his way to both overpay and give an extra guaranteed year to Ruiz, and Ruiz is unlikely to be league-average or better throughout the duration of the contract, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small blunder. Ruiz fits a specific niche for the Phillies and it takes the pressure off of them to rush Joseph back from a concussion or rely too heavily on an inexperienced Rupp. Now, the Phillies can turn their attention to other areas of need, which now seems to be the starting rotation. (Oh, please God, not the bullpen.)

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40 comments

  1. Brian Lehman

    November 18, 2013 02:55 PM

    I love how we’re at the point where a “relatively small blunder” is something to be excited about. It’s a good day when Ruben doesn’t screw up too bad.

  2. Ryan

    November 18, 2013 03:02 PM

    The most important point being that there weren’t any GOOD options and that this was the least of the evils.

  3. hk

    November 18, 2013 03:04 PM

    Ryan,

    Agreed, although $20M/2 (with or without a 3rd year option) > $26M/3.

  4. nik

    November 18, 2013 03:09 PM

    This contract was necessary but doesn’t improve the team at all. We’re still mediocre and will continue to be that way.

  5. hk

    November 18, 2013 03:10 PM

    On Fangraphs, Dave Cameron wrote that Chooch now has MLB approval to use Adderall. Is this true?

  6. hk

    November 18, 2013 03:22 PM

    Bill and Paul,

    Thanks. I did not see that reported anywhere in the local media.

  7. Ryan

    November 18, 2013 03:48 PM

    @hk

    I agree 100%, but what do you do if the market dictates otherwise? What happens if Ruiz signs with the Red Sox for 2/$22mm or whatever? Then you’re stuck with seriously overpaying for one of the other options (left handed options at that) or getting a significantly lesser player for this upcoming season.

    Then again, I’m still of the opinion that Ryan Howard’s deal is better than Albert Pujols’. Not so much in that Howard will come close to living up to it (even before he tore his Achilles) or that he’s even in the same league as Pujols, but at least we’re not on the hook for ten years until he’s 41.

  8. Bob

    November 18, 2013 04:08 PM

    How doesn’t this deal get done during the season? Why get to the point where you’re resigning your players for above market value, albeit slightly above, during FA? Didn’t this happen with Cole as well? If you were going to resign him, then why not make him a qualifying offer like others have suggested? Shouldn’t you know by mid-point in the season how the market will develop and plan for it?

    Look at the Red Sox. They will over pay in order to avoid longer term deals. They can let Ellsbury walk, get a compensatory pick, and have someone in their farm to replace hime. On the other hand, they don’t have a catcher, but indications are that they only wanted to go 2 for CR.

  9. hk

    November 18, 2013 04:22 PM

    Ryan,

    If the market dictated that I have to significantly overpay to keep Chooch, I would move on, try to fill the C position in a cheaper way and allocate the savings to improve at other positions. I wonder what it will take, if anything, to get Ryan Hanigan from the Reds. He’s projected to make $2.3M in arbitration this year. If the Reds end up trading him for little, which is a distinct possibility since he’s their 3rd catcher now, or non-tendering him, we will be left to wonder whether Hanigan + $15M OF > Chooch + Byrd for the same AAV. And, if the Phils sign Mujica for $21M / 3, we will be left to wonder whether Hanigan + Ellsbury + cheap RP > Chooch + Byrd + Mujica for the same AAV.

  10. Bubba0101

    November 18, 2013 04:29 PM

    hk,

    This is all under the assumption that Ellsbury would sign to play in Phila. As you said before, Amaro probably offered him a zillion dollars already. I hope so desperately that Amaro doesnt give a reliever a 3 year deal. How could the rest of the GMs in baseball take him seriously?

  11. Robby Bonfire

    November 18, 2013 04:31 PM

    Incisive synopsis. Wonder if it will take the Phillies as long (eight years!) to jettison this clueless GM as it did for them to jettison someone else, whom I would never besmirch in public? lol.

  12. Phillie697

    November 18, 2013 04:34 PM

    So I take a one-month-and-half break from these hallowed columns, and a brief browse of the headlines tells me that I haven’t missed much. RAJ is still RAJ, and things are status quo. To quote Major League, “they’re still shitty.”

    I’ll be back in another 6 weeks, perhaps.

  13. Bubba0101

    November 18, 2013 04:40 PM

    Oh contraire, Phillie697, RAJ has moved on to making deals that only moderately hurt us opposed to those that crush the organization for 3-6 years…

  14. Matt

    November 18, 2013 04:46 PM

    Great analysis as always. The one point i might question: “The second option would have been a step backwards in terms of their ability to compete in 2014.” Are we really sure of this? the lesser options out there seem to me to be navarro or possibly a trade for ryan hannigan. It’ll be interesting to see what hanigan gets in a trade, and both of these guys haven’t been full-time catchers in a while, but given age, and 2013 performance, can we really say with much certianty that Ruiz will out perform either guy in 2014? Navarro, for example was a 2.0 WAR (b-r) catcher last year after bouncing around through his late 20s. certainly seems possible he could be a 2-3 win/season catcher in a starting role over the next few years (Ruiz as a parallel, didn’t post a 2 win season before age 30). At this point i’m not sure we can say with any degree of certainty that the age 30 & 31 seasons of Navarro will be worse than the age 35-37 seasons of Ruiz. they’ll certainly be cheaper though.

  15. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    November 18, 2013 04:52 PM

    I’m content with this deal, and I don’t actually think it was a blunder, given the other options out there. I am very interested to see what happens next–I think that having sewn up (for better or worse) deals with right handed hitters for the lineup’s two most blatant vacancies, we might be about to see something very interesting happen with CF or the starting rotation.

  16. Kevin

    November 18, 2013 05:09 PM

    Amaro needs to trade away Ryan Howard. Somehow, someway.
    I would love to see them go after Mark Trumbo to replace Howard and Bourjos as a 4th OF for depth and injury insurance for Byrd.

    This lineup is good enough to win the NL East.

    1. Revere CF L
    2. Rollins SS S
    3. Utley 2B L
    4. Trumbo 1B R
    5. Brown LF L
    6. Byrd RF R
    7. Asche 3B L
    8. Ruiz C R

  17. Kevin

    November 18, 2013 05:19 PM

    Ok, so similar slash line, but Trumbo is much cheaper and much younger/healthier.

    Do you think Howard will ever have a 30+ HR 100 RBI season again? I don’t.

    Trumbo can play 1B/RF and if Franco gets called up and needs to play 1B with Asche at 3B, Trumbo can play in RF.

  18. Bill Baer

    November 18, 2013 05:38 PM

    The only way the Phillies would be able to trade Howard is if they ate a significant portion of his remaining salary. Then they’d also have to pay Trumbo in all three of his arbitration years. MLBTR projects him to take home $4.7 million for 2014. It could go past $10 million in his third year prior to free agency.

    So you’re talking about making very little discernible change in 1B production while adding an extra $5-10 million in salary (on top of Howard’s $25 million) in each of the following three years.

  19. Bob

    November 18, 2013 05:47 PM

    Trumbo is the exact type of player the Phils’ brass covets.

  20. Kevin

    November 18, 2013 05:56 PM

    Bill,

    I don’t expect Howard to continue his level of production at 34. Trumbo is 27 and should have at least 3-5 good years in him. I don’t think anyone can say that about Howard. The production the Phillies would get from Trumbo would be so much more than a declining Howard. I’d rather have a 31 year old Trumbo at 1B in 2016 than a 36 year old Ryan Howard.

  21. yizzit

    November 18, 2013 06:11 PM

    You’re overvaluing Trumbo a lot, in my opinion, Kevin. Also, how exactly would we acquire him?

  22. Pencilfish

    November 18, 2013 06:20 PM

    Travis d’Arnaud had 112 PA for the Mets in 2013, and the results weren’t pretty
    (.202/.286/.263). I know this is beyond small sample size, but before d’Arnaud fufills his predicted potential, let’s see if he can shake off his reputation as “injury-prone” and perform better in 2014, when he will be 25 already. He is, however, one of the very few prospects, RAJ may live to regret trading.

  23. Kevin

    November 18, 2013 06:31 PM

    yizzit,

    They want pitching, also could use help at 3B. Obviously not a GM but something along these lines.

    Howard to an AL team for prospect(s)

    Kendrick, Biddle, and prospect for Trumbo

    Asche could be involved in deal too that way he doesn’t block Franco. If Asche is added i’d ask for Peter Bourjos to be invovled too.

    Franco and Trumbo at the corners for the next 10 years hitting 30+ HR a year sounds good to me.

  24. joecatz

    November 18, 2013 07:16 PM

    Mark Trumbo 2010-2013

    vs RHP (1317 PA) 244/297/451
    vs LHP (536 PA) 262/304/513

    Howard vs RHP over that same period? 1111 PA?

    275/360/518 with a .370 wOBA. 273 ISO, 126 wRC+

    howard hit 65HRs, to Trumbos 63 over that period of time.

    Howard is the far superior hitter vs RHP. He needs a platoon partner. thats it.

  25. Nehemiah

    November 18, 2013 07:24 PM

    Are you fucking serious. MLB approves his Adderall use for years. ANd then they don’t. And then they suspend him. And then they approve his use again. Fucking horse shit.

  26. joecatz

    November 18, 2013 07:26 PM

    and before someone screams 2010 at me:

    howard from 2011 to 2013 vs RHP:

    272/359/521 369 wOBA, 133 wRC+ 249 ISO

    he was 247/333/451 204 ISO, 327 wOBA 103 wRC+ in 2012 after the injury,

    and last year he was 302/357/522 .371 wOBA, .220 ISO 136 wRC+ vs RHP

    he put up that .220 ISO hitting just 8 HR’s in 205 PA.

    and he did that in 2012 and 2013 on one leg.

    He sucks against lefties, but anyone who thinks he has any issues hitting 30 HRs if he’s healthy is insane.

    There are few 1B who can match that vs RHP out there, like, 5 or 6 of them.

    You don’t eat a dime of Howrads contract right now, you don’t entertain trading him, you sit his ass vs every LHP not named Maholm or Minor and ride the good fortune as long as he stays healthy.

  27. T. Martin

    November 18, 2013 08:06 PM

    I would argue that the problem with the Byrd and Ruiz signings isn’t the effect they’ll have down the road (2nd year for Byrd and 2nd and 3rd year for Ruiz) because the Phillies will have a new TV contract and can easily eat those contracts at a later date. One might point out that if the Phillies brass is going to be eating player contracts they’d better show up hungry because there’s likely to be plenty of options. But I digress.

    The problem is that with a finite amount of resources available for the 2014 roster Ruin Tomorrow Jr. is planning on paying about $23 million dollars to three players named Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz and Kyle Kendrick and for all the hashing and rehashing of the Howard contract A seems more fiscally irresponsible than B (assuming they’re all relatively healthy).

  28. Pete

    November 18, 2013 09:32 PM

    If the Phillies are truly going up to the luxury tax line this year (are they?) – they have about $21.5 million left to spend (assumes KK remains at 6.6 and all of Matt Swartz arb numbers are close).

    Right now, I optimistically have them as an 83 win team next year as currently constructed.

    So how do they spend that $21 million to get add 7 wins in 2014? Going to be real hard – especially once Ruben give $8 million of it to a relief pitcher.

  29. jauer

    November 18, 2013 09:41 PM

    The last time the Phillies had a platoon as obvious as Ruf/Howard, it was Schierholtz/Mayberry. So, enjoy Howard’s three pitch-ABs against LHP this season.

  30. Robby Bonfire

    November 18, 2013 10:13 PM

    Good analogy as regards this RAJ arrogant disregard for his boss’s money he is throwing away on old guys. That is the Brooklyn Nets and their GM, Billy King, not exactly a stranger to Philadelphia sports fans.

    So King goes out and trades the future AND the present, as it is turning out, for the past glory of 36 and 37 year old Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and, going into this season, actually expected to win the NBA title.

    What a disasterous start to the season over there in Brooklyn, and, just like the Phillies, not much in the way of young, replacement talent in the house to save face.

    It never works, this mortgaging the present and the future for the past, plus getting some cheap P.R. hype to spur ticket sales, but guys like Billy King and RAJ just keep on recklessly trashing their owner/employers house. Some people treat other people’s money with complete contempt when it comes to value, and not just politicians.

    Really proud of Philadelphia sports franchises for running the likes of King, Reid, and Manuel out of town, and closing the floodgates, in the process. Three down and one to go, and RAJ has to know he’s next on the hatchet list, but what a spending spree he is enjoying, until his D-Day arrives. Who’s the sucker here – because it ain’t RAJ?

  31. Larry

    November 18, 2013 10:18 PM

    Pete,

    “So how do they spend that $21 million to get add 7 wins in 2014?”

    They could trade for David Price, sign Josh Johnson, let KK walk.

    Your SP would be Lee, Price, Cole, JJ, MAG, and Pettibone as a swing man. With those starters you don’t need to add anything to the bullpen. I would consider Veras if he is still available and cheap.

    The problem you face is all the injuries you will have in 2014, mostly because of so many aging players. Dom Brown seems to get injured a lot for a young guy, so he would be part of the trade package for Price. That would make Ruf your left fielder who does get on base and could hit 30+ HRs as a full time player. One other thing I would do is move JRoll to the bottom of the order due to an expected .310 -.325 OBP in 2014. With Rollins and Utley needing more rest this season, Freddy Galvis needs to step up offensively. He is an excellent defender.

    Another big problem is the Chooch signing. How many games will he play? This means 1 or 2 more catchers should be expected to play at least 35% of the games. It might be more than 50% in 2016. RAJ actually gave him a 3rd year?? I’m a little down on the team right now, thinking about the opportunity cost of Chooch and Byrd……but hey if they stink this year, maybe RAJ is out the door.

  32. Ryan

    November 18, 2013 11:25 PM

    @hk

    I don’t disagree except that I don’t know that a few more million this season, in RAJ’s hands, is going to make much of a difference–not to mention that the free agents market in general sucks. RAJ will still do something stupid like signing Marlon Byrd or go after a veteran reliever. *facepalm* I don’t know that going after Ellsbury or any of the major league free agents is wise. I would use the savings to go after the Japanese starter. He actually looks like a potentially good value who will improve (25 years old).

    You could also use the money to increase your international budgets, academies, scouting & development staffs, and build a massive analytics department; but I digress as that makes too much sense.

    The biggest problem that I see with RAJ is this: there is no plan. None. He made a few good moves bringing in high profile pitchers, but now has no clue how to go about rebuilding a foundation/making smart signings to reload the team. There is no “we’re a big market team” go for it type deal or “we aren’t a big market team” rebuild and upgrade your development. He’s going to ride some middle ground and completely fuck everything up as he tries to catch lightning in a bottle.

  33. Ryan

    November 18, 2013 11:25 PM

    **is = isn’t in the first paragraph

  34. Josh G

    November 19, 2013 12:32 AM

    The contract isn’t as gloomy as you might make it seem. It is “uncharted waters,” but uncertainty doesn’t mean the deal sucks. It means we don’t have precedent.

    Forget about the 3rd year for a second. I’m valuing a win at $6M. If Chooch is better than 2 WAR for the first 2 years of the deal, he will earn the contract. Between injury and suspension last year, he still managed 1.7 WAR. Color me optimistic about those first 2 years. There is also unmeasured value in retaining “your guy” with fan appreciation and pitcher familiarity.

    Who knows what happens in the 3rd year? Maybe, because Chooch converted from a 2nd baseman, he still has something in the tank. Maybe we trade him if/when a prospect is ready. Maybe we pay him to not be on the roster. If he wants to negotiate such that his money is spread out over 3 years instead of 2 I’m not going to fault him for it.

    However, it’s pretty obvious that the guy should have been made a qualifying offer. Players don’t want 1 year deals. They want 3 deals.

  35. KH

    November 19, 2013 11:47 AM

    Keith Law hates the signing Bill. I personally think you have spinned quite a bit and exaggerated to say it was necessary. Also, once again we are whiteashing the PED suspension out of the conversation, which Law did not, and are acting like it is 100% certainty that the best of Ruiz we saw was all Carlos. I personally think there is a good chance by sometime fairly early in the deal Ruiz is a less then a WAR player and possibly a negative WAR player. It’s a bad deal and possibly a really bad deal. Carlos is old and catcher is a demanding position. This team is going to be bad next year.

  36. Heriberto Valdez

    November 20, 2013 05:27 AM

    Primary salary Data ( about ) courtesy Doug Pappas, and the Society for American Baseball Research . Additional 1915-1969 salaries researched via Baseball Hall of Fame contract archives by Dr. Michael Haupert of UW-LaCrosse. Salaries for mid-season call-ups or traded players may not be shown. Salaries converted to alternate years using Consumer Price Index (CPI) data courtesty of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Board .

  37. hk

    November 20, 2013 03:43 PM

    KH,

    What does the PED suspension have to do with the deal going forward?

  38. Chris

    November 21, 2013 10:33 AM

    I can give you at the LEAST ten really good screwups by everybody’s favorite GM, Hall of Famer Pat Gillick.

    The guy got lucky with the ’08 WS team, got lucky with Werth and he is proclaimed the teams savior.

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