Can the Phillies Fit Darin Ruf on the Roster?
Darin Ruf has been one of the few Phillies who has hit with any consistency this spring. In 25 at-bats, he has a .280/.400/.520 line which includes two home runs and four walks. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes that Ruf has been impressing manager Ryne Sandberg, which might help his cause when the 25-man roster is finalized at the end of spring training.
“He’s taking advantage of his opportunities. Everyone has had a chance to play. No one can say they haven’t had a chance to play. When he’s been asked to play — whether it be left field or first base — he has taken advantage of that. He’s put together quality at-bats and has done a good job in the field. Everyone has had the opportunity.”Ryne Sandberg, via MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki
Ruf, of course, was one of the few Phillies who hit with any authority last season, posting a .247/.348/.458 slash line. His adjusted OPS was 121 which would have ranked third on the team behind Chase Utley and Domonic Brown if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. The Phillies have been the worst offensive team in baseball through 14 Grapefruit League games with a .567 OPS. The next-worst team, the Diamondbacks, can be found at .650. Why would the Phillies willingly not roster a guy who would be a legitimate offensive boost?
The first but least obvious reason is that Ruf still has options. The Phillies gave John Mayberry, who is out of options, a guaranteed one-year, $1,587,500 million contract. The Phillies could carry two bench outfielders, but Ruf and Mayberry are redundant as they have similar skill sets. Ruf offers slightly more offensive upside but is comparatively lacking on defense. If the Phillies want to bring Ruf north with the team, they’d need to trade or cut Mayberry, but that would seem like a heel turn considering he was given a guaranteed contract at a time when most players (read: arbitration-eligible) are given non-guaranteed deals. Simply put, the Phillies went out of their way to guarantee Mayberry $1,587,500, so it would be odd for them to cut him all of a sudden, especially when he has had as good a spring as Ruf.
Additionally, if the Phillies decide to look past Bobby Abreu‘s unproductive spring, GM Ruben Amaro prefers to have a left-handed hitting outfielder on the bench. Carrying Mayberry and Abreu would obviously push Ruf out. Alternatively, if the Phillies decide to trade for an outfielder — such as Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox — then Ruf would be pushed out as well, unless it’s a swap involving Mayberry.
Ruf could be carried as an extra infielder, but he would displace Freddy Galvis. This means that Kevin Frandsen would be the de facto back-up at three positions: second base, third base, and shortstop. Frandsen has played all of 118 innings at shortstop in his seven-year career, compared to 742 at second base and 877.2 at third base. The other option is to run with a six-man bench, which would necessitate an 11-man pitching staff (six-man bullpen), which isn’t something you see often in the National League and isn’t a great idea given the volatility of relievers.
Having Ruf start the year in Triple-A makes sense because it lets the Phillies keep the most amount of players, which is important in the event of an injury. It creates the least amount of headaches. Ruf’s performance certainly merits playing time in the big leagues, but the combination of his service time and the Phillies’ roster construction makes it hard to fit him in, unfortunately.