Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chooch on the Block

Carlos Ruiz is another veteran on the trade blocks
A month from now, Carlos Ruiz, the beloved fan favorite Phillies catcher known as “Chooch”, will turn 36 years old. He is the least discussed member of the club’s ‘Glory Era’ aging stars in public trade talks. So, is Chooch on the trade block?
Let’s first look at what he has to offer. What would any team that might need a catcher find attractive about the Phillies veteran?
Despite playing the most difficult, physically demanding position on the field, Ruiz has been healthy and reliable. Since his first full season in 2007, Ruiz reached at least 370 plate appearances in 7 of 8 years.
He has, in fact, gone over 400 plate appearances 5 times, including in 4 of the last 5 seasons. Yes, Chooch is turning 36. But he is healthy, strong, and remains one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. 
Based on FanGraphs values which were looked at this past season, based themselves on fWAR value, Ruiz was the 6th-most valuable catcher in the game behind elite names like Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Russell Martin, and Miguel Montero.
Not only that, but the same FanGraphs chart showed that Ruiz was the absolute best at providing value-for-salary. His 2014 salary of $8.5 million will continue in both 2015 and 2016. The contract contains a further $4.5 million option for 2017, with an inexpensive $500k buyout should his age 38 season not look promising.
So what a team would be getting is an experienced, World-Series winning, playoff tested, healthy backstop with top-of-the-charts defensive skills. They are getting cost certainty at the position for at least two years. They are also getting a good guy in the locker room who is a natural with the fan base.
On the negative side, an acquiring team would be getting a player whose best offensive days are clearly behind him. From 2010-2012, Ruiz hit a cumulative .303 with a .388 on-base percentage, and had 161 rbi during that period. But in the last two years he has hit just .268 and .252 with just 11 homers and 68 rbi combined.
Still, Ruiz is not without offensive value. Known for producing clutch hits, his experience level certainly means that he will never wilt in big games, especially in the postseason. Also, his batting eye has always been and remains strong. He had a .347 on-base percentage in 2014, pretty much in line with his already high career average in that category.
Ruiz had a blemish put on his record when he was suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season for using a banned substance. However, it turned out that substance was Adderall, which he was taking for ADHD. He subsequently received a medical exemption allowing him to legally take the substance in the 2014 season.
We’ve established that an acquiring team would get a still-valuable, experienced, veteran catcher who could still handle the starting workload. He would also work great as part of a catching tandem or platoon. So who needs a catcher?
The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to be one obvious team needing a strong catcher. They lost Martin, and still have playoff aspirations. Are they really prepared to go with any of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, or Tony Sanchez? Having traded Montero, who will the DBacks go with? Is there any doubt that Chooch is better than anything the Dodgers have currently?
Chooch
Over in the American League, a player of Ruiz caliber would certainly help contending teams like the Angels, Red Sox, Mariners, and Rays all better at the position, and could help a rebounding club like the Rangers. While these teams have options, in many cases they are either young and unproven, or have defensive holes in their games.
Carlos Ruiz is not going to bring back a premium price. The Phils would be fortunate to even pickup a very young teenager with developmental potential. They would then have to turn the starting catcher job over to Cameron Rupp, in all likelihood, and maybe sign some veteran, low-priced option that comes on the market as a backup.
We all know that the Phillies are trying to unload their aging, higher-salaried players. While Ruiz’ salary is not exorbitant, the club would certainly be willing to take those $16+ million off their books for the next couple years.
The chances of a trade are 50/50 at this point. And if Carlos Ruiz is back behind the plate as the Phillies starting catcher in 2015, even in 2016, the fans would certainly not be upset with the friendly, smiling familiar Chooch face still around as the rest of his old teammates ride off into the sunset. His turn is coming soon enough.

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