Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chooch Redux

Yesterday, the Phillies re-signed catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz, who had been a free agent, to a three year deal.

The details of the deal are unimportant. The money is good (3 years, $26M, with a club option for the 4th), but  not great. There is a decent chance that averaged over the life of the contract, it won't be a ridiculous overpay. There is also a decent chance that Ruiz, as a catcher in his mid-30s, will either fall off a cliff, performance-wise, or get hurt. 

But like I said, it doesn't matter. What does matter is this: it is not the move of a team that is getting better. This is because Ruiz is not getting better, almost certainly cannot get better than he has been already. He is, as noted above, in his mid-30s. Catchers, notoriously, do not age well. The pounding they take playing the position shortens their careers and impacts their offensive contributions in all sorts of bad ways. 

So Ruiz, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is going to get worse. He's going to get older and slower, he's going to hit less, and he's going to be on the field less. He will, in short, be contributing less, and he will be doing so on a team that needs its catcher - that needs everyone - to contribute more, because what they're doing now simply isn't good enough. The Phillies, as a team, supposedly OPS+ed 90 last year, where 100 is average. That number screams out for an upgrade wherever you can apply it - left field, third base, catcher. To instead sign on for more of the same, when "more of the same" actually means less and less, is the sign of a team that doesn't understand the idea of "getting better". A team that actually wants to improve finds places to get better players, not to - at best - stand still. 

So maybe you look around and the other options at catcher aren't appealing. Fine, you take a hit there, and take the money you would have spent on the crumbling Ruiz and you spend it on a net upgrade somewhere else. Take a step backwards at catcher, take two steps forward in the rotation and you're further ahead than you've been. Or, you can continue to view every position on the team as its own problem to be solved independently, with inevitably disastrous results.

Look, I like Carlos Ruiz. I have enjoyed watching him play. But I'd enjoy watching the Phillies win more. And if that meant sucking up a year of Ryan Hanigan while waiting for Cameron Rupp or Sebastian Valle or Tommy Joseph - all three, highly touted catching prospects at one point or another - to turn into a major leaguer, that would have been fine.
Instead, we'll get, at best, what we've already seen. And as last year showed, that wasn't good enough.
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