Inside the Phillies: Phillies' Ruiz is league's most undervalued player

Carlos Ruiz is off to an all-star-caliber start this season, leading the Phillies in home runs.
Carlos Ruiz is off to an all-star-caliber start this season, leading the Phillies in home runs. (HYOSUB SHIN / Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Posted: May 07, 2012

Carlos Ruiz is 50-cent-a-gallon gasoline.

He is a $500 Mercedes- Benz.

He is a five-acre, 15-bedroom mansion on the beach for $5,000.

Too good to be to true.

Too affordable to be so good.

The league MUP - most underpaid player.

Perhaps the two greatest injustices in baseball right now are that the Phillies' heavy-duty catcher has never made an all-star team and that he had made only $5.93 million in his career before this season.

The all-star snubs can be partially explained. Ruiz probably would have been added to the team as a reserve in 2010 when the Phillies' Charlie Manuel was the National League manager, but he was on the disabled list with a concussion at the time.

In each of the last three seasons, the league has carried only two catchers, and each time the NL representatives were Atlanta's Brian McCann and St. Louis' Yadier Molina. It's impossible to argue against either of those picks. McCann has been the premier offensive catcher in the league over the last half-decade and Molina has been the best defensive catcher during that same time period.

An argument you could make is that Ruiz is a better defensive catcher than McCann and almost as good offensively as Molina.

This could be the year that the all-star injustice is finally resolved. If you took an early vote for National League MVP, Ruiz would have to be in the league's top 10 and No. 1 among all catchers. There's no question he is the Phillies' early-season MVP as the main man who has picked up the offensive slack in the absence of first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley.

The greater injustice to Ruiz is how little money he has made during his career, and circumstances will likely prevent that wrong from ever be righted.

It has been well-documented, of course, that the Phillies signed Ruiz for $8,000 as an amateur free agent out of Panama in 1998. McCann, by comparison, received $750,000 to sign with the Atlanta Braves as a second-round pick in 2002.

Right from the beginning, Ruiz was fighting a losing battle in the baseball paycheck wars, and it's an unfair advantage that all draft-eligible players have over the second-tier international prospects who sign with big-league teams.

McCann, 28, had made $17.8 million entering this season and will be paid $11.5 million in 2012. He has a $12 million option the Braves are sure to pick up after the 2013 season.

Molina, 29, won his second World Series last year with the Cardinals and received a five-year, $75 million contract extension that includes a $15 million mutual option for 2018.

As we've noted, you cannot argue that Ruiz is as good as McCann or Molina, but you can certainly make the case that he is worth a lot more than the $3.7 million he is being paid this season, especially when you consider all the intangibles.

No statistic - conventional or Sabermetric - can accurately calculate how well a catcher runs a game, but the fact that some of the best pitchers in baseball rave about Ruiz's ability to do so should not be seen as insignificant. The fact that Ruiz has also hit .300 or higher in six of the 10 postseason series he has played, including both World Series, proves he can produce in the clutch.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Phillies will either pick up Ruiz's $5 million option for 2013 or sign him to a contract extension.

What's fair and what's wise are the two questions Ruiz and the Phillies must decide.

Ruiz's age and demanding position work against him. He is 33 years old and did not make it to the majors until he was 27. He would have been eligible for free agency after this season and he certainly would have made more than $5 million next season if he had hit the open market.

Russell Martin (2007 and 2008), Geovany Soto (2008), and Miguel Montero (2011) are the only other catchers who have made the National League all-star team since Ruiz's 2007 rookie season and they are all fine players.

I'd argue that Ruiz has been as good as Martin and Montero and better than Soto during the first five years of his career.

Martin is 29 and making $7.5 million with the New York Yankees this season, and because of his age he figures to have at least one huge contract remaining. Montero is 28 and making $5.9 million this season. A big free-agent payday awaits him as well. Soto is making $4.3 million this season and at 29 he could also be a more valued player than Ruiz if he hits the free-agent market after the 2014 season.

If they do not re-sign with their current teams, the 2014 free-agent market could include Ruiz, Soto, McCann, and Boston's Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Ruiz, at that point, will be 35. Soto will be 31, McCann will be 30, and Saltalamacchia will be 29.

You have to wonder how many teams would be willing to give a 35-year-old catcher anything more than a two-year deal.

The hope for all concerned should be that the Phillies and Ruiz reach a fair agreement that keeps the catcher here at least through the 2015 season.

The reality is that Ruiz will not make the money he is worth before his career is over.


Inside the Phillies: Most Undervalued Player

Here's a look at how Carlos Ruiz compares to the five catchers who have made the National League all-star team since he entered the league in 2007. The statistics are through Thursday's games and the money earned is coming into this season.

Player   G   Avg.   2B   3B   HR   RBI   OPS   CS%   PO   Money Earned

Carlos Ruiz (Phillies)    641    .268    127    5    40    248    .758    27    10   $5.93M

Brian McCann (Braves)    903    .285    202    1    141    551    .842    24     7    $17.84M

Yadier Molina (Cards)    968    .275    164    3    59    405    .713    44    42    $16M

Russell Martin (Yankees)    814    .265    133    7    74    371    .753    31    13    $13.84M

Geovanny Soto (Cubs)   521    .254    107    4    73    253    .794    26     2    $4.55M

Miguel Montero (D'Backs)   535    .272    112    4    60    260    .786    31     7    $6.4M

CS% - Caught stealing percentage as a catcher

Pickoffs – Number of pickoffs as a catcher

Money earned - in millions

Source: Baseball-Reference.com - Bob Brookover


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com or on Twitter @brookob.

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