Phillies won't wait for Chooch

Posted: November 08, 2013

TWO YEARS AGO this month, a lifelong Phillie hit the free-agent market. After testing the waters, he eventually returned to Philadelphia, as many people had expected.

Despite mutual interest in continuing a similar relationship, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said you shouldn't make the mistake of comparing the case of Carlos Ruiz to Jimmy Rollins' free agency in the fall of 2011.

"I can assure you if it takes similar as long [to get a deal done], there will be very little chance of bringing Chooch back," Amaro said yesterday of Ruiz. "We can't afford to miss out on other opportunities."

Ruiz, who turns 35 in January, became a free agent Tuesday. With several teams in need of a catcher - including deep-pocketed teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Braves - Ruiz is expected to draw considerable interest.

The Denver Post reported this week that the Colorado Rockies were set to offer Ruiz a multiyear contract.

With no in-house candidate ready for everyday catching duties at the major league level, the Phillies also would like Ruiz in their 2014 lineup. But after 5 full weeks of exclusive negotiating time with Ruiz since the season ended, the Phils were unable to keep him off the open market.

"It happens all the time," Amaro said. "The player wanted to exercise his right to be a free agent. What our intentions and their intentions are, I hope they remain the same. But they want to explore the market and drive up the price as much as they can. It's exactly what all free-agent players and their agents do, pretty much."

While Amaro might have been patient with Rollins (who got a 3-year, $33 million with a vesting option for 2015), the case of Ruiz might be more similar to another lifelong Phillie who hit the free-agent market in 2011: Ryan Madson.

Amaro was aggressive in filling the vacant closer role. Instead of letting the market play out for a while, Amaro negotiated with both Madson and Jonathan Papelbon before signing the latter on Nov. 14, roughly 2 weeks into the free-agent season.

With other free-agent catchers on the market, Amaro clearly doesn't want to "miss out" on one of the better options and be like the kid in musical chairs left standing idly with a dumb look on his face.

Asked he was confident he and Ruiz could reach a deal, Amaro said: "I'm confident we're going to get a catcher. I don't know who it's going to be."

Among the other free-agent options are Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Dioner Navarro and John Buck.

McCann, a seven-time All-Star with Atlanta who has averaged 21 homers in each of his eight full big-league seasons, is expected to be paid handsomely. Since he will likely get a long-term contract, the lefthanded-hitting McCann, who turns 30 in February, is probably a better fit for an American League team that has the option of using him as a DH in the future.

Saltalamacchia, 28, hit .273 with 14 home runs and a career-high .804 OPS in 121 games with Boston this year. His youth and hitting prowess will likely make him the second-highest-paid free-agent catcher this winter after McCann.

Saltalamacchia is not known for his defense, however, and was benched in the final three games of the World Series in favor of backup David Ross. Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter, but has hit .206 with a .599 OPS from the right side in his career.

With a lefty-heavy lineup, the Phils could use a righty-hitting catcher. Like McCann, Navarro turns 30 in February. Like Saltalamacchia, he is a switch-hitter.

But Navarro's career splits are better from the right side. A .251 hitter in 10 seasons, Navarro had career highs in batting average (.300), home runs (13) and OPS (.856) in 89 games with the Cubs in 2013.

Although he's a righty hitter with power, John Buck, 33, a career .234 hitter, is probably more suited to share catching duties. This time last year, top catching prospect Tommy Joseph appeared to be on a path to reach the big leagues in 2014, but concussion issues limited him to 36 games in 2013, so the Phillies do not have a in-house candidate to share the job just yet.

Ruiz, a popular figure in the clubhouse who is lauded for his game-calling ability, would seem to be the ideal fit. Although he struggled to get his bat going after missing most of the season's first 2 months while serving a suspension (tied to Adderall use) and sitting on the disabled list (hamstring), Ruiz is a righthanded hitter who has a .295 average and .810 OPS in the last four seasons (.268 and .688 last season).

"He's still a fit," Amaro said. "It's must a matter of it takes two to tango. People have to come to agreements to get things done. We're perusing the landscape of catching right now."

On Monday, the Phillies had the opportunity to gain some sense of certainty in their vacancy at catcher by offering a qualifying offer to Ruiz. If they made Ruiz that offer, which amounted to a 1-year, $14.1 million deal, the Phillies would have waited a week to see if he'd accept or decline, while also ensuring themselves a compensatory pick at the top of next year's draft.

The Phillies declined to make Ruiz a qualifying offer, perhaps because they did not want to be budgeted to pay their catcher $14.1 million in the event he accepted.

"We had our reasons," Amaro said.

Ruiz made $5 million in 2013, the final year of a 4-year deal that paid him $13.35 million. In a market where catching demand outweighs quality free-agent supply, Ruiz could be headed for a more lucrative multiyear deal.

Ruiz' agent, Marc Kligman, did not return a phone call from the Daily News.

Ruben Amaro has been in contact recently with Roy Halladay's agent, Greg Landry, and is still interested in re-signing him. But since Halladay, 36, is coming off shoulder surgery, he isn't likely to sign anywhere until later in the offseason, when teams have a better outlook on their pitching rotations . . . Ryan Howard is in the Tampa area at work on his offseason workout program. Howard missed the majority of the last 3 months of the season recovering from knee surgery . . . Major League Baseball's general managers and owners meetings begin Monday in Orlando, Fla.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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