The Phillies have a multitude of roster-related problems to solve this offseason, as Ian Riccaboni pointed out, but the catching situation is perhaps the most interesting. Carlos Ruiz is set to become a free agent, and while his early struggles rendered his return less likely, his .330/.375/.536 line since August 1 makes him an attractive option. While prospects Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle have disappointed, Cameron Rupp earned a September call-up, Gabriel Lino posted decent context-neutral numbers in Low-A as a 20-year old, and the Phils are very high on second-round pick Andrew Knapp.
It’s possible that Rupp or Knapp seizes the catching reins as soon as 2015 but that still leaves next year as a question mark. While the Phillies have been major players in free agency in recent years, the upcoming catching crop is fairly thin, and is loaded with career backups. Trades for starting catchers are also fairly rare as it’s a tough position to develop and maintain.
All things considered, the ideal situation is to retain Carlos Ruiz for one more season.
With Rupp and Knapp on the horizon and a rebuild in order it’s not prudent to re-sign Chooch to a multi-year deal. However, it’s likely that he will receive a multi-year offer from someone else, as one of the top two free agent catchers.
Extending Ruiz the qualifying offer would seemingly solve the problem on both sides. If he accepts, having him around for 1 yr/$14 million isn’t the worst thing in the world. After all, the Phillies problem is typically guaranteeing too many years, whereas I would have gladly paid certain players more money per annum if the deals were shorter. If he declines, the Phillies will at least receive some form of compensation when he departs for greener pastures. If he declines, they can pair a prospect with a veteran backup and go from there.
While Ruiz served a suspension earlier in the year and struggled out of the gate, he has torn up the league lately and remains atop the list of free agent catchers. From 2011-13, his 9.7 WAR leads the group by a relatively healthy margin over Brian McCann‘s 8.4.
While it’s easy to assume that Ruiz’s advantage stems from McCann’s health issues in recent years, consider that the latter has actually played in 14 more games over this three-year span. Since 2011, Ruiz has his .297/.369/.440, with a +5 fielding rating. McCann is at .256/.331/.447, with a +6 rating behind the plate. These are, statistically, the top two free agent catchers this offseason. McCann will absolutely sign a multi-year deal but the Phillies have no need to sign another aging player to a big deal. McCann is also a lefty and the Phils are loaded with them.
After Ruiz and McCann comes A.J. Pierzynski (old, left-handed) at 6.1 WAR and Jarrod Saltalamacchia at 5.9 WAR. Salty is young, and while he has had a decent season, he isn’t particularly great at anything. Though he switch-hits, he strikes out 30% of the time.
Then the list gets pretty ugly, with guys like John Buck, Geovany Soto, Kelly Shoppach and Kurt Suzuki, before giving way to the ugliness that is Ramon Hernandez, Humberto Quintero, Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Brayan Pena, and basically anyone else you would associate with being Greg Maddux‘s personal catcher if he were still around.
Ruiz represents the best option of all these players, even if he remains a .280/.330/.390 hitter moving forward. That bat has plenty of value when coupled with his upper echelon defensive skills and game-calling, and while $14 million is slightly higher than the value of the 2-2.5 WAR he figures to provide, it’s not that outlandish, all things considered. If it means retaining a solid backstop without hindering the development of prospects who could legitimately take over the role the following season, the qualifying offer is absolutely worth extending.
And just remember, if he declines, there are worse things than pairing Rupp with, say, Gerald Laird for a year before reevaluating the situation. Chooch realistically doesn’t have much of a future with the Phillies, but if he’s willing to accept a one-year deal, that willingness is absolutely worth the difference between the $10-$11 million in projected value and the $14 million qualifying offer.