Philadelphia Phillies: Early Winners and Losers from Offseason Shake-Ups
The Philadelphia Phillies were among the earliest teams to warm their hands at Major League Baseball's hot stove.
Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz received multiyear, long-dollars deals from the Phillies, who doubled down on experienced (old?) right-handed hitters to complement their experienced (old?) left-handed hitters.
Since the Ruiz signing was announced, the Phillies have gone more or less radio silent. Unless, that is, you think Reid Brignac is going to put pressure on Jimmy Rollins at shortstop.
As such, the winners and losers on the Phillies roster are for the most part fairly obvious.
Winner: Carlos Ruiz
Ruiz received a three-year, $26 million contract from the Philadelphia Phillies. That makes Ruiz a winner in the most basic sense.
Whether the deal makes any sense, though, is the subject of real conjecture.
On one side of the argument are pundits like ESPN.com's Keith Law (subscription required), who opined that "giving Carlos Ruiz, a 34-year-old catcher with platoon problems who's coming off a PED suspension a three-year deal is absolute lunacy."
The not-so-vocal minority view of the Ruiz contract was spelled out by David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News, who noted that "Ruiz was the only catcher who made sense for them, for a variety of reasons."
Ruiz has 26 million reasons not to care what anyone thinks of this contract.
That's a lot of reasons.
Losers: Every Phillies Catching Prospect
It was not that long ago that even the analysts who bemoaned the strip-mining of the Phillies minor league system in the Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee trades of yore conceded that the Phillies were well-stocked at catcher.
Entering 2013, Ruiz's contract was set to expire at the end of the season, and the Phillies had prospects like Sebastian Valle and Tommy Joseph in line to take the job in 2014.
Then last season, Cameron Rupp earned a September call-up.
Which, in truth, was the problem. Rupp earned the September call-up in large part because neither Valle nor Joseph did.
That the Phillies saw fit to give Ruiz $26 million in new money after his mediocre 2013 season tells you all you need to know about what the Phillies really think of Valle, Joseph and Rupp.
Winner: Marlon Byrd
Byrd's $16 million contract will keep him in the Philadelphia Phillies outfield for two years. Any 36-year-old career journeyman outfielder who can get that kind of financial commitment has to be considered a winner.
As Cliff Corcoran of MLB.SI.com wrote, Byrd figures to "serve as a much-needed source of righthanded power, though there is ample reason to doubt his ability to repeat the career year he just had."
But the Phillies probably do not expect that from Byrd. They are more likely focused on how "the righthanded Byrd is a particularly good fit for the Phillies given their lefty-heavy lineup," per Corcoran.
Someone has to hit after Chase Utley. That someone projects to be Byrd for the foreseeable future.
Loser: Darin Ruf
The $16 million contract the Phillies gave Byrd had to be disappointing news to Darin Ruf.
Especially since the reason the Phillies had for signing Byrd—they needed a power-hitting right-handed outfielder—was the sort of thing Ruf was supposed to be able to help with.
Ruf followed up a promising 2012 September call-up with more-than-respectable power numbers in 73 major league games in 2013. Ruf hit 14 home runs in only 251 at-bats.
Unfortunately for Ruf, he also hit just .247 and struck out 91 times in those same 251 at-bats. Simple math tells you that those rates project to well over 200 punch-outs were Ruf to get the 600 at-bats some regulars get in a full season.
The Phillies did not see the potential for Ruf's average to rise to an acceptable level. For a player entering his age-27 season, that is just short of a death sentence for Ruf's potential to ever become a regular starter in Philadelphia.
Winner: Ryan Howard
The signings of Ruiz and Byrd tacitly made Ryan Howard even more of a winner than the $85 million he is guaranteed in the next three years already did.
By committing $42 million to aging veterans like Ruiz and Byrd, the Phillies further underscored their commitment to Howard as the centerpiece of their offense. Ruiz and Byrd were certainly signed to provide right-handed balance to the left-handed power of Howard, Domonic Brown and Utley.
The Ruiz and Byrd signings also served to marginalize Ruf, who some have suggested should be part of a first base platoon with Howard.
As noted by CSNPhilly.com, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. continues to hope against hope that Howard can give the Phillies the cleanup threat they have sorely lacked as he has struggled with injury.
"There’s no question that Ryan Howard is an integral part of our club. Having him in the middle of the lineup and producing for us is absolutely imperative," said Amaro recently.
Given Howard's absurd contract, Amaro has no other realistic option but to hope for the best.