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Phillies give Carlos Ruiz a three-year contract that makes very little sense

Carlos Ruiz will be staying in Philadelphia, where he has spent his entire eight-year career. (Michael Perez/AP)

Carlos Ruiz, Phillies

Less than a week after signing 36-year-old rightfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year contract, the Philadelphia Phillies have re-signed veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three-year deal worth $26 million that will cover his age-35 to -37 seasons with a $4.5 million club option for 2017. On the surface, the deals are similar. Both have an average annual value of about $8 million per season (exactly that for Byrd, $8.5M for Ruiz), and provide a veteran righthanded bat to a mostly lefty-heavy lineup. However, whereas Byrd's deal made a modicum of sense for a Phillies team that continues to resist a rebuild, the Ruiz contract looks like a step too far.

As a general rule, giving 35-year-old catchers a multi-year deal is bad business because of their sharp declines. Consider this list of the most valuable expansion-era catchers age 35 to 37 by cumulative Wins Above Replacement. A league-average starter is usually worth about 2.0 bWAR per season. Since 1961, only four catchers have averaged 2.0 bWAR across their age-35 to -37 seasons. Ruiz, a late-bloomer who didn't play professional baseball in the United States until he was 21 and didn't become a major league regular until 28, compiled just 1.7 bWAR last year while missing 25 games due to a suspension for a failed drug test and another month on the DL because of a hamstring strain.

Ruiz also had his worst season at the plate since 2008, batting .268 with five home runs and a .688 OPS, revealing his power surge in 2012 (16 HRs, .935 OPS) to be a fluke. Meanwhile his walk rate, which had been a central part of his value at the plate during his prime, declined for the third-straight season, dropping from one unintentional walk every 8.5 plate appearances in 2010 to one every 20.5 PA in 2013. Ruiz does grade out as an above-average defensive catcher, but he gets no extra boost from the recent pitch-framing studies, which rate him below average in that regard, and he has been exactly average against the running game during his career.

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All of that suggests that, while Ruiz may have been an underrated player in the past, heading into his age-35 season, he doesn't have far to fall before he's little more than a replacement-level catcher. That makes his new contract, which includes a limited no-trade clause, a burden to his team. Ruiz hit .268/.320/.368 this past season, while the average major league catcher hit .245/.310/.388. Philadelphia is obviously hoping for a bounce-back, but further decline -- and more time spent on the DL -- is more likely. It may not be long before Ruiz no longer represents significant improvement on homegrown backstop Cameron Rupp, if he even does now. Rupp, who will be a 25-year-old rookie next season, has hit .258/.334/.406 in his minor league career with a high caught-stealing rate and made his major league debut this September.

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