To Chooch or Not to Chooch

Ruiz set career-highs in 2012 in eight offensive categories. Did Adderall aid that?

Ruiz set career-highs in 2012 in eight offensive categories. Did Adderall aid that?

Once the season ends, or perhaps even at the July 31 trade deadline, the Phillies will be forced to deal with harsh realities. Several players who were integral parts of the teams’ run to the 2008 World Series could be on the move. It’s not out of the question to think the 2014 Phillies could be without Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz.

Let’s focus on Ruiz. He’s was slowly working his way back to normalcy after a rough start following a 25-game suspension to begin the year. Then, he blew a tire going first-to-third in a game against the Reds last weekend and is now on the DL for 3-to-4 weeks.

The use of Adderall, for which he was suspended, tells me one thing; that he’s slowing down.  And inevitably, when a catcher slows down, it usually isn’t pretty. Ruiz was looking for an advantage and felt he could get one with the use of this banned substance. Without that aid, what does the future hold for Chooch?

For one, he’ll be 35 when next season rolls around. His .325 average last season appears to be an aberration, but we’ll know more about that after the year is complete. With 16 games and 51 at-bats under his belt this year, Ruiz is hitting .235. One thing Chooch has been known for is his ability to get on base and not strike out. His .361 career OBP is fantastic and would be sorely missed in a lineup that struggles with that idea. Even if his bat slows a bit, he still has shown to have a solid grasp of the strike zone.

What’s the alternative? The free agent landscape will not be kind to the Phillies, so forget that. If Ruiz does not come back, they’ll go in-house. Tommy Joseph is the clear heir apparent to the catching kingdom in Philly.

At Triple-A, Joseph is hitting just .209 in 21 games. His plate discipline is also a work-in-progress, as he’s whiffed 15 times times over 71 plate appearances. Joseph will display power – he has 52 home runs in four seasons in the minor leagues – but it is a sacrifice for consistency at the plate. Joseph’s durability has also been an issue this season, as he still has not been cleared to play after suffering a concussion on May 4.

The numbers say his bat is not quite ready, but again, we’ll have to see the full picture. According to scouting reports, he is a decent receiver, which can also make up for a lack of bat. However, this year, Joseph is dealing with a bout of passed balls. With eight all of last season, he’s got nine in 21 games in 2013. His caught stealing rate is also down to 22 percent from 48 percent a year ago. In Philly, if you don’t present the full package of goods, the fans won’t stand for it.

What that tells me is Joseph likely won’t be ready in the near future, so another year of grooming is possible. That leads us to 2014 behind the plate for the Phillies.

Money is an issue when it comes to Ruiz. What will he command? He’ll obviously want a multi-year deal, but I can’t even begin to assume what sort of money he would get. Two years, $10 million? Three years, $15 million? More? Less? It might be smart for the Phillies to offer him a one-year, incentive laden deal instead of getting themselves locked into yet another multi-year contract. Plus, you’d have to assume one of the catchers in the system would be ready after another year.

If Chooch demands more and won’t take a one-year deal, maybe the Phillies look into a platoon. It’s not idea, but it could save millions in the long run.

There’s still plenty of time for Ruben Amaro and his boys to figure this out. However, it’s another position where there could be turnover, and with the way this team is treading water, it’s something we need to think about and keep on the radar throughout the year. The possibility that someone other than the much-beloved Chooch behind the plate could be a reality.

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