November 18, 2013

Catcher conundrum causes concern.

In 2004, the Philadelphia Phillies selected Jason Jaramillo in the second round of the MLB Draft. In the fourth round, the team chose Lou Marson. Travis D'Arnaud was their supplemental first round choice in 2007, and Sebastian Valle was signed out of Mexico that same year. Cameron Rupp was their third-round pick in 2010. Tommy Joseph was the "crown jewel" of the Hunter Pence trade.

These catchers have logged a combined 38 plate appearances for the Phillies, and today Carlos Ruiz was signed to a three-year, $26 million contract at the age of 35. This is not a coincidence.

I'm not here to slander Ruiz or his fancy new deal -- for the most part I agree with David Cameron's take -- but to chastise the Phillies for having one decade to develop a new catcher and utterly failing at the modest task that was their charge. Bill Baer touched on this very topic earlier today; minus D'Arnaud, who's been gone for quite a while, the luster has faded on every single one of those once-touted prospects.

Granted, Marson and D'Arnaud were part of the packages that brought in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. And most prospects bottom out eventually; only a chosen few end up contributing in the majors. But it's still relatively jarring to consider the resources dedicated toward grooming the catcher of the future and how empty the cupboard turned out to be when the team needed it the most.

I'm certain the plan was to amicably part ways with Ruiz in late 2013 and allow either Valle or Joseph to assume the starting job, but Valle's struggles and Joseph's concussions quickly changed that tune. Rupp had four hits in 14 at-bats near the end of 2013, but the 25-year-old has practically no experience above single-A ball (Darin Ruf alert!). For a team with no choice but to pretend that they can compete in 2014, the only realistic option was to meet Ruiz's demands.

I can't help but be reminded of December 2010. Much like now, the plan was to let Jayson Werth receive a much-deserved payday elsewhere and fill the hole in right field with a cheap, talented prospect. But that prospect (Domonic Brown) did not impress management in his 210 plate appearances. Eventually it was decided that some combination of Brown, Ben Francisco and John Mayberry was not going to suffice. Ignoring that the Phillies were, at the time, the best team in baseball, two top prospects (Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart) were traded for Hunter Pence. And we all know how that story ends...curiously enough, with the aforementioned Joseph.

The Ruiz deal isn't the exact same scenario; unlike Werth, I'd define what it took to keep him around as "understandably excessive." And their other options at the position, both internal and external, were either nonexistent or highly unsavory. There was no Dom Brown to even try out in this scenario, let alone ignore.

But it's yet another check mark in the negative column for an organization that hasn't been able to develop talent for quite a while. Spending for middling free agents (or overspending on your own) is exactly the mindset that helped the Phillies devolve from contender to pretender. Carlos Ruiz will be a plus in 2014 and (hopefully) beyond, but the fact that he had to return at all can only be described as a serious minus.

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