Carlos Ruiz' recent 25-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program rules by taking a banned amphetamine, per CBSSports.com, is more than just discouraging news.
It is inexcusable, and it identifies Ruiz as a replaceable piece on the Phillies' roster.
That statement will likely elicit cries of anguish and/or outrage from the guy in Section 433 at Citizens' Bank Park sporting his "CHOOCH" t-shirt.
That sentiment, though, is another lingering, rotting remnant of the affection Phillies fans have fostered too long for the players involved with the Phillies' World Series championship in 2008 and their National League pennant in 2009.
That same sentiment has caused the team's fans to overrate and overstate the relative merits of the players they like. Ruiz is one of those players.
Ruiz' avid supporters will point to his 2012 All-Star appearance and his having received National League Most Valuable Player votes in each of the past three seasons as proof of his value. (Statistics per baseball-reference.com.)
Given his recent suspension, though, it is regrettable that Ruiz had—by far—his best statistical season in 2012. He was often called on to bat much higher in the order than in past seasons due the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Ruiz came through, posting a slash line of 16/68/.325 in only 114 games.
As it was happening, the fervent hope was that Ruiz was a player with a career average that had hovered around .270 "putting it all together." Given the suspension, though, the sad truth is that Ruiz' amphetamine use almost certainly enhanced his on-field performance. His 2012 line is thus tainted.
More importantly, though, the suspension raises the question of what Ruiz will do if compelled to play "clean" going forward. Ruiz will turn 34 in January; catchers especially are not known to age gracefully given the grueling physical demands of the position they play.
And while Ruiz will be eligible to participate in spring training, he will be suspended for the first month of the 2013 season. For a team that free-fell from playoff contention in late June in 2012, a fast start in 2013 will be essential. Ruiz will not be around to help.
Meanwhile, despite the generally-depleted state of the Phillies' farm system in the wake of the trades that yielded Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence and others, the one position the Phillies seem to have covered at the minor league level is catcher.
Per the Philadelphia Inquirer, touted prospects Sebastian Valle and Tommy Joseph will begin the season at AAA Lehigh Valley. As such, while Erik Kratz will likely fill in for Ruiz at the beginning of the season, Valle and Joseph will have a month to perform at the AAA level and make a case for promotion to the big club.
The Inquirer report indicates that prior to the announcement of the suspension, it was believed that the Phillies and Ruiz would negotiate a contract extension beyond 2013. That is probably not a prudent course now.
Perhaps the wisest move for the Phillies in this situation would be to examine the trade market for Ruiz. Granted, the suspension does not do much for his trade value.
But given the dearth of quality catching in Major League Baseball—per espn.go.com, the New York Yankees are being held hostage by Russell Martin, who hit .211 last season—some team is likely to see Ruiz as an upgrade over what they have behind the plate.
Perhaps this is not the best time to cite to the way the Philadelphia Eagles manage their personnel as an example to be followed. One thing the Eagles do well, though, is ignore fan loyalty when it is time to cut ties with a beloved player.
Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Jeremiah Trotter are just a handful of the players the Eagles traded or waived whose careers, while not over, were headed that way quickly. Ruiz may well fit into that category now.
Regardless, Carlos Ruiz is a replaceable part now, and the time to replace him may be sooner than anyone thought a week ago.
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