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Phillies bank on Ruiz's return to form

General manager Amaro takes chance with catcher's three-year, $26 million deal

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged the risks Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies formally announced they had signed Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million contract. It includes a $4.5 million club option or a $500,000 buyout for 2017. Ruiz can make an additional $500,000 per season if he starts 125 games, something he has never accomplished in his eight-year career.

The deal gives the Phils stability behind the plate and a desperately needed right-handed bat in the lineup. Ruiz carried a combined .829 OPS from 2009-12, which ranked second among 13 qualifying catchers in baseball. Only Minnesota's Joe Mauer -- who is being converted to a first baseman next season -- was better, with an .891 OPS. But Ruiz also turns 35 in January, opened last season on the 25-game suspended list for using a banned stimulant ( recently reported he has received a medical exemption for Adderall), suffered his worst season at the plate since 2008 and has been on the disabled list each of the previous five seasons.

"Clearly this is a commitment that will be scrutinized, but when we start talking about this position and the dearth of quality in this position, I know that Chooch knows what it takes to be a championship-caliber player, to bring a championship to this city," Amaro said. "Clearly we know he's caught the last pitch of a season and how important that is. And with the marketplace the way it was and I think with the ability that he's going to bring to the table, he keeps himself in very good shape, he's dedicated to this sport, he's dedicated to this craft and he's really developed into one of the leaders of our club. All of those factors are part of some of the decisions that we make. Is it a risk to put three years into a catcher at this stage of his career? It can be, yes. But I think every signing is a risk. We hope that he's productive throughout the three years and more."

Ruiz's signing has been known since Monday, which has had Philadelphia fans asking one very important question the past few days:

Will the Phillies do anything else to improve the lineup? In the past couple of weeks, they have committed $16 million to Marlon Byrd and $26 million to Ruiz. They have players set at every other position. So unless the Phils trade somebody, it seems Byrd and Ruiz could be Amaro's two biggest moves to improve a lineup that scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball last season.

The rest of the lineup includes first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, third baseman Cody Asche, left fielder Domonic Brown and center fielder Ben Revere.

"It is possible," Amaro said about more offensive improvements. "We've had a lot of dialogue with a lot of clubs. We've kept our minds and our eyes open as far as our lineup is concerned. We hope to try to continue to improve it, or change it, somehow."

Byrd (36), Ruiz (35), Utley (35), Rollins (35) and Howard (34) will each be 34 or older on Opening Day.

"I think we can win," Amaro said. "It's really a matter of getting the guys on the field. If they're on the field, they will produce. Unless something drastic happens over the next several months, I fully expect these guys to be on the field and performing.

"I also think we have some better depth because we have some kids who got a chance to play last year. If we do have breakdowns, I think we have better depth to fill in some spots. Yes, they're older, but they're also very good when they're playing. That's important. I think it was [Yankees general manager] Brian Cashman who said, 'I don't care about the age so long as they're good.' I believe in our players even though the core group is getting older. There's no question about that. I can't deny that. We hope to get them on the field. And if they're on the field, they'll produce."

If Ruiz returns to form, he could help the lineup. He posted a .795 OPS in his final 43 games last season.

"Last year was a rough year that I don't want to go into too much," Ruiz said. "But my 25-game suspension, it was a tough year for me. But that's over, and I'm back to working hard like I always do, then come back next year and do better."

Ruiz said he is excited about the future.

"This is the place I want to be," Ruiz said. "Now I'm here. I'm happy, definitely for my family, too. I'll do my best to help the team win. ... I'm going to enjoy each day from today until I finish my career."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for
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