The Detroit Tigers don’t have many needs as they enter the 2016-17 offseason. Sure, they could stand to upgrade at nearly every position, but so could every team in baseball. Unlike those other teams, the Tigers already have most of their roster under contract for 2017. They won’t be major players in the free agent market because they don’t have the roster spots for any big-name additions. Well, that and their $200 million payroll.
The one area where the Tigers are lacking is at catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia is likely to depart as a free agent. There are a few other options available, but the trade market could also be their avenue for filling that void. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Monday that the Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to trade catcher Carlos Ruiz, who they picked up from the Philadelphia Phillies in late August. Ruiz has a $4.5 million team option for 2017, which must be decided upon within five days after the end of the World Series.
First, the bad news. Ruiz will be 38 years old in 2017, and probably can’t withstand full-time catching duty should the player in front of him (in this case, James McCann) go down with an injury. However, Ruiz was a solid contributor in 2016, hitting .264/.365/.348 in 62 games for the Phillies and Dodgers. He has never been much of a power threat — he only has one double-digit homer season in his 11-year career — but gets on base consistently. For a catcher, a career .266 batting average and .352 on-base percentage are very impressive numbers.
Ruiz was also a plus player defensively last year, and was worth 1.7 rWAR in limited action. He has compiled 10.5 defensive WAR in his career, a number that FanGraphs’ defensive score (100.3) and Defensive Runs Saved (+43) agree with. StatCorner rated him as a slightly below average pitch framer in 2016, but his numbers have been very inconsistent from year to year.
In a vacuum, a player like Ruiz would be a good addition for the Tigers. A one-year, $4.5 million salary isn’t much for a backup catcher, and he would be a good mentor for McCann, as well as prospects like Grayson Greiner during spring training. Ruiz has also been a productive hitter throughout his career, and could be used in late-game situations as a pinch-hitter. He likely would not cost much in terms of prospects, as it’s unclear whether the Dodgers are even going to pick up Ruiz’s 2017 option.
However, there are better fits out there. Ruiz is a right-handed hitter, and while he is still competent against right-handed pitching, his platoon splits mimic McCann’s. We will break down the catching market in detail later this week, but there are a few solid free agent options with offensive splits that better complement the Tigers’ lefty-mashing starter. Saltalamacchia, Jason Castro, and former Tiger Alex Avila are three options that jump out right away, but you can squint and find a few other decent fits. Also, none of these players will cost the Tigers prospects, and should not cost much more than Ruiz’s $4.5 million salary in 2017.