The Red Sox were in aggressive pursuit of free agent catcher Carlos Ruiz right up until the Philadelphia Phillies offered him three guaranteed seasons for at least $26.5 million.
That’s when the Red Sox pulled away and Ruiz elected to stay with Philadelphia. His deal includes a $4.5 million team option for 2017 and yearly bonuses of $500,000 if he plays in 125 games.
For the Sox, that was too much for a catcher who will turn 35 in January and is coming off his worst offensive season since 2008. Ruiz hit .268 last season with a .688 OPS after missing 25 games serving a suspension for the use of amphetamines.
Ruiz had only 21 extra-base hits and 37 RBIs over 341 plate appearances.
Ruiz hit .303 with an .842 OPS from 2010-12. But recapturing that level of production is unlikely for an aging catcher. For the Phillies, though, there was intangible value in how well Ruiz knows their pitching staff.
The Sox were open to signing Ruiz for two years, believing he could share the duties with David Ross in 2014 and help mentor strong-armed Christian Vazquez, who ended last season with Triple A Pawtucket. Now the Sox will look elsewhere to fill that particular gap in their roster.
Ruiz, like Ross, is a righthanded hitter. That suggests the Red Sox were more concerned about defense and length of contract than creating an effective offensive platoon.
That Ruiz was deemed worth nearly $9 million annually on the open market was certainly positive news for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has hit free agency at just the right time. Saltalamacchia, 28, had an .804 OPS last season and 54 extra-base hits.
Ruiz is considered a better defensive player but Saltalamacchia made significant improvement behind the plate last season.
Saltalamacchia remains an option for the Red Sox. But he figures to command a contract at three or four years. The cost of free agent Brian McCann will be even greater. Given their free agent strategy last winter of signing players to shorter contracts with high average annual values, a McCann deal seems unlikely.
But that approach could attract A.J. Pierzynski, who turns 37 in December, or journeyman Dioner Navarro, who was productive in a part-time role for the Cubs last season.
The Red Sox do not appear to have much faith in Ryan Lavarnway, who started only 18 games last season and was used sparingly, even when Ross was on the 60-day disabled list. But Lavarnway does have supporters within the organization.
The other avenue would be making a trade. General manager Ben Cherington suggested last week that the catcher’s market would include trades. The Red Sox have veteran rotation depth and prospects that could be used as trade chips.