Free Agent Faceoff: Carlos Ruiz vs. A.J. Pierzynski

As usual, there are multiple MLB teams that could look to upgrade their backstops. The Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Phillies, among others, will enter the off-season unsettled behind the dish. Teams such as those might chase the consistent power and presence of Brian McCann, or the emergent bat and youth of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But both players look to be in line for multiple years and tens of millions of dollars.

So, let's say your team misses on McCann and Salty. Or, perhaps, it isn't willing to roll the dice on the former's balky shoulder or the latter's sudden breakout. Or maybe it sees value further down the market, among a couple of aging veterans who might just have some life left. 

The next two catchers on the list, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies and A.J. Pierzynski of the Rangers, have both passed the midway point of their fourth decades. Neither figures to command more than two years, if that, and should be had for a reasonable annual salary. And while neither probably has the on-field upside of McCann or Saltalamacchia entering 2014, each may well have more value upside and is nearly certain to carry less risk. But which is a better target? That question warrants another Free Agent Faceoff.

Fortunately, the task of evaluating these two catchers is made easier by the profiles that MLBTR recently published. Tim Dierkes analyzed the 35-year-old Ruiz, pointing to the rather remarkable .303/.388/.454 triple-slash that he posted over the 2010-12 seasons. Though he came out of the gate poorly this year after missing time due to a suspension for Adderall, over the last two months of 2013 he hit much like the Chooch of old. Ruiz is only one year removed from a 4.5 rWAR/5.2 fWAR campaign, though he has experienced a series of minor injuries over the last few years and may not be capable of manning a truly full-time load behind the plate.

Pierzynski, who was profiled by Steve Adams, has never had a year quite like Ruiz's 2012, but could be viewed as a safer, sturdier choice. As Adams notes, the 36-year-old has been incredibly durable, averaging over 130 annual games with the gear on for over a decade. And he is still hitting a ton of long balls for a catcher, though he rarely draws walks. Pierzynski is one of the least-liked opponents in the game, but then again he has drawn his fair share of praise from teammates. And even after putting up better numbers than did Ruiz in 2013 (94 OPS+ versus 90 OPS+), he might well come cheaper.

Whether by choice or by way of backup plan, which veteran backstop would you prefer to ink this off-season?




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