If you had to guess which teams would be making eight-year deals this winter, the Nationals probably wouldn’t have been at the top of your list. However, on Friday night, they settled for just that: an eight-year extension. The recipient, equally surprising: Keibert Ruiz. The deal is worth $50 million and comes with two club options that could keep the young catcher in Washington until 2032. The full financial terms of the contract have yet to be disclosed, but it comes with a signing bonus and reportedly front loadedgiving Ruiz a significant raise for the upcoming season.
In both length and value, this is one of the longest extensions ever given to a player with less than two years of service time. Other players signing similarly large deals with as little MLB experience include Michael Harris II (last August), Ke’Bryan Hayes (last April) and Corbin Carroll (this past weekend). Harris and Hayes, however, had longer and/or better track records, and Carroll is a big-time prospect with superstar potential. Ruiz had a solid season in 2022, but has yet to prove he can be more than average at the major league level.
Career WAR in a time of expansion
|Michael Harris II||71||2.7||6.2|
Ruiz is also an unusual candidate for this type of extension because of his position. Because of the day-to-day stiffness and ever-present risk of injury from bending over behind the plate, catchers typically don’t receive long-term offers. It is especially rare for a team to make such a big commitment to a catcher before he has established his durability over several seasons. An eight-year deal for a 24-year-old catcher with only 143 games of MLB experience is unprecedented.
But beyond any unusualness, it’s easy to see why this deal was hijacked by both parties. Ruiz, for his part, gets $50 million. That’s enough to buy 50 million songs on iTunes, spend 50,000 days at Disneyland, or pay the ransom of Dr. Evil 50 times. It’s the kind of wealth that’s hard to pass up, especially for a player who wasn’t offered a huge bonus as an international free agent. signed for $140,000 in 2014;
On the other hand, ZiPS projects Ruiz to be worth 2.5 WAR in both of his remaining pre-arb seasons. a player of that caliber would likely make around $20 million over the next five years. Essentially, Ruiz sacrificed the first three years of his free agent eligibility in exchange for $30 million, give or take. That’s what a 32-year-old Christian Vázquez earned this winter after a 1.6 WAR season. a 29-year-old Ruiz would likely fetch more on the open market in 2028.
Ruiz is not stupid. he knows he’s leaving money on the table. But $50 million is life-changing stuff, and there’s a lot that will have to happen between now and 2028 for him to make big money as a free agent, especially given the position he plays. Can’t fault the guy who got the offer. I would do the same.
As for the Gentiles, the risk is relatively low. While they will give Ruiz a significant raise for his pre-Aracheian years, they will also keep their costs down going forward. If Ruiz becomes a key member of their next great core, he will do so with a luxury tax salary of just $6.25 million and a real salary cap 9 million dollars. If that next big core never develops, Ruiz should be easily tradable thanks to the low AAV of his deal.
While Ruiz has yet to prove he can be an everyday player on a competitive team, his floor is already high. His ability to carry in the minors was a great ability to put the ball in play, and he has proven that he can make plenty of contact against MLB bullpen as well. In 537 career plate appearances, all since 2020 and most coming last year, he has a 6.7% walk rate and an 11.5% strikeout rate. Only six players (min. 500 PA) have a lower K%+B% over the same span, and only three — Luis Arraez, José Iglesias and Nick Madrigal — have a better wRC+. Granted, his 93 wRC+ isn’t anything to brag about, but it’s still above average for a backstop. And he can become a better player if he improves his plate discipline or develops his power. Even if he never reaches his ceiling, he won’t be a liability at the bottom of the batting order.
Ruiz’s defense, meanwhile, looks perfectly serviceable. Reports of his glove were mixed in his prospect days. Our own Eric Longenhagen, writing about Ruiz in 2021, called him a “skills over tools” backstop but also a “capable defender,” though he noted that he was higher in framing Ruiz than others. However, he was down on Ruiz’s blocking, describing him as “a casual, low-effort blocker who preferred to rely on his hands to pick up ground balls rather than be mobile and throw his body in front of the baseball. .” So it’s especially encouraging that blocking now looks like Ruiz’s biggest strength in the majors, at least according to Statcast’s newest metric, Blocks Above Average:
Ruiz behind the plate
|23rd percentile||76th percentile||25th percentile|
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
In addition to his skills on the field, Ruiz has begun to cultivate a reputation as a clubhouse leader. That’s an advantage we don’t talk about much around these parts because it’s impossible to quantify, but it’s a skill that clubs clearly value in their backstops. Manager Dave Martinez praised Ruiz’s leadership skills, as did top prospect Cade Cavalli. With all of that in mind, it’s a pretty safe bet that Ruiz will remain a capable championship hitter throughout the duration of his deal. Even if he never takes another step forward, it would hardly be the end of the world to pay him $6.25 million per year through his age-32 season.
The Nationals and their fans don’t have much to look forward to in 2023. The team ranks in the bottom five in projected WAR (according to the Depth Charts) at seven different positions and no higher than 23rd anywhere on the diamond. (As it happens, again per Depth Charts, the projected WAR leader for the Nationals in 2023 is… Keibert Ruiz.) Even worse, Washington is stuck in a highly competitive NL East, against which they went 17–59 (.224) last season. Our playoff odds: an incredible 0.0%.
The future looks brighter. The Nationals have five prospects on the 2023 top 100 list: James Wood, Cavalli, Elijah Green, Brady House and Robert Hassell III. Several players on their 40-man roster are recent graduates from prospect status, including Ruiz, CJ Abrams, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Luis García. That’s a potential core to tap into, and there should be plenty of salary cap space to fill out the homegrown talent when the time is right. It’s unclear whether the franchise’s eventual new ownership will be as willing to pay the luxury tax as the Lerner family has been in the past, but right now, Washington is $100 million under the CBT threshold. there is room for growth.
The upcoming season will be tough for the Nationals, but they clearly believe they have found their catcher of the future and are checking a box off a long rebuilding list. As for Ruiz? He has 50 million iTunes tracks to buy.