The Phillies signed free agent backup catcher Sal Fasano to a one-year, $425,000 contract Thursday, a move that ends Todd Pratt’s tenure in Philadelphia and clears a path for rookie Carlos Ruiz.
This isn't about Todd Pratt, his contract or his age.
This isn't about Sal Fasano and his 11 home runs last season.
This have everything to do with clearing room for a young catcher.
Carlos Ruiz, the time has come.
Or at least it should.
In a news release issued by the Phillies, assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. spun it this way: "He [Fasano] will be a good complement to Mike Lieberthal. He's a winning player, which is the kind of character we are trying to bring to our club."
All spin. At best, I see Fasano beginning the year with the Phils, and at some point, being designated for assignment and assigned to Scranton. Ruiz comes up, Fasano goes down.
If you've never heard of Sal Fasano, you're not alone. The 34-year-old spent most of his career in the Triple-A circuit before something of a career year as a backup in Baltimore. If all goes as hoped, he can follow up by serving as Ruiz and Lieberthal's second-half insurance policy in Scranton where he'd be more at home. He is a minor league catcher, plain and simple. And as sad as it sounds, the Phillies actually needed Triple-A catching. Tim Gradoville and Trett Pratt, the hold-overs from Double-A Reading, hit .205 and .196 respectively.
Either way, Fasano must feel pretty good about this deal. He's a .222 career hitter in the bigs, and smacked a career-high 11 homers in 160 at-bats with the Orioles last season, batting .250 with a .785 OPS. Like Pratt, the
right-hand-hitting journeyman was great against left-handers (1.145 OPS), and got into 64
games, compared to 60 for Tank. Before that, he spent the previous two seasons in Triple-A and has bounced around the Royals, A's, Angels and Rockies organizations since 1993.
Of course, this is all speculation until I wait for tomorrow's early edition, but Fasano's signing and Pratt's apparent departure can't be about age, and really can't be about money. As backup catchers go, what’s the difference between 34 and 39 when they’re playing once or twice a week? Their production was almost identical. I didn’t see anything last season that would indicate Pratt had slowed down.
Financially, this signing saves about $500,000. Some would say Pratt actually outplayed his contract just in the way he handled Jon Lieber and the rest of the staff, but if the intention is to groom talent, why resign him?
It would be nice to keep him if only for sentimental reasons, but now I see the logic in saying goodbye. Earlier, I thought it was a good idea to resign Pratt because of all the intangibles, but good teams know when it's time to let youth prevail.
Pratt was a loyal soldier, a good catcher and a superb handler of the pitching staff. He will be missed.
Choo-Choo! Fasano who?
Carlos Ruiz earned the nickname "Chooch" by teammates in Reading, and I love it, and hope to spread it.
The soon-to-be 27-year-old Ruiz has been on the rise ever since taking over full-time catching duties two seasons ago. With the Barons, he continued the upward trend, batting .300 with 4 homers, 25 doubles and - get this - 9 triples! He did all this after suffering a broken leg in a home-plate collision and missing significant time. He's continued the hot hitting in winter ball, where at last check, he was hitting .323 for Licey of the Dominican League. In addition to offense, he was named best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America.
Chooch, who stands about 5-7 (three inches shorter than the media guide 5-10) has developed into a godsend surprise for a team that forgot to develop catching between 2002 and the present.
Offensively, he has a chance to strengthen the weakest part of the Phils offense if he can transition to the bigs. Despite a second-best NL run total (807), the Phillies were extra-base hits and doubles deficient until the final month of the season, when a September surge catapulted them to seventh in the league in extra-base knocks (484). The Phils could use a good young gapper like this.
Ruiz is setting his sites on No. 2 in the company depth charts.
As far as I'm concerned, he's already there.