For the last handful of years, it’s been a foregone conclusion that any time the Nationals unlock a star player, they’re destined to leave the team sooner than anyone who follows the club would prefer to see.
Bryce Harper walked away at the end of his contract. So did Anthony Rendon. Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and most recently Juan Soto were traded away. Plenty of other talented players left when there were clearly productive seasons still ahead of them, as well.
At last, the franchise might be rewriting the narrative.
Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reported Friday night that the Nationals had agreed to a contract extension with catcher Keibert Ruiz.
Ruiz would’ve been under club control for the next five seasons. The new contract secures him for three additional years, along with two option years at the team’s discretion. Through the duration of the eight base years, Ruiz is now slated to earn a total of $50 million.
There were some tea leaves to be traced earlier this offseason. Ruiz switched agencies from Scott Boras – the devil himself, who most of the aforementioned players were represented by – to Octagon. In doing so, Ruiz significantly increased his likelihood of signing a contract extension prior to reaching free agency.
The Nationals capitalized on this opportunity and locked up one of their more important players.
At 24 years old, Ruiz has played 143 games in the major leagues, most of which came last season – his first full season in Washington’s organization after being acquired in a blockbuster trade that sent Scherzer and Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021.
At the time of the trade, Ruiz – along with pitcher Josiah Gray, who was acquired in the same trade – was regarded as one of the better minor league prospects in the sport, but was blocked by productive veteran players at his position in Los Angeles.
Since arriving in Washington, Ruiz has been viewed as one of the Nationals’ more marketable players, due in large part to what he’s been projected to become in the future.
In truth, Ruiz is a solid player in the present. He’s been a league-average hitter at a defensive-premium position throughout his short time as a major leaguer. In 2022, Fangraphs graded him as a 1.7 wins above replacement (WAR) player – meaning that he was worth nearly two wins compared to a standard catcher.
Fangraphs and other outlets expect his production to improve in 2023 for a few reasons. First, he consistently makes bat-to-ball contact. His strikeout rate (11.5 percent) is barely above half the league-average rate. Likewise, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of below 2-to-1 is considerably better than the league-wide rate. In essence, he’s a very disciplined hitter – particularly among those his age.
He could also be considered somewhat unlucky. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is nearly 30 points below average. With any positive regression, he’ll become a more productive hitter by traditional metrics. Much the same can be said for his power-hitting potential, which pundits all expect to further materialize in future seasons.
Up until now, Keibert Ruiz has been a run of the mill starting catcher. That’s more than acceptable for a player as young as he is, and it’s almost certain to improve.
If Ruiz even stays as productive as he’s been thus far, he would be well worth the $6.25 million average annual value of his contract.
If, however, Ruiz reaches his All-Star potential, it would set the Nationals up very well towards a successful rebuilding effort.
Regardless, we now know who will be behind the plate to catch Nationals pitchers for the foreseeable future. Particularly as more young arms reach the majors, that type of consistency is vital as a stabilizing force. Ruiz will also be able to continue his growth with up-and-comers like Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Cade Cavalli – each of whom have already reached the major leagues and figure to be fixtures of Washington’s pitching staff for years to come.
Now that Ruiz has signed his extension, however, a new question emerges: Could the Nationals convince shortstop CJ Abrams – who is represented by Roc Nation, not Scott Boras – to do the same? And what about second baseman Luis Garcia, who also cut ties with Boras earlier this offseason? As Bobby Blanco of MASN Sports suggested following the Ruiz announcement, he may not be the only young player the Nationals lock up long term in the near future.