"Chooch" had a career year at the dish in 2012.
If you're a Philly sports fan, then you're likely not having the best winter. The Eagles are horrific, the Sixers are underwhelming everyone (thanks to new center Andrew Bynum, who might not even play this year), and the Flyers haven't played a game yet thanks to the NHL lockout. In other words, it's been a tough few weeks for fans of winter sports.
And with the exception of the whole “not making the playoffs” thing, the Phillies seemed to be above the fray. Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn't given out a huge contract yet, and everything is looking like it could shape up nicely for 2013.
Until, that is, news broke that catcher Carlos Ruiz would be suspended for 25 games next season due to violating MLB's drug policy.
Ruiz tested positive for Adderall, according to two league sources, an amphetamine commonly used to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall is classified as a banned stimulant -- not a steroid -- under MLB's policy. The suspension was triggered by Ruiz's second positive test for the stimulant.
The catcher, who was one of the few bright spot in 2012 thanks to a breakout offensive season that saw him put up a .325/.394/.540 line, along with career highs in just about every category, was, at times, the only source of offense.
And in light of the fact that this isn't Ruiz's first positive test (the first is kept private, does not result in a suspension, and results in more tests), we are left with more questions than answers. Was that truly the first time? Did he do it on purpose? Were his numbers last year the product of a performance-enhancing drug? What does this mean for him next season?
I'm no expert on Adderall, so I can't speak to its efficiency as far as enhancing one's performance, but you could draw a line from Ruiz's usage to his 2012 performance. At least, that's what the critics will say, even if the corollary is non-existent. Who knows, maybe it had zero effect on his performance last season, but we can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. From now until the end of his career, and beyond, everyone is going to wonder whether or not that performance was real. Now, the only way to minimize that line of questioning is to do it again in 2013. No small task, I'm afraid.
It's a shame, to be sure. Chooch is one of the more beloved players on the team, thanks not only to his recent offensive prowess, but because of the rapport that he seemed to have with every single pitcher on the staff thanks to his dogged preparation and excellent game-calling skills.
With Ruiz out of the picture for a month, the team will likely turn to veteran (mostly minor leaguer) Erik Kratz to shoulder the workload. The 32-year-old had a breakout season, as well, with nine homers and 26 RBIs to go along with an .809 OPS in 50 games. If he can be in the neighborhood of that performance next year, then the brief loss of Ruiz should be negligible. Even then, Ruiz figured to hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup, meaning they'll have to go with a sub-optimal lineup until he can return. All told, they should be alright until he can play.
The silver lining here, if there is to be one, is that a 25-game suspension is little more than a slap on the wrist. It's less than a month's worth of games, which means that Ruiz will be eligible to return to the lineup as early as April 28, when the Phillies visit the Mets in New York. And, who knows, 25 games off at the beginning of the season might be a good thing for a catcher. Too bad it had to be this way, however.
As big a blow this is to Chooch and the team, it's almost worse for the fans. Thankfully, we haven't had to deal with any of the PED drama (with the exception of J.C. Romero in 2009 and Freddy Galvis last season) during their recent run of success, but the Ruiz suspension turns that on its ear. I'm sure the fans will embrace Chooch when he returns, but it's never a good feeling when the player testing positive for drugs is one of your own.