Ruiz' Decision Opens Door Behind The Plate

Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has had a change of heart in regards to the World Baseball Classic. After initially saying he wouldn't play, Ruiz now has decided to take a position with Panama for the WBC. His decision could change the Phillies catching situation.

There are some tough decisions for players to make thanks to the World Baseball Classic. Carlos Ruiz is one of those players who has struggled with the decision whether to play for Panama or stay in camp with the Phillies. After initially deciding not to play in the WBC, Ruiz was approached by a number of officials from the Panamanian team, he has changed his mind and informed the Phillies that he would be leaving camp to play for Panama.

The decision could prompt an interesting situation in camp, with Ruiz not exactly having a stranglehold on the catcher's position.

Over the winter, the Phillies brought in Ronny Paulino from the Pittsubrgh Pirates, in exchange for minor league catcher Jason Jaramillo. Paulino, who has struggled with conditioning issues throughout his career, has reportedly put himself on a strict regimen and will likely show up in camp in the best condition of his career.

Perhaps Paulino's decreased role with the Pirates last season - he played in just 40 games - and the off-season trade to the Phillies has given him a wake-up call. After hitting .310 in 2006 and hitting a career-high 11 home runs in 2007, Paulino lost his starting job and sank horribly in 2008. In Philadelphia though, Paulino could have a new, and possibly, his last, lease on life in the majors. This could be the year that he delineates himself between being a major league regular or just a journeyman catcher.

If competition from Paulino isn't enough, there's Lou Marson, who has at least an outside shot at winning a spot on the big league roster. While it's likely that the Phillies catcher of the future will spend much of the summer with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, it's not out of the question that he could pick up a spot with the Phillies. If he does stick with the club, he would likely be their everyday catcher, rather than sitting on the bench to backup whoever would be the starter. Regular playing time is a necessity for Marson right now and no matter which level he's at in 2009, the Phillies will be sure to get him a good number of at bats.

Perhaps the most interesting player in the catching battle is Chris Coste. Coste, who will be 36 by the time he reports to camp, could be fighting for a variety of roles. He could maintain his backup catching role, but with the addition of Paulino, that's not likely. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, who is looking for a right-handed bat off the bench as we speak, has said that Coste could potentially be that guy. Besides catching, Coste has also played some third base and first base and could conceivably play in the outfield as well.

No matter who wins the starting job this spring, odds are that they will just be keeping the spot warm for Marson. While he could use a little more seasoning in the minors, Marson figures to officially battle for the spot in 2010, if he doesn't win it outright this spring. With Ruiz' spot in the starting lineup not written in stone, his absence could make him vulnerable. A good spring by Paulino or Marson and Ruiz could at least find himself backing up one of those two once the season begins. Unless he has another change of mind - which he says won't happen - Ruiz is making a difficult decision that he'll have to live with during his major league career.

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