WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Washington Nationals and Keibert Ruiz agreed to terms on an eight-year, $50 million extension with two club options, multiple people with knowledge of the deal confirmed Friday night. The deal allows the Nationals to keep their promising young catcher in the fold for potentially the next decade.
Ruiz, 24, is entering his second full season with the Nationals after coming to the team at the 2021 trade deadline in the deal that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The switch-hitting Venezuelan hit .251 with seven home runs and 36 RBI in 112 games last year. He also threw out 20 base runners before his season ended in early September after he suffered a testicular contusion.
The contract will cover Ruiz’s next two pre-arbitration years, all three arbitration years and the first three years of free agency.
The Nationals have signed only two players to significant deals before they reached free agency: Ryan Zimmerman (twice — in 2009 and 2012) and Stephen Strasburg (2016).
The list of foundational Nationals whom the team has either declined to or been unable to sign before they hit free agency is long, ranging from shortstop Ian Desmond and pitcher Jordan Zimmermann — key pieces of the club’s first division winner — to MVP outfielder Bryce Harper and, more recently, all-stars Turner and Juan Soto, who were subsequently traded.
With the Nationals in the early stages of their rebuild, General Manager Mike Rizzo has stressed the importance of constructing the roster with an emphasis up the middle. Ruiz fits this mold, along with young pitchers Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore — all 25 or younger — whom he will help guide. Luis García and CJ Abrams, both 22, look to be the middle infield of the future at second base and shortstop. And the Nationals have a handful of young center field prospects in the minors in Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green and James Wood — all 21 or younger.
Ruiz showed the contact skills in his rookie campaign that made him one of the Dodgers’ most highly touted prospects. He made contact with 91 percent of balls in the strike zone, according to the web site Baseball Savant (the MLB average is around 82 percent). He struck out only 11.5 percent of the time, which is in the top 3 percent of baseball.
The Nationals hope Ruiz takes the next step in his development at the plate and becomes more selective. He walked just 6.9 percent of the time. And his strong contact skills sometimes resulted in swings at balls in his cold areas of the strike zone or outside of it. If he can be more selective, Ruiz and the Nationals believe that he will unlock the power many expect.
Jesse Dougherty contributed to this report.