The Seattle Mariners added another right-handed bat to their roster today with the acquisition of outfielder Justin Ruggiano from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for minor league pitcher Matt Brazis. The former Cub had a .281/.337/.429 triple slash during an injury-plagued 2014.
Intense trade rumors have swirled around the Mariners for the past 24 hours after Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reported that the Seattle was close to trading for a hitter.
Hearing rumblings that the #mariners are closing in on a trade for a hitter.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 16, 2014
Although it’s uncertain if a larger deal is imminent, adding Ruggiano definitely addresses an area of need for Seattle; outfield depth and value. Since the end of the season, Seattle has parted ways with free agents Endy Chavez and Chris Denorfia and traded Michael Saunders to the Toronto Blue Jays. On top of that, recently-signed Nelson Cruz is expected to be the primary designated hitter in 2015 and will only play the outfield sparingly.
The departure of Chavez, Denorfia, and Saunders provides General Manager Jack Zduriencik with an opportunity to upgrade a Mariners outfield that ranked near the bottom of the American League in 2014. Although Ruggiano only provided substitute-level value in 2014, Saunders and Dustin Ackley were the only Seattle outfielders who exceeded his .4 fWAR.
Ruggiano, who is capable of playing all three outfield positions, provides manager Lloyd McClendon with additional roster flexibility. In 2014, he played 38 games in the corner outfield spots, while patrolling centerfield for 18 games. He could be used as a part of a right field platoon or team with Ackley in left.
The Austin, Texas native can also serve as a right-handed bat off of the bench; he had a .296 batting average during 29 pinch hitting appearances in 2014. Ruggiano has hit second thru ninth in the batting order, although nearly half of his 2014 plate appearances were in the two hole, posting a .327 batting average.
Throughout his relatively short major league career, Ruggiano has performed well against left-handed pitching with a career .836 on-base plus slugging (OPS). He continued that success against southpaws in 2014 with a.305/.333/.512 triple slash, while posting a respectable .268/.340/.380 against righties.
The 32-year-old has made several trips to the disabled list (DL) during his career. In 2011, he lost 23 games to knee bursitis. In 2014, he had two stints on the DL missing 66 games due to groin, hamstring, and ankle issues. The ankle injury led to season-ending surgery in August.
Entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, Ruggiano is projected to make $2.5 million after earning $2 million in 2014. His addition will be more costly Denorfia ($2.1 million in 2014) and Chavez ($750,000).
Justin Ruggiano isn’t going to replace Michael Saunders and he isn’t the offensive boost that the Mariners or their fans desire. But, he is a younger and better version of Denorfia and Chavez and he’ll improve the outfield’s depth and overall value provided he recovers well from his ankle surgery.