The Seattle Mariners made a roster move today that leaves the impression the team may be hesitant to move past certain players for personal history reasons. Despite widespread expectation that the team would part ways with either Dustin Ackley or Rickie Weeks, the Mariners chose to designate outfielder Justin Ruggiano for assignment. If Ruggiano isn’t claimed off waivers or traded within ten days, Seattle can either assign the 33-year-old to Class-AAA Tacoma or release him.
There had been a great deal of speculation about the future of Ackley and Weeks in Seattle prior to the return of outfielder Austin Jackson from the disabled list on May 25. The reigning opinion was that one of the outfielders would be designated for assignment upon Jackson’s return. Instead, the team kicked the proverbial can down the road by sending right-hander Danny Farquhar to Tacoma and delaying a move that seemed inevitable to many in the media and fans alike.
The Mariners were finally forced to make a change with their outfield after yesterday’s acquisition of outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo and pitcher Vidal Nuno in exchange for back-up catcher Welington Castillo and reliever Dominic Leone because they had to make room for their new back-up catcher from Tacoma – Jesus Sucre.
Ruggiano – who is making $2.51 million in 2015 – was acquired in the offseason to provide a right-handed bat off of the bench capable of playing all three outfield positions. His versatility was put on display when he substituted for Jackson after the center fielder was placed on the disabled list on May 3. Other than starting eight games in center field during Jackson’s absence, Ruggiano had only started in seven games in the corner outfield spots for a total of 81 plate appearances.
The Austin, Texas native has posted good numbers against left-handed pitching with a career .835 on-base plus slugging (OPS) against southpaws. Unfortunately for the 33-year-old and the Mariners, he hasn’t been nearly as productive in Seattle with a triple slash – batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage – of .214/.321/.357 during limited duty, although he continued to be effective against southpaws with a .263/.349/.474 slash.
Ruggiano appeared to be the least likely option to be dispatched because he was tied for the third highest on-base percentage on the Mariners, plus he’s able to play all three outfield spots. There were more compelling arguments available to let go of Ackley or Weeks.
The first amateur draft selection of the Jack Zduriencik era has been an enigma since his debut in 2011. Throughout his five-year career, the 27-year-old has provided glimpses of the offensive prowess that made Ackley a consensus choice to be selected number-two overall during the 2009 Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Ever since Ackley posted a .273/.348/.417 triple slash and hit a team-leading seven triples in just 90 games during his debut season, Mariners fans have been expecting the former North Carolina Tar Heel to become a pillar in Seattle’s lineup. Unfortunately for the team and Ackley, he’s been “consistently-inconsistent” throughout his career, which Prospect Insider founder and co-host of The Steve Sandmeyer Show – Jason A. Churchill – has discussed in great detail.
With the exception of his strong debut season, Ackley has only demonstrated limited bursts of productivity surrounded by longer periods of ineffectiveness. Since the start of the 2012 season, he’s been significantly below the major league average for on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in all but four months and has only been over league-average for two consecutive months once – July and August of 2014.
In an attempt to help Ackley be more effective than the 242/.304/.364 career slash he’s registered, the Mariners added the right-handed bats of Weeks and Ruggiano to face southpaws. Despite the platoon strategy, Ackley has struggled mightily during the first two months of the season with a paltry .190/.231/.331 slash after 132 plate appearances.
With Ackley earning $2.6 million in 2015 and having two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining, it’s likely that he won’t be tendered a contract for 2016 and be waived like first baseman Justin Smoak was after last season. Now seemed like the perfect opportunity to part ways.
Prior to his arrival in Seattle, the 32-year-old was a career second baseman with below average range. Weeks was originally drafted and signed by the Milwaukee Brewers when Zduriencik was working with the Brewers, so the team was familiar with Week’s skill set prior to his signing in February. Some believe that the former Milwaukee Brewer was signed as a contingency in the event that Willie Bloomquist wasn’t ready to go after having micro-surgery on his knee in 2014.
The Mariners envisioned Weeks pairing with Ackley in left field, occasionally filling-in as the designated hitter, and possibly as a right-handed option at first base. When Weeks signed with the team, Churchill discussed how the former all-star could possibly help Seattle.
Due to the struggles of Ackley, Weeks was facing more right-handed pitching than originally anticipated. He’s holding his own against southpaws, but Weeks has a .083/.214/.083 slash against right-handers. After two months in Seattle, it doesn’t appear that Weeks is good fit with the Mariners, especially after yesterday’s deal for Trumbo – who is right-handed, has more power, is experienced in the outfield and first base.
A second-effect of moving past Ruggiano is the fact that the Mariners’ first choice as back-up center fielder is Ackley and his woeful on-base percentage, while Weeks will likely see even less playing time since Trumbo is a better right-handed option at first base, left and right field, and designated hitter.
Jack Zduriencik has been the Seattle Mariners’ General Manager since October 2008 and he’s on his third manager. So, a disappointing season on the heels of winning 87 games last year and obligating over $120 million in payroll for this season could put his job in jeopardy. With that as a back drop, the Trumbo deal is likely the first of several incremental changes that the Mariners will make to help improve their offense. Unfortunately for Ruggiano, he was the roster casualty caused by this transaction
Eventually, the team may turn to several in-house options in Tacoma – James Jones, Stefen Romero, Jesus Montero, or Chris Taylor – to help the team’s offense, although all of these players have limitations and none are proven performers at the major league level – like Ruggiano.
The motivation to move on from Ruggiano couldn’t be financial since his pay is comparable to both Ackley and Weeks. Also, it’s hard to accept that the history that Zduriencik has with Ackley and Weeks would play into this decision. That’s why this move is a head-scratcher.
Unless there were internal issues that made the team sour on Ruggiano, I can’t see how the team is better off with Ackley or Weeks on the roster. Although all three players have limitations, Ruggiano provided Seattle with the most upside and versatility. That’s why the Mariners aren’t better without Ruggiano.