Justin Ruggiano For Basically Free

Jeff Sullivan · December 17, 2014 at 11:28 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The Cubs are trying to contend right now. I think that’s become pretty clear, with the moves that they’ve already made. If you examine the Cubs’ current roster, I think it’s fairly evident they could use some help in the outfield. Okay, so, file that away.

Have you ever heard of Matt Brazis? Had you ever heard of him before today? I don’t know anything about Matt Brazis, and I’m sure he’s a great guy, but the people to whom Brazis is most important have nothing at all to do with major league baseball. Brazis has never been on the organizational radar. I should note that, by the way, Brazis was in the Mariners’ system. He’s not anymore. He’s the guy the Cubs just accepted, in exchange for Justin Ruggiano.

That feels like a data point. The Mariners just filled a need in trade, and they did so for basically nothing, getting a guy who might’ve helped the team he was already on. That tells you something about how the Cubs viewed Ruggiano, and that can’t be ignored, but we can proceed only with what we know and what we know is that Ruggiano appears like a fine short-term fit with the roster the Mariners have built.

He’s right-handed, so, check. He’s a versatile outfielder, so, check. He’s relatively inexpensive, so, check. Ruggiano isn’t Justin Upton, and he’s not even close. This isn’t the sexy acquisition so many people have been hoping for. Ruggiano shouldn’t even be a starter. But, again: the Mariners didn’t need one outfielder. They needed to find two. Ruggiano’s one, and I think Brad Miller turns into the other.

Maybe the Mariners keep scouring the market, and maybe they bring in another guy, but as is I think that’s unlikely. Seems like there’s one more spot open on the bench, but that could go to someone capable of spelling Logan Morrison. Even more helpful would be a guy capable of replacing Logan Morrison against left-handed pitchers. Because it’s still the middle of December we can’t predict exactly how the spring-training roster will shape up, but I think if you look at what the Mariners have, you’ve got a more or less complete team.

A key with Ruggiano is that he has a lifetime 128 wRC+ against southpaws. He has the same number of extra-base hits against lefties as against righties, in a little over half the trips to the plate. So Ruggiano pairs well with Miller and Dustin Ackley, and he’s center-field capable, while short of center-field good. Miller, for the record, has posted a 104 wRC+ against righties, and a 72 wRC+ against lefties. Against righties, he’s had more power, and against lefties, he’s had more strikeouts. It was obvious last year that Miller struggles against even decent left-handed pitching, and though most people expect his bat to improve, the Mariners can have only so much patience in a season where they’re trying to win a championship.

Naturally, there are valid concerns. Ruggiano is coming up on 33 years old. Everyone younger than 33 is coming up on 33 years old, but Ruggiano is closer to the finish line than most. Last season he fought some injuries and he flashed less power, especially to the pull side. It’s possible the Mariners are adding a useful player too late, like they did with Chris Denorfia. Denorfia was an underrated asset with the Padres earlier on, but by 2014 he’d become a shell, and he stopped hitting. If Ruggiano’s just about toast, all this will do is lead to outs, and the Mariners will have to search for help again. But considering the price, I think this is a worthwhile shot. If Ruggiano doesn’t work out, the team isn’t stuck with him. And they won’t be killed by a role player being ineffective for a handful of months.

As for Miller as an outfielder and a utility type, it’s looking increasingly likely. The Mariners did try to trade him once, for Matt Kemp, but that didn’t go anywhere and since then the team’s become more protective of the guy. Obviously, they didn’t bid up Melky Cabrera too far. They didn’t bid up Alex Rios. They haven’t made a strong push for Justin Upton. The Mariners keep talking about how they believe Miller is going to hit, and some of that is just supporting their own player, but also, I think the confidence is real. And the idea of Miller moving around and playing some outfield isn’t a new one. Some say he’s a natural. So why pay steeply for an outfielder if you might not actually need one?

Ideally, Chris Taylor does well at short, and Miller and Ruggiano do well in right. There you go, two positions solved. Miller is also valuable as Taylor insurance, in case his bat doesn’t really come around. Under those circumstances, you demote Taylor, you shift Miller to short, and in the middle of the year you try to pick up a left-handed role player. If Ruggiano doesn’t do anything, you try to pick up a right-handed role player. If Taylor and Ruggiano bust, you find a regular outfielder. If Taylor and Miller bust, uh oh. If all three of them bust, come on, pitching staff! There are a lot of ways this can go. The most likely way is that, at both positions, the Mariners are fine. Maybe not great, but probably not terrible. And they’d have a right-field solution that was inexpensive, and didn’t sacrifice any future assets.

A lot of people want impact additions. A lot of people want an impact right fielder. A lot of people think an impact right fielder would put the Mariners right over the top. Well, maybe, but, at what cost? Impact additions are distracting. In a lot of ways they’re overrated. Justin Upton is something like a 3-win player. Maybe 4, if he’s really clicking. What do you make of Ruggiano and Miller, as a tandem? Is that 2 wins? That doesn’t seem over-optimistic. I’d say it might even be low. What’s the real difference between Upton and a Ruggiano/Miller platoon? Would it be worth giving away what it would take? What if the Mariners traded Miller for a right fielder? Would it be worth giving up the talent and the shortstop insurance? If nothing else, I’m content to let the Mariners evaluate what they have and re-visit if they need to in June or July. Prices will be higher, but by then at least we’ll know if the Mariners actually need anything.

I don’t think they need much more than they have. Not at the moment. The Mariners are almost through the offseason, and they have a good team, and they still have Miller, and Taylor, and Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton, and an intact farm system. They’re down one Michael Saunders, and I’ll never like that, but this all could’ve gone worse. The Matt Kemp trade probably would’ve been worse. Now the Mariners have added a useful role player and they seem open to leveraging Brad Miller’s pop and athleticism. As many different ways as this could’ve gone, it’s gone a decent way. Justin Ruggiano doesn’t make the Mariners a World Series contender on his own, but he fits with what was already a legitimate World Series contender, and the future’s remained untouched.


36 Responses to “Justin Ruggiano For Basically Free”

  1. Klatz on December 17th, 2014 11:45 am

    Pairing Ruggiano with a lefty outfielder will be awesome…oh wait. I guess a lefty rookie infielder learning the outfield will be ok.

    Hmm how about a true platoon partner? Too bad Matt Joyce got traded. How about Colby Rasmus?

  2. ivan on December 17th, 2014 11:50 am

    If Brad becomes a utility player, then why do they need WFB?

  3. maqman on December 17th, 2014 11:58 am

    Absolutely agree, Ruggiano is a nice piece and the price is very friendly. Brazis BTW was in the AFL this year, so he’s not totally unknown, in fact that exposure probably helped make this deal possible. I wonder if this is a prelude to another move, GMZ said he might make two, Seth Smith would be a nice fit.

  4. Jerry on December 17th, 2014 12:17 pm

    I second the Colby Rasmus idea.

    He’s perhaps the only free agent OFer this year who has a chance to be a bargain, and he won’t cost multiple years or draft picks.

  5. LongDistance on December 17th, 2014 12:26 pm

    “This all could’ve gone worse”

    Much worse. Because a) maybe it’s just me, but I’m convinced Saunders was an irrational or emotional move and could (still) be followed by others and, b) once the big number big cash bat options began drying up one by one, the add-on factor became increasingly fractional with whoever was left. Deck chair time. I couldn’t agree more, now, with seeing how this roster now plays out without throwing interesting pieces away at this point for whatever thin-sliced +WAR is left over. Small ball is acceptable.

    That said, we know from experience things can still happen in the next few weeks. Fat Dudes can warble out a finishing aria just as well as Fat Ladies.

  6. Edward Baker on December 17th, 2014 1:46 pm

    Jeff, for the sake of you sanity, as well as the rest of us, let´s agree to stop talking about the World Series. They´ve got some talent, more than last season, let them play the games, see how far it takes them.

  7. BillyJive on December 17th, 2014 2:21 pm

    Maybe they bring Ichiro back as a platoon RF and then he retires as a Mariner….

  8. marc w on December 17th, 2014 3:00 pm


    Yes, Brazis was in the AFL. I keep thinking that’s at least half the point of the league – to showcase both minor prospects and the guys that get squeezed in 40-man roster moves. The Nats picked up Chris Bostick who’d been in the AFL this year, Anthony DeSclafini played in the AFL and then was part of the Mat Latos deal, and Mark Sappington went from the Angels to the Rays in a minor deal after the AFL this year. It’s like a showcase event for MiLB relievers, as well as the occasional higher-value prospect like Bostick.

    Anyway, love the trade. Solid, solid move, with the M’s depth at RH RP essentially unchanged. Brazis is primarily a FB/SL guy, throwing 92, topping out at 95. Hasn’t really shown a platoon split, which is interesting. 28th round senior sign out of Boston College.

    And hey, just because I checked and it’s not as cringe-inducing as I feared, I should point out that Brazis got a shout out in my 2013 M’s minor league preview: http://www.ussmariner.com/2013/04/03/ms-minor-league-preview/

  9. Shawnuel on December 17th, 2014 4:47 pm

    “Even more helpful would be a guy capable of replacing Logan Morrison against left-handed pitchers.”

    Texas just signed that guy to a minor league deal over the weekend. Kyle Blanks.

  10. nathaniel dawson on December 17th, 2014 4:48 pm

    Not exactly a no-cost move, or one that leaves the farm system untouched. Brazis may turn out to be a big fat zero, but there’s a chance that he could turn out to be a very good major league reliever, which would provide a lot more value than the best you could hope for from Ruggiano. And Ruggiano could turn out to be a big fat zero for the M’s. Of course, he’s unlikely to do that, he’ll probably provide something to the M’s over the next two years, while it’s unknown what Brazis might give them.

    So they traded some uncertainty for a little bit of certainty.

  11. PackBob on December 17th, 2014 5:39 pm

    I have to think this is something Lloyd will like to have. He has a core middle of the order he can plan on day after day with Cano, Cruz, and Seager. He also has pieces he can move in and out depending on pitching and giving guys days off. He can experiment with the leadoff and number 2 holes until he finds what works best. He has guys that can pinch hit and run bases.

    Taking advantage of Miller if he can translate to the outfield would be a real luxury in having two players that can handle shortstop. Miller is a bit of a gamble in the outfield, but he has a strong arm and can run, so it is probably not a disaster scenario. I see no problem with both he and Willie filling in where needed, as together they cover the whole field.

    And they still have all their bullets in the minors. Let’s start the season!

  12. BoomBoom on December 17th, 2014 5:40 pm

    Thanks, Jeff.

    I like this move. While Brazis could turn out to be more valuable at some point, the M’s filled a position of need, or half filled it, at least, and gave up something from a position of depth.

    Adding a versatile outfielder that can handle either corner without paying him much cash also is a plus for this roster and payroll.

    I would welcome giving Miller a shot at being the other half of a RF platoon, and as Jeff has written, if he can handle RF, he may even be a CF in the future.

    I’m not going to torture myself thinking about a certain bird of prey that could have been the LH portion of a RF platoon. Well, at some point, hopefully soon, I’m not going to torture myself over it. Not tonight, apparently.

  13. jordan on December 17th, 2014 6:05 pm

    I see a Seth Smith or Colby Rasmus move coming. I think the M’s view Miller as an outfielder but I doubt they are willing to roll him out there this year as part of a platoon.

  14. Flaco on December 17th, 2014 6:22 pm

    I keep seeing Miller mentioned as an OF possibility, but had he ever played the OF? This type of move is not an easy one to make. IF and OF play extremely different, how can we assume he’s an OF option?

  15. Longgeorge1 on December 17th, 2014 6:34 pm

    Shannon D. mentioned some time back that Miller had been getting work in the OF late in the season. Hey even pitchers shag flies in BP. But back to the point she reported that he was already to a point where he was comfortable taking a look, turning, and running to a spot. That is normally the last skill an OFer gets and is mainly seen by CF types.

    When you see some of the “athletes” that get run out to left and right I think Miller will be just fine.

    Think Alex Gordon. 3B washout. LF Gold Glove

  16. Westside guy on December 17th, 2014 6:46 pm

    Moving Miller to the outfield in a contention year seems nuts.

    But then, last year they tried putting Nick Franklin in right field one game.

    I still don’t get why FanGraphs thinks this team is so good. We shall see… Just for fun, I’m going to predict they’re an 81-81 team right now. If I’m wrong, who’s going to remember? If I’m right, I’ll be hitting you guys over the head with it next off-season. 🙂

  17. bookbook on December 17th, 2014 7:08 pm

    +but there’s a chance that he could turn out to be a very good major league reliever, which would provide a lot more value than the best you could hope for from Ruggiano.+

    Short of a truly elite setup guy or a closer, it’d be awfully hard to get more value from a reliever than your 75th percentile expectations of Ruggiano. Especially for a team like the M’s current FA that seems to be pretty good at turning late-round draft picks into cromulent relievers, this seems like a very wise reshaping of the talent on hand.

  18. bookbook on December 17th, 2014 7:12 pm

    It all depends on what you think of the young talent.

    Felix, Cano, Seager, Ishikawa is championship quality. Are Cruz, Paxton, Walker, Jackson, Zunino, Miller, Taylor adequate support for a 90-win team? We’ll know more about that in 10 months or so…

  19. Dennisss on December 17th, 2014 7:18 pm

    So Westside, where do you think the projections are overly optimistic?

    My take would be that ~2.5 WAR each for Zunino, Miller and Austin Jackson (!) seems bullish — I would be more comfortable predicting 2.0 apiece, especially considering Jackson’s train-wreck experience with the M’s last year. Also 1.4 WAR for Taylor seems generous.

    As far as upside…Maybe Paxton or Walker could have a breakout year. Or can we finally believe in Ackley?

  20. nathaniel dawson on December 17th, 2014 9:51 pm

    bookbook, “this seems like a very wise reshaping of the talent on hand”

    I made no judgement at all about the merits of the trade.

    A 75th percentile expectation for Ruggiano over the next two years would probably be in the 4 to 5 WAR range. It wouldn’t take an elite setup man or closer to be worth that over 6 1/2 years of a relief pitcher. Just a good, solid reliever. If he ends up becoming a really good reliever, he should about double that or more.

  21. MrZDevotee on December 17th, 2014 10:10 pm

    Any possibility that Ruggiano gets platooned with ACKLEY instead, and we brought in somebody like Aoki (whom we’re still talking to, per MLBTradeRumors tonight)… Aoki is a good everyday candidate running reverse splits as a left handed bat, with a .300+ BA and .700+ OPS versus lefties, but still a solid .270 and .680 OPS versus righties… Plus his .353 career OBP would be nice to see…

    Meanwhile, Ackley against lefties last year:
    .212 avg, .245 OBP, and .553 OPS

  22. ensignofcommand on December 17th, 2014 11:30 pm

    Makes sense. Aoki reaches base more often than Jackson, and he should come cheap. I’m guessing 2 years + an option and incentives.


    Not a bad lineup.

  23. Westside guy on December 18th, 2014 12:16 am

    Denniss, I will cop to being lazy and doing what I often fault others for – basically there’s a lot of hand waving on my part. But I am significantly concerned about Zunino, for one. His plate approach is so flawed that I semi-expect him to simply crater sometime in the next couple of years. I don’t think the projections work on a guy whose approach is that fundamentally bad. Also, I don’t expect everyone in the bullpen to have a good year – what we saw with the Mariners last year just isn’t very common. Basically I won’t be surprised if that correction is more drastic than people anticipate, since relievers are so volatile. Plus I wouldn’t be surprised if something is up with Ajax, and he turns out to be a 1-1.5 WAR guy going forward. And Ackley… I’m just holding my breath there.

  24. LongDistance on December 18th, 2014 6:39 am

    Maybe the Mariners could now trade Montero (and a hot bag of churros) to the Havana Industriales for someone … like their entire outfield?

  25. kaleyk on December 18th, 2014 11:28 am

    Ruggiano …. I realize there may be more coming and I hope there is ….this move doesn’t smack of “going for it in 2015” …. Ruggiano has some nice numbers, but he’s also a guy with less than 1,300 PA at age 33. He’s not close to an improvement over Michael Saunders.

  26. MrZDevotee on December 18th, 2014 2:21 pm

    “not close to an improvement over Michael Saunders”

    Out of the M’s specific context I would probably agree… But on a team that was the worst in the league at hitting left handed pitching last season, Ruggiano’s .300+ avg and .800+ OPS against lefties, compared to Saunders .260 and .670 is significant to the Mariners… Especially if he platoons in a Jaso’esque way (which is how the Mariners would likely use Saunders if he stayed)…

    I think McLendon was driving a lot of the desire to replace him, because he wanted a right handed similar guy, so that he has something to play against lefties, and to bring off the bench when lefty relievers come in…

    I think it was down to Ackley or Saunders within the organization, which is why the “injury history” became the deciding factor in which they kept…

    Ruggiano basically IS Saunders for what McLendon wants, only from the right side of the plate…

    The proper context also has to include Happ in the equation… We don’t know what we have there yet, but if he provides positive WAR at all, he’s above what (whoever the kid was we traded for Ruggiano) was going to give us in 2015.

  27. stevemotivateir on December 18th, 2014 7:27 pm

    Have you ever heard of Matt Brazis? Had you ever heard of him before today?

    Yes. He was the one Mariner I thought we’d see snagged in the rule 5 draft. He could be a nice piece for the Cubs sooner rather than later.

  28. stevemotivateir on December 18th, 2014 7:37 pm


    I won’t speculate on Aoki, but do you really expect Montero to make the active roster? Do you expect a platoon?

    Believe it or not, Morrison posted the best numbers against lefties last season. Small sample size applies, but there’s little reason to think Montero will be taking PA’s away from him anytime soon.

  29. ck on December 19th, 2014 2:05 am

    The bench will have Sucre, WFB’s contract, either Miller or Taylor, whoever isn’t starting at shortstop, and someone else. Lloyd likes pinch runner Jones, JackZ likes dingers. Who will pinch-hit in the Ninth? If Miller does Zobrist some outfield, he also can run. Montero has proven thump, but with Cruz on the team, Montero has no position except back-up First base, pinch-hitter.

  30. joser on December 19th, 2014 11:54 am

    If Brad becomes a utility player, then why do they need WFB?

    Who else will agree to don the Raul Ibanez Emergency Backup Catcher Tools of Ignorance?

  31. kaleyk on December 19th, 2014 12:46 pm

    Hi Mr. Z … I always enjoy reading your posts …I understand the need to balance the lineup for L/R … and I confess to being a Michael Saunders fan.

    The outfield is weak …. Ackley can only be described as a disappointment; Jackson in his short tenure, highly disappointing. Saunders was only disappointing in that he has some injury history. We traded from our weakness (outfield) to our strength (pitching). That just doesn’t strike me as intelligent. Now we have a gaping hole in right field and … Ruggiano? Platooned with Miller? That’s the solution, the improvement to the outfield? In a “go for it” season? I just can’t be impressed with that. That’s why I sincerely hope there is more coming from Jack Z.

    I don’t think the M’s ever gave Saunders a real job. They never said “hey Michael, right field is yours this year, see you in September”. He was platooned, shifted from field-to-field, benched, and sometimes ignored. Compare his situation to Smoak who was handed first base continuously.

    The Blue Jays have pretty much declared Saunders their left fielder for 2015. I think he will excel in that role.

  32. HighBrie on December 20th, 2014 10:26 am

    I know it’s not an opinion people favor, but it seems that if you carry Jesus Montero as a RH platoon with Logan Morrison, you have a solid platoon and you have someone who could- in case of emergency- don the tools of ignorance.

  33. djw on December 20th, 2014 11:00 pm

    I don’t expect everyone in the bullpen to have a good year – what we saw with the Mariners last year just isn’t very common.

    The WAR projection contains a lot of bullpen regression.

    I thought the way you do, too, but on a player by player basis I don’t see any obvious source of excessive optimism.

  34. stevemotivateir on December 22nd, 2014 7:02 am


    What do you see in Morrison’s splits that suggest he needs to be platooned? Can you justify a roster spot for a terrible first baseman who would only face lefties anyway?

  35. Longgeorge1 on December 22nd, 2014 12:06 pm

    I don’t know if it helps or hurts, but the only way we keep Erasmo will be in the pen. He seems like he needs to be part of a package.

  36. rightwingrick on December 23rd, 2014 8:16 am

    Proud to say, “Yes, Matt Brazis was on my radar.” The Cubs got pretty good return, as Brazis is probably one of the top three relief prospects in the Mariner minor league system. But the M’s traded from strength, to get a guy they need tomorrow, giving up a guy they would not need for a year or maybe two. By that time, other developing M’s relief options will be more apparent, so…..good trade for both teams.

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