Cynic’s Guide To Justin Ruggiano
This is based on a simple premise: the Cubs are smart. Well-run. Probably among the smartest, most well-run organizations in the game. They have an enviable, fairly proven front office, that we all believe is on the cutting edge of quantitative analysis. I think most Mariners fans would probably gladly exchange our front office for theirs. Now! Not everyone would agree with that suggestion, and if you don’t, that’s perfectly fine. I can’t make up your mind, and I don’t know everything about baseball. Sometimes I wonder if I know anything about baseball. But anyway, the premise, again: the Cubs seem like they’re really smart, and perhaps smarter than the Mariners. If you accept that, then we proceed.
A short while back, the Mariners picked up Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs, for a player no one had ever heard of. The Mariners needed a right-handed outfielder, and Ruggiano has looked mostly good when he’s played. He’s in his 30s, and he’s projected to cost about $2.5 million. When they dealt Ruggiano, the Cubs indicated they might not have had room for him.
The Cubs subsequently searched for a right-handed outfielder, available on the market. They just today signed Chris Denorfia, who you might remember as having just recently been a Mariner. Denorfia has looked mostly good when he’s played. He’s in his 30s, and he’s going to cost about $2.5 million. For the cost of Justin Ruggiano, the Cubs selected Chris Denorfia instead, and also added a minor-league reliever of not literally no note.
It seems like it’s simple: the Cubs just like Denorfia more than they like Ruggiano. Go back, now, to the premise — if the Cubs are smart, and smarter than the Mariners, then if the Cubs like Denorfia more than they like Ruggiano, what might that mean about Ruggiano? Do they think he’s about to collapse? Do they think he’s not worth anything in the clubhouse? Do they think Denorfia is about to bounce back? One notes that Denorfia was a 4-win player two seasons ago. One notes that Ruggiano just had a .375 BABIP, and his contact rate got worse. Denorfia seems like the better defender. Four years in a row, he was a good and underrated player.
So maybe the Mariners are missing something here. Maybe the Mariners got outsmarted by a top-tier organization. Now, there is the other side, too. Maybe Denorfia wasn’t at all willing to re-sign. Maybe the Cubs are wrong to prefer Denorfia to Ruggiano! Maybe the Cubs are right, but baseball’s unpredictable and Ruggiano will still perform better. Or maybe it just doesn’t matter, since we’re talking about a handful of runs from the light part of a corner-outfield platoon. The Mariners just got Seth Smith. Seth Smith is about to play a lot more baseball than Justin Ruggiano is. So, how much could it matter, really?
It’s not a big deal. Maybe it’s no kind of deal. But it got my attention. The Cubs gave a guy to the Mariners, then replaced him with an ex-Mariner on virtually identical terms. Seldom do I think things are laid out so simply. The Cubs preferred a different guy over the guy they already had. It appears like the Mariners thought the opposite. In truth it’s a little more complicated than that, but this is about as simple as it ever gets, and my gut feeling is that disagreeing with the Cubs will generally leave you on the wrong side of history. But maybe I’m being too nice to them. I tend to see the best in strangers.