Cynic’s Guide To Justin Ruggiano

Jeff Sullivan · December 31, 2014 at 1:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


33 Responses to “Cynic’s Guide To Justin Ruggiano”

  1. ripperlv on December 31st, 2014 2:09 pm

    Things that make you go hmmmmm……….

  2. Dennisss on December 31st, 2014 2:56 pm

    The whole Denorfia Mariners experience was like a first date that really doesn’t go well. Sure, she seems nice, and you’re nice enough, but why try to force it to work when it didn’t work and you don’t have much invested in each other?

    If I were the Mariners, I would rather have someone like Chris Denorfia who isn’t Chris Denorfia than have Chris Denorfia. And vice versa.

  3. Typical Idiot Fan on December 31st, 2014 4:59 pm

    Or, just a simple case of “the devil you know”, but in reverse.

  4. MrZDevotee on December 31st, 2014 6:54 pm

    Any chance, like the Mariners, they had been hoping for an upgrade in the OF, so made an expendable guy expendable, only to miss out on the “big names” they had been hoping to land? Seems like the reason both clubs got rid of an outfielder, only to eventually lose out and replace him with a similar guy… I see it as players like Saunders, Denorfia, and Ruggliano being completely replaceable. The type of guys you make a dice roll with and can afford to risk if you want to get into a bidding war with a better free agent.

    But I’ve been known to fart rainbows, so I guess I’m the “glass is 3/4’s full, guy”…

  5. Longgeorge1 on December 31st, 2014 9:24 pm

    I am sure that when Saunders was told of his trade by Z he thanked him and now is happily preparing for the upcoming season in Toronto. He now has the opportunity to play for a team that wants him and hopefully he will become the player he thinks he can or should be. We now have two ballplayers that could play 162 games in RF and increase production from that position just by matching the back of their playing cards.

    We gave up an easily replaceable bullpen arm. I think that Carson Smith will do just fine and a minor leaguer who may be an All-star or never make the Bigs. We MAY have added some depth to the rotation.

    I think everyone involved is happy.


  6. maqman on January 1st, 2015 3:08 am

    I’m happier with Ruggiano than I was with Denorfia, so sue me. Time will tell if Theo, et al are smarter, or luckier, than GMZ. I doubt our new season is dependent on how this turns out. What happens if JJones or Romero go batshit at the plate?

  7. bookbook on January 1st, 2015 4:29 am

    So, like, yeah, I’d totes bet on the Cubs (or A’s or Rays or…) being more right than the M’s on any transaction.

    But, if you look at the record for any of those teams, there are a lot of moves that turned out poorly. (Many of which seemed predictable at the time.)

  8. stevemotivateir on January 1st, 2015 8:01 am

    The biggest surprise in all this for me is that Denorfia got that much money. But the attraction of each player for their new respective clubs makes sense. Both come with question marks, but both have positives.

  9. MrZDevotee on January 1st, 2015 9:32 am

    Plenty of ‘great’ and ‘genius’ moves don’t work out, every year. I just read a story on the 10 most disappointing moves of last offseason, in retrospect, and Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher were both on the list… I still remember all the moaning and complaining when we didn’t get either of them.

    Nick Swisher: .208/.278/.331 74 OPS+
    (missed 65 games)
    Michael Bourn: .257/.314/.360 94 OPS+
    (missed 56 games)

    Now adjust those numbers for Safeco, and it gets ugly…

  10. ivan on January 1st, 2015 9:42 am

    Top-tier organization my a–. The Cubs suck, and when Denorfia was here, he sucked too.

  11. bookbook on January 1st, 2015 9:52 am

    2015, the Cubs are probably worth 87 wins of suck.

  12. Woodcutta on January 1st, 2015 4:46 pm

    So Marlon Byrd was traded to the Reds for their 8th best prospect and the Phillies will pay half ($4 mil) of his salary this year. So…why couldn’t the M’s have traded for him?

  13. diderot on January 1st, 2015 5:02 pm

    Denorfia can’t play center field.

  14. mksh21 on January 1st, 2015 6:16 pm

    I have a theory. They are both terrible and both teams could do a lot better.

  15. Slippery Elmer on January 1st, 2015 7:24 pm

    What’s Mike Cameron doing these days?

  16. henryv on January 1st, 2015 8:25 pm

    Is it possible the Cubs had their eye on someone better, but that particular player has now been taken off the market, so they just signed the best available?

  17. ensignofcommand on January 2nd, 2015 2:56 am

    Not to beat a decomposing horse, but given the Jaso/Morse and Condor/Happ swaps this made me chuckle:

    The extension that Smith signed with the Padres last summer was a factor in the trade, as Zduriencik noted that “one of the things we tried to stay away from was giving up talent for one-year returns…I think you’re getting a player who can be with you for at least the next three years.”

    Attaboy, Jack.

  18. LongDistance on January 2nd, 2015 4:16 am

    ” … the next three years.”

    Jack makes that sound so soothing, so visionary. Although he always sounds soothing and visionary this time of the year.

    I’d so love to hear Jack explain what sort of club Smith will be playing on in 2018. Just out of curiosity.

  19. casey on January 2nd, 2015 6:38 am

    well in coming three years I would feel pretty comfortable projecting that Smith and Ruggs will be pushed out by one of Alex Jackson, Kivlehan, Gabby Guerrero or Austin Wilson.

  20. Hutch on January 2nd, 2015 9:05 am

    We’ve got several examples of M’s acquisitions in recent years that flamed out (sometimes spectacularly) that would still make sense to give another try (for very little guaranteed money). I still think Morse at DH (where he belongs and has always belonged) could put up a monster year (better than Cruz, even). I don’t know that I’d bet on Corey Hart, but it’s not an unreasonable risk to give him a couple million and see if he can get right after a year of rehab/getting his timing back. Denorfia is also exactly the sort of skillset the team could use. Even Morales isn’t a bad bet to be worth the contract the Royals gave him (Morales outhit Cruz in 2012-2013 and is four years younger). I don’t really blame the M’s FO for this, because it’s hard to sell fans on giving a second (or third) chance to a player they’ve seen suck it up for the last year, but all of the above player acquisitions were good process/bad results lottery tickets that didn’t pan out. It’s horrifying to think about, but I would not be shocked at all if one or more of them outperformed Cruz next year at a fraction of the price.

  21. LongDistance on January 2nd, 2015 10:18 am

    Don’t forget to factor into any equation that we’ve got (define/describe what Jack/the-FO considers to be the projected-use/positive contribution to be, as you wish) … Montero Lite.

    Where Jesus is concerned, rather than three year windows, we seem to be working on a Soviet-style 5-Year-Plan.

  22. Wolfman on January 2nd, 2015 11:47 am

    Casey wrote: “well in coming three years I would feel pretty comfortable projecting that Smith and Ruggs will be pushed out by one of Alex Jackson, Kivlehan, Gabby Guerrero or Austin Wilson.”

    This. I think this is the reason Jack didn’t want to go longer than 2-3 years and why he didn’t add the extra year and sign Melky. I think he believes one of these youngsters will be ready sooner rather than later and din’t want them blocked by an expensive (and aging) vet. I hope against hope that Jack is right.

  23. casey on January 2nd, 2015 12:40 pm

    You know I liked Montero’s bat in 2012 – he was only 22 and hit .260 with 15 homers and near .700 OPS in a real tough ballpark. It showed promise and you could project to a mature Montero that could hit .280 with 25 homers – which is what he performed at in minors and was projected in all the top 20 prospect lists.

    And then the last two years happened.

    He’s still only 25, will never be more than a dh, but for such an un-athletic looking guy he seems to still have his one skill, the ability to hit. Will be one of the more interesting things to watch in 2015.

  24. Hutch on January 2nd, 2015 3:36 pm

    I think the decision to go with a Smith/Ruggiano platoon instead of a full-time solution speaks to how confident the team must be in Ackley to repeat the second-half of last year. If Ackley fails, this OF situation could get 2012-bad real quick. That’s not the kind of risk I’d like to take going into a season with the best M’s team in a decade, but I’m hoping for the best. Would be real nice to see a young OF come out of the woodwork, Elias style, this spring.

  25. Dave in Palo Alto on January 2nd, 2015 10:52 pm

    Jeff, you know this stuff better than I, but when I look at the crap littering the field in Wrigley for the last five years, I do not think, “molded by skilled artisans”.

  26. MrZDevotee on January 3rd, 2015 12:24 pm

    Well, it depends on your definition of “molded”… Rotten players often mold over time. (Ba dum *cymbal crash*)

  27. SonOfZavaras on January 5th, 2015 10:44 am

    Personally, I like the Ruggiano and Smith acquisitions- but more for a long-range reason.

    Both of those two have 1-3 good seasons in the sun left…enough time for us to develop an internal option at RF. Half the noteworthy hitting prospects we have are right-handed power-hitting outfielders. And most of them are 2-3 years away, at least.

    I don’t know if the plan is to make D.J. Peterson or Patrick Kivlehan an outfielder in AAA-Tacoma, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. I’d like to see Stefen Romero claim a job (but I’m afraid to look at his minor league numbers, they’ll probably scream “not likely”)…..

  28. Westside guy on January 6th, 2015 12:55 pm

    Theo Epstein was signed to be the GM/whatever for the Cubs during the 2011-2012 offseason. Given that a lot of people are happy to give Jack Z a 6-year pass when it comes to judging his teams, it seems silly to judge Theo too much based on the past 2-3 years. Not to mention he has a couple World Series rings from the previous decade…

    I think Jack has badly mis-handled the outfield, given what the team replaced Saunders with and at what cost – time will tell. However I won’t be too surprised if Happ ends up being a nice contributor in 2015, since identifying pitching seems to be one skill (maybe the only one) Jack has repeatedly shown himself to be good at.

  29. jrdo410 on January 6th, 2015 3:40 pm

    It doesn’t seem like this will be of much consequence. Two less than half time players, two low ceiling players. Odds that one is significantly better than the other is small, and even if there is a significant difference, it is 1/4 as significant as that because that’s how often they play.

  30. eponymous coward on January 6th, 2015 4:06 pm

    Theo Epstein was signed to be the GM/whatever for the Cubs during the 2011-2012 offseason. Given that a lot of people are happy to give Jack Z a 6-year pass when it comes to judging his teams, it seems silly to judge Theo too much based on the past 2-3 years. Not to mention he has a couple World Series rings from the previous decadeā€¦

    Branch Rickey had some horrible Pirates teams in the early 1950’s. By 1960 they were doing pretty well.

  31. MrZDevotee on January 10th, 2015 1:19 pm

    Billy Beane must be the stupidest GM in the history of baseball… He just traded John Jaso for Ben Zobrist.

  32. Woodcutta on January 10th, 2015 3:43 pm

    Soo…where is everyone?

  33. Longgeorge1 on January 10th, 2015 4:55 pm

    Maui – The A”s got Boog Powell also!

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