Justin Ruggiano, acquired Wednesday by the Mariners in a trade from the Chicago Cubs, is a versatile right-handed hitter. But he may not be the full-time right fielder.
In an attempt to fill a major void in right field, the Mariners sent minor league reliever Matt Brazis to the Chicago Cubs Wednesday in exchange for outfielder Justin Ruggiano, a 32-year-old coming off ankle surgery.
A trade for a right fielder was expected — the Mariners have been the subject of hot-stove rumors for weeks, more intensely after trading RF Michael Saunders earlier this month to the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher J.A. Happ.
But is Ruggiano, a relative unknown, slated as Saunders’ full-time replacement?
During a Wednesday teleconference, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Seattle was not done looking at outfielders.
“Of course, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll continue to look at that,” Zduriencik said. “We’ve had a lot of different discussions taking place and will continue to take place.”
If Ruggiano’s big-league resume is an indication, he won’t be a full-time player in 2015.
The Austin, TX., native has never had more than 424 at-bats nor played more than 128 games in a season. According to dWAR, he’s a below-average outfielder (-1.3 career). And he’s spent his six years in the majors split between the Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins and Cubs. He turns 33 April 12.
Last season, the right-handed hitter played in 81 games, batting .281 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 224 at bats, before missing the final month and undergoing postseason surgery to address a bone spur. The ankle has healed, Zduriencik said.
Critics of the acquisition point to the fact Ruggiano’s played more games in center field than right, Seattle’s position of greatest need. Austin Jackson is slated to begin the year in center, Dustin Ackley in left.
“He has versatility, power. He’s a guy that can get on base,” Zduriencik said. “It’s a nice, well-rounded package we’re acquiring, and we’ll see. We’re not making out the lineup today, and we’re not finished with some things. But we’ll let him come in and compete.
“It’s an addition that we needed.”
The biggest reason: Ruggiano owns an .836 career OPS against left-handed pitching, making him the ideal candidate for a platoon role on a club that trotted out a left-handed heavy lineup far too often last season.
A highlight video of Ruggiano shows the right-handed hitter jettisoning a fastball from San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the 2014 World Series MVP, into Wrigley Field’s right-field seats.
“We view this guy as a guy that can certainly hit left-handed pitching,” Zduriencik said. “He’s done that in his career. He’s a tough kid. He’s a gamer and he wants to win.”
Ruggiano wants to be an everyday player, an idea Zduriencik didn’t totally discount.
“That’s great,” Zduriencik said. “We’ll run him into spring training in competition to play every day. There are a few other guys that want to play, too. We’ll bring in all the pieces and let them fall where they may.”
Ruggiano will compete against Stefen Romero and James Jones for time in right field, along with newly acquired Nelson Cruz, who will be the primary DH. Romero, 26, hit .192 last year over 72 games, while Jones, 26, batted .250 with a .589 OPS,and stole 27 bases. However, he played four games in right field.
“I think we have competition right now. James Jones and Stefen Romero certainly have ability, but also a degree of inexperience,” Zduriencik said.
With free agent corner outfielders Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios having signed with the White Sox and the Royals, respectively, the Mariners no longer have the option of acquiring a top-shelf free agent that can come in and provide additional thump to a lineup that will feature a 3-4-5 next season of second baseman Robinson Cano, Cruz and recently extended third baseman Kyle Seager.
Padres right fielder Seth Smith has been mentioned as an option for the Mariners. Smith posted a .266/.367/.440 slash line in 521 plate appearances last year in San Diego, and the Padres are stocked with outfielders (Wil Myers, Will Venable, Cameron Maybin, Abraham Almonte, Carlos Quentin and Rymer Liriano).
Late Thursday, they finalized a deal with the Dodgers for Matt Kemp after Bob Nightengale of USA Today revealed that doctors discovered “severe arthritis” in Kemp’s hips during his physical.
The Dodgers still might be willing to unload another pricy outfielder — most likely Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford — before spring training.
The Mariners, meanwhile, have plenty of options — perhaps one that hasn’t been mentioned in any reports, via trade. Said Zduriencik:
“You just don’t know how things will play out.”
With an .839 OPS against right-handed pitching, the left-handed hitting Smith would seem a good option to complement Ruggiano in a platoon role.
The Mariners signed RHP Justin Germano, RHP Mark Lowe and INF Carlos Rivero to minor league contracts Thursday. All will receive an invite to 2015 spring training but aren’t currently on the 40-man roster. . . Lowe, 31, was a fifth round pick by the Mariners in the 2004 June draft. He spent 2006-10 with Seattle, appearing in 162 games, before being traded to the Rangers as part of the Cliff Lee deal in 2010. He spent last season splitting time between the Cleveland Indians (0-1, 3.86 ERA in seven games) and Triple-A Columbus (4-3, 5.62 ERA, 17 saves in 41 games). . . Germano, 32, is a nine-year MLB veteran who last year was with the Dodgers and Rangers organizations. He threw primarily for Triple-A Round Rock, (4-13 with a 4.51 ERA) . . . Rivero, 26, was claimed off waivers by the Mariners from the Red Sox in November, then non-tendered in December. Playing for Cardenales de Lara this offseason, h is atop the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits.