Mariners add Justin Ruggiano to outfield mix

The Mariners missed out on Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios, but may have struck some gold in their trade to the Cubs for outfielder Justin Ruggiano. The M’s surrendered 25 year old right-hander, Matt Brazis, and coughed up Logan Bawcom’s spot on the 40 man roster to make room for their new acquisition.

Justin Ruggiano

Ruggiano, 32, is capable of playing all the outfield spots. He’s a right handed hitter with a 281/.337/.429 slash, but against left handed pitchers he was .305/.333/.512 in 2014. Defensive metrics don’t love him, but they are inconsistent from year to year,so it’s difficult to tell how strong he’ll be in the field.

To get Ruggiano the M’s surrendered 25-year old right-hander Matt Brazis, the team’s Reliever of the Year, though he has not pitched above high-A level.  Ruggiano also swallowed Logan Bawcom’s spot on the 40 man roster.  Bawcom came over from the Dodgers in the Brandon League trade, and struggled in Tacoma last year.

Ruggiano is going to be 33 and struggled with his health last year.  In baseball parlance, Ruggiano is in decline. Is he the full time outfielder the M’s would have liked to have?  Probably not.  He’ll likely compete for the right field job, but all indications are that he’ll play primarily against left-handers.

Suggestions are the Mariners may be looking for a left-handed platoon partner.  The Padres’ Seth Smith may be available with their acquisitions of Matt Kemp and Wil Myers.  But there are complications if the Mariners decide to create a platoon.

Last year the bullpen was a major success story for the Mariners. The M’s used eight relievers in their bullpen for most of the year, adding Carson Smith to the corps when rosters expanded in September. Carrying a 13-man pitching staff creates some problems when discussing platoons. These are the positions likely taken when Spring Training opens

Catcher  Mike Zunino                   Jesus Sucre (or some reasonable facsimile)

1B            Logan Morrison

2B           Robinson Cano

3B           Kyle Seager

SS           Chris Taylor or Brad Miller

LF           Dustin Ackley

CF           Austin Jackson

RF           Justin Ruggiano and/or somebody else

Assuming  these are your everyday players, with a spot for a reserve catcher, you’re up to 22 players.  Utility guy Willie Bloomquist has one more year under contract. If they carry Taylor or Miller, whoever doesn’t get the starting nod, that’s 24. They have a spot for one more player, unless Lloyd decides to cut the bullpen down by an arm. That doesn’t seem likely. It means no spot for a platoon partner for Logan Morrison, or a pinch-hitter off the bench.

The M’s could still add Justin Upton or another player to be an everyday guy, with Ruggiano slotted in as a fourth outfielder.  Or they could look at acquiring somebody like Seth Smith as a  platoon partner.

If the M’s aren’t interested or able to acquire the player they want for the price they are willing to pay, they could look internally.  Some ink was spilled on the conversion of Miller to a utility guy. According to Lloyd McClendon on Shannon Drayer’s blog, Outfield coach Andy Van Slyke worked him out in the outfield and referred to him as a “natural.” James Jones is another potential partner, though it seems to me he could use more seasoning. If the Mariners do nothing, it doesn’t prohibit them from making a move later in the year.

The Ruggiano move was a low cost addition to the team that wants to be more effective against left-handed pitching. It lessens the likelihood we see much of Nelson Cruz in the outfield (one of my huge fears.) But, it’s not the end of the outfield conversation, but he is definitely a useful piece.

Matt Kemp Update

MLBTradeRumors shared a tweet by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale stating the Padres are mulling over Kemp’s physical results indicating arthritis in both hips.  Good call Mariners to avoid the train wreck that will be Kemp’s future career. Can’t wait NOT to have him roaming the outfield at Safeco Field.

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