The Miami Marlins' promotion of top prospects Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick produced a glut in the outfield situation. Previously, the Marlins had regular spots taken up by Marcell Ozuna and Justin Ruggiano, but with Yelich and Marisnick taking up left and center field respectively for the foreseeable future, Ozuna had to be demote. But Ruggiano, on the other hand, not only played poorly leading into the move, but is now stuck without a spot in the regular lineup despite being a questionable lower-tier starting player.
There have been rumors of interest in Ruggiano in the trade market, and now that the Marlins have outfielders filling left and center field, maybe the Fish should explore dealing Ruggiano for value before this year's trade deadline.
Ruggiano was previously unavailable due to the Marlins' "lack of depth" in the outfield. But that was before the Fish to pull the trigger on bringing in Yelich and Marisnick into the fold in 2013. Miami's sudden influx of outfielders, combined with the fact that they have Marcell Ozuna in the minors ready to re-take a starting role in case one of the two rookies struggles, there does not seem to be too much room for a starting role for Ruggiano.
But because Ruggiano is at the very least a solid platoon outfielder, the Marlins may be able to get value for him from one of the teams interested in an outfielder. Given that he is set to receive his first arbitration payout next season, the Marlins may find him too pricey to hold onto as a fourth outfielder. This holds especially true since the Marlins have a set of perennial fourth / fifth outfielders in Brian Petersen and Kyle Jensen in the minors. Promoting one of those players, likely Petersen, to be a backup to the primary core of outfielders would be a cheaper, if less effective, option than paying Ruggiano more than $1 million to play the same role.
But the Marlins are not interested in trading any more players at this year's deadline, at least according to ESPN's Jayson Stark's latest Rumblings and Grumblings column. That might throw a monkey wrench into the trade value of Ruggiano and the remaining Marlins with trade interest.
Teams are out there looking for outfielders to help on their roster. The need ranges from platoon needs and depth (Texas Rangers) to "someone with a pulse" to start (New York Yankees). The Yankees and Rangers have been rumored to be interested in Ruggiano to slot into a starting role. For the Rangers, they would like a fourth outfielder to possibly share a platoon role with David Murphy and someone who can step in to start in case Nelson Cruz becomes the latest Biogenesis steroids suspension. For the Yankees, they are looking for someone better than Vernon Wells to be a starter. Ruggiano fits either role very well.
Two other teams interested according to Stark's article are the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants. The Phillies have Domonic Brown in the outfield, Ben Revere on the disabled list for a while, and Delmon Young. Any time Delmon Young is on your outfield list, your team needs help. The Giants could also use some depth now that Angel Pagan for out for an extended period of time.
The trade market for Ruggiano, as one of the few outfielders potentially available, is fairly deep, but the Marlins once again hold the keys as to whether or not they will deal in this deadline.
Heading into this season, Ruggiano has some major question marks about his play. His run last year was spectacular, but it was also fueled by performance that was unlikely to be reproduced. However, this year, his performance has over-regressed and is likely to see some improvement. Ruggiano is hitting just .232 on balls in play this season after hitting .401 last year and .309 for his career (mostly due to the .401 last season). In his three brief stints with the Tampa Bay Rays, he was hitting .288 on balls in play, so it is safe to assume that Ruggiano is better than this.
His power has declined a little since last season, but that was in part due to the prolonged slump he recently hit in July. Through June, Ruggiano was hitting .233/.298/.423 with a .190 ISO compared to his .166 mark now. His home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate this year is almost identical to the one he posted last year, and he seems to be hitting fly balls as hard as he was last season. The issue this year is that he is hitting fewer fly balls and, perhaps more importantly, fewer line drives in lieu of ground balls.
Going forward, ZiPS has Ruggiano hitting a reasonable .240/.305/.403 (.311 wOBA) with a .297 BABIP. Essentially it would be very close to his batting line through June, and it would indicate a valuable player when combined with his solid defense at all three outfield positions. How valuable is that kind of performance? Via Fangraphs, that is worth 0.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for 185 plate appearances the rest of the way. Heading into next year, that would be worth 1.5 WAR over 400 plate appearances, which would be an estimate of how much playing time Ruggiano could receive as a starter or regular rotation fourth outfielder. Knock that down half a win for 2015 and 2016 and Ruggiano could total 3.7 WAR for the remainder of his time with his new team.
That may not sound like much, but a team can expect almost $20 million in free agent value from a fringy player like this. In arbitration, players like Ruggiano, who are capable starters but higher-level backups, are given $10 million in arbitration over three years; indeed, a perfect example of this type of player would be Cody Ross or David Murphy. Ruggiano fills a similar role, and should receive a similar amount. If he does, that would give him $10 million in surplus value. What could that buy you? A back-end Top 100 pitcher or a younger grade B prospect could be up for grabs.
That would be good value for the Marlins, but it might be better to expect one grade B prospect of any kind in such a deal. Ruggiano is on the downswing in terms of momentum and is likely to fetch less than his market value because of recent performance, but even with arbitration looming, he might still fetch a solid return for the Fish.