Justin Ruggiano is an interesting case. The argument for keeping him around and the argument for flipping him for a supplementary piece both have plenty of merit.
On the keep side: Ruggiano has been productive to some degree for the past three seasons. His 2012 breakout featured a .313/.374/.535 line propped up by an insane .401 BABIP. A .260 BABIP in 2013 crashed him back to earth, but he still walked well (8.7%) and hit for strong power (.175 ISO). A high BABIP is making 2014 look marvelous, but even with regression there, he is still walking and hitting for good power. Ruggiano is basically an average defender across his career despite playing all three outfield spots. For his career, he is an average hitter against right-handers while being a stud against left-handers. Although he is hitting lefties at roughly his career rate in 2014, he is punishing right-handers in a way that he never has before. Ruggiano is also relatively cheap, making just $2 million in his first arbitration year in 2014.
On the flip side: he is 32 and has fewer than 1,200 major-league plate appearances under his belt. He is one year removed from a sub-.300 on-base percentage. Defensive metrics haven't enjoyed his work as of late, an unsettling trend as he ages and slows. With Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant (or one of the shortstops) knocking on the door, Ruggiano is about to be relegated to reserve duty, a job he is well-suited to manage but one that is much less valuable than the starting gig he could play for a contender this summer. With oodles of right-handed bats reaching Wrigley in the next 12 months, Ruggiano is on his way to being a forgotten man. Even horrific defender 29-year-old Chris Coghlan might have passed Ruggiano in the eyes of the organization.
Me? I'd probably hang on to Ruggiano as a bridge to the next generation. But that assumption is based on the idea that no contender will offer anything truly appealing for him at the deadline. As with every player, there is a price for which I would move Ruggiano. Let's consider what type of offers might be out there to see if there is a deal that is sufficiently attractive to complete.
New York Yankees
The Yankees planned on an a Cub trade acquisition providing some right-handed thump from the outfield in 2014, but as we all know, the Bombers recently designated Alfonso Soriano for assignment. Their outfield now consists of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Ichiro Suzuki as they await the return of Carlos Beltran. Ichiro is a shell at 40 and even with strong on-base skills, he has almost literally no power and poor defensive chops. Ruggiano would fill a big hole for the Yankees quite nicely.
Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Justin Ruggiano to New York Yankees for starting pitcher Ian Clarkin
Yes, Clarkin is in A-ball, and he already has an ankle injury on his resume. But the 6-2 southpaw has a mid-rotation ceiling, even if he won't realize it for four years at the earliest. This could be too rich for Ruggiano, but Justin's additional years of team control and solid platform years should make it more palatable.
The current Mariners outfield is a mess with only Michael Saunders providing any real value, and even he has been just average. Nobody else has a wRC+ above 85. The one team in baseball that may be genuinely more desperate than the Yankees to make the playoffs this year, the Mariners need Ruggiano now and could conceivably hand him a starting job for a couple of years.
Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Justin Ruggiano to Seattle Mariners for catcher Tyler Marlette and starting pitcher Tyler Pike
At first blush, this seems much too demanding for just Ruggiano. Marlette is playing a premium position well at High-A with plus offensive numbers across the board while Pike is a 20-year-old lefty in Double-A. Well, Marlette is taking his sweet time climbing the ladder and he doesn't figure to have any truly impactful tools while Pike has a walk rate north of seven walks per nine innings. Yes, this pair is interesting. No, they don't do much for me other than add lottery tickets to the pile. I'd still do it and think it was the right move, but neither would be among the Cubs' top-15 prospects after the deal was completed.
Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista has been explosive and Melky Cabrera is having a nice year. However, Colby Rasmus has been completely brutal in his walk year and the club is giving Nolan Reimold a shot despite Reimold's repeated injury issues and horrific showing in 2013. The recent injury to Adam Lind has only increased the need for another playable bat in Toronto.
Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Justin Ruggiano to Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop Richard Urena and starting pitcher Miguel Castro
Urena received a $750,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 and he has enjoyed nice (if very brief) runs stateside in both 2013 and 2014. The 6-1, 170-pound 18-year-old shortstop bats left-handed and projects to be an above-average defender. He has at least average speed. While his offensive profile doesn't figure to include much power, he has the kind of advanced approach and a plus hit tool that the Cubs tend to seek out. Castro is a 6-5 19-year-old pitching well in short-season ball who throws in the low-90s. Both of these prospects have a really long way to go, but there is enough projection here to justify the risk.
Kansas City Royals
Alex Gordon continues to be among the best outfield gloves in baseball and his bat has joined the party this year. Lorenzo Cain is BABIPing his way to a career year, and Jarrod Dyson vacuums up everything anywhere near him. Nori Aoki has struggled quite a bit and Kansas City felt it needed a boost desperately enough to pick up the corpse of Raul Ibanez. They could use Ruggiano's decent bat.
Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Justin Ruggiano to Kansas City Royals for starting pitcher Christian Binford and starting pitcher Bryan Brickhouse
Binford is almost certainly too pricey here, even as a former 30th rounder. He has exceptional control and limits home runs, all from a 6-6, 217-pound righty frame. Brickhouse -- Kansas City's 2011 third-round-pick out of high school -- is a somewhat undersized righty with a power sinker that gets tons of ground balls. He had Tommy John surgery last year and has struggled thus for upon his return in 2014, but the sinker is a plus weapon. Besides, having a player named "Brickhouse" on the Cubs seems somehow appropriate.
As an aside, the Kansas City system is a difficult match. They have an elite arm in Kyle Zimmer and a pair of projectable bats in Raul Mondesi and Jorge Bonifacio, but then there's just such a big drop off that it's hard to find the mid-system kind of guys that Ruggiano should get, hence another multi-player package.
I'm reluctant to include a division rival, but the Brewers are elite with Carlos Gomez and 'roidin' Ryan Braun, followed by solid Khris Davis and sub-replacement level reserves. Ruggiano makes sense for them as a bench bat and occasional starter. The Brew Crew could even take an unconventional approach, moving one of those outfielders to first base where Mark Reynolds has cooled considerably after a hot April.
Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Justin Ruggiano to Milwaukee Brewers for starting pitcher Tucker Wagner and starting pitcher Damien Magnifico
A pair of 23-year-old righties limiting hits with only average walk rates at High-A. This is not the most enticing package, but a pair of arms with a chance to make it up a few levels still feels about right for Ruggiano.
Finally, we come to Upton Bros., Inc., errrrr, the Atlanta Braves. Jason Heyward has gobbled up everything near him defensively while posting an unexciting offensive line whereas Justin Upton has regained much of his offensive form. Brother B.J. Upton is still a disaster offensively, although his strong glove and excellent wheels give him minimal value. Reserves Jordan Schafer and Ryan Doumit have both been sub-replacement level this year with neither offering much hope for future improvement, even if Schafer can run well.
Chicago Cubs trade outfielder Justin Ruggiano to Atlanta Braves for catcher Victor Caratini
I mentioned Caratini as a possibility in the Luis Valbuena piece and he fits well again here. He needs a few more years, but his switch-hitting bat has shown promise as he has adjusted his defensive game to fit behind the plate.
While Ruggiano's glove and wheels continue to drag down his overall value, his offensive profile should be good enough to generate a solid return. So what do you think? Would you move Ruggiano for any of these packages?