The Giants officially added Austin Slater to their 25- and 40-man rosters on Friday, purchasing his contract from Sacramento. To make room, however, the Giants had to make a choice between two of their backup center fielders. Would it be the veteran Justin Ruggiano or the younger Gorkys Hernandez who would make room?
It was Ruggiano. The Giants designated the veteran for assignment, and he’ll likely go on irrevocable waivers. If he clears waivers, he could re-sign with the organization if they’re interested.
Before we dig too deep on this, note that it absolutely doesn’t matter. To the players involved, sure, but in terms of wins or losses, the Giants aren’t going to make up ground by settling on the right fifth outfielder. The difference between Hernandez and Ruggiano might be a win in the most extreme, outlying scenarios. The odds are much better that the difference will be mostly impossible to notice.
However, here’s the part that I’m having trouble understanding: Ruggiano has been good before. He sure wasn’t with the Giants, hitting .217/.238/.333 with one homer in 63 plate appearances, but over his career, he’s been an above-average hitter with an ability to play center field. Those aren’t easy to find. A player like that with a career .851 OPS vs. left-handers is someone the Giants have been seeking for a long time, and the reason he was available isn’t because he stopped hitting, but because he couldn’t stay healthy.
Hernandez, on the other hand, is a career .195 hitter now, and if you think his 34 OPS+ is fluky, note that his career OPS+ is 53, and that’s in 351 career plate appearances. His surprising doubles power last year was the exception, not the rule.
If I’m going to crawl into the head of Bobby Evans for a bit, though, I’ll offer some theories:
- Ruggiano is 35, which is old enough where the Giants should be spooked by how bad he looked
- Other than the early-season weirdness, Hernandez is probably the better defender in center
- Hernandez offers speed that Ruggiano doesn’t
That’s it, really. And, one more time, this decision means just as much as the bloody Fontenot/Keppinger debates from yesteryear. Which is to say, it doesn’t matter at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating to wonder what goes into the sausage the Giants have been making this year.
I think Hernandez has been the headless pigeon. But there’s still time left to caramelize those feathers for a crispy baseball treat! I’m not sure where this metaphor got so tangled, but the point is that while I would have kept Ruggiano, there are baseball reasons to stick with Gorkys.
We’ll forget about all of this if Austin Slater can hit a little bit, so my advice to the Giants is this: Have Slater hit .480 over the next three weeks or so. It’s only fair.