UPDATE: One week after declining the option of remaining in the Rays’ system Ruggiano has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Astros.
Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster housecleaning is costing Triple-A Durham its best players.
This morning the Rays traded reigning Triple-A MVP Russ Canzler to the Indians for cash considerations after designating him for assignment and his Durham teammate Justin Ruggiano chose free agency over an assignment to Triple-A.
Ruggiano has struggled in a few brief stints in the majors, hitting just .226 with six homers and a .621 OPS in 98 games spread over three seasons, but he’s consistently posted strong numbers in the minors and probably deserves a chance somewhere at age 29.
Of course, he’s also spent the past five seasons at Durham, so it’s understandable that Ruggiano would decline an assignment there and take his chances finding work in another organization. Overall at Triple-A he’s hit .289 with 68 homers and an .835 OPS in 476 games, which suggests his best role in the majors would be as a platoon corner outfielder facing primarily left-handed pitching.
Yankees’ special advisor and former outfielder Hideki Matsui expects to help the club “convince or recruit” Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani, according to a report from MLB.com’s Deesha Thosar. The Yankees are currently viewed as the favorites to sign Otani, though there still figures to be plenty of competition for his services when he finally becomes eligible to enter Major League Baseball.
Matsui also told Thosar that while he hasn’t seen a player find success as a hybrid pitcher/slugger in the majors, he’s taken notice of Otani’s success in both areas. “He’s done well in Japan, so as a baseball fan I’m looking forward to how he’s going to do here in the Majors and in the U.S.,” Matsui said, later adding, “If [pitching and hitting is] something he wants to do, and the team wants it, then why not?”
Neither the Yankees nor any other suitor should be too concerned with Otani’s ability to translate his .332 batting average and 3.20 ERA to MLB — at least, not just yet. There are still a few roadblocks in his path to the major leagues, most notably the lack of approval from the Players Association. Per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the union doesn’t want to sign off on an agreement that would give the Nippon Ham Fighters a $20 million posting fee in exchange for Otani’s services. According to the posting system rules, Otani himself would be eligible to receive no more than a $4 million signing bonus.
The good news in all of this? The union agreed to reach a final decision by Monday, November 21, so there’s still a chance Major League Baseball will see the talented two-way player bring his unique skillset to the field in 2018.