Justin Ruggiano was a microcosm of the 2016 Mets. He looked like an above-average platoon player and was hurt far too often, but it was ultimately impossible to get a sense of how good he actually was. If one ever hears his tenure with the 2016 Mets discussed again, it’s likely because they’re doing a “Guys Who Have Hit Grand Slams Off of Madison Bumgarner” Sporcle.
The arrival of Ruggiano, who had been released earlier in the season after one appearance with the Rangers, was met with at best indifference and at worst utter disgust (except from this guy). The trade deadline was approaching and while most wish lists included Jonathan Lucroy, Jay Bruce, or both, comparatively few fans had been crossing their fingers for a Ruggiano signing. In the few moments he was actually on the field, however, Ruggiano was a pleasant surprise.
Ruggiano joined the team as Jose Reyes headed to the disabled list on July 30, immediately slotting into the starting lineup in center field. He pinch hit on July 31 and started in center again on August 1, leaving in the third inning with a hamstring injury.
On August 18, Ruggiano returned from the disabled list, hitting the aforementioned grand slam and making a nice catch to rob Joe Panik of an extra-base hit. The Mets lost that game, but if one was really stretching, they could make the terrible argument that it represented a momentum shift (the real “momentum shift” was almost certainly the return of Yoenis Cespedes’s bat on August 19). Ruggiano homered again in a 7-4 win at St. Louis on August 23 before returning to the DL on the August 26 after aggravating the same hamstring injury. He did not play for the rest of the season.
Despite the bum hamstring, Justin Ruggiano should probably be viewed as a smart signing by the type of fan that would actually spend time analyzing fringe bench players with 20 or fewer at-bats. He was a relatively cheap option to fill in at center field, and he absolutely crushes lefties. His two homers traveled 450 and 428 feet, respectively, the second and 20th longest home runs of the 218 the Mets hit in 2016.
Of course, many Mets fans are skeptical of Sandy Alderson’s preference for cheap platoon players over giving expensive players long-term deals. For armchair GMs subscribing to that school of thought, Ruggiano was likely worth nothing more than a long, exasperated sigh.
Assuming he doesn’t re-sign this offseason (the Mets do have a dearth of right-handed outfielders, especially ones who can fill in at center): farewell, Justin. If the Mets ever win the NL East again, we may ironically use your #1 jersey as the final picture for the magic number countdown.