When Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports tweeted today that the Marlins "need" a centerfielder and mentioned the Angels' Peter Bourjos and free agent Nate McLouth as potential targets, Justin Ruggiano was quick to reply with a tweet of his own: "no we don't. I got this."
"I came out of nowhere when I was 30 years old and it seems like people are already forgetting what I did last year," Ruggiano said in a phone interview. "Personally, I'd like to be given that opportunity to play out there every day."
Ruggiano need not fret. The Marlins have neither forgotten Ruggiano, nor dismissed him as a center field candidate. While the Marlins are set in right with Giancarlo Stanton and left with Juan Pierre, they are looking at a host of in-house candidates for the job in center: Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest mentioned Ruggiano, Gorkys Hernandez, Bryan Petersen and even Kevin Mattison (no mention of Chris Coghlan, conspicuously enough, for any outfield spot) in a pre-winter meetings phone session this afternoon with beat writers. Coghlan is hitting .213 in winter ball.
Long term, Beinfest said he envisions top prospect Christian Yelich in center. Yelich is expected to start out at Double A Jacksonville but could reach the big leagues by the end of the season.
"He can play the wings, but we like him in center field," Beinfest said. "He's kind of transformed himself into a pretty good center fielder. He gets good jumps. The arm strength is not above average, but he gets himself in position, makes good, accurate throws. We've been happy with his progression in center field."
But, for now, Ruggiano would seem to have the inside track on the Opening Day job. After all, Ruggiano's .313 average last season is tops among any returning Marlin and he's outranked by only Stanton in home runs with 13.
Beinfest has said the Marlins are looking around for some power to put into the lineup, someone to protect Stanton, if possible. But that will be difficult given the team's paltry payroll. Beinfest said that the trade route might be the best way to go.
"We do have some inventory, if we decide to move it, at the minor league level," Beinfest said. "There may be some free agents that haven't been on our radar that maybe we need to look at. And maybe there will be some non-tenders in the next day or two."
Ruggiano said he thinks he can be that guy, though.
"I can provide enough power to protect Stanton," Ruggiano said.
But the Marlins obviously have some reservations. Beinfest declined to call them "concerns," though.
"I don't think concerns, other than he really hasn't done it in the big leagues for a full year," Beinfest said. "What he showed in the 3 1/2 months we had him last year, he had a very good year and was very productive. But, until you've done it, you can't say you've done it. That would be my only concern, is that he hasn't done it for a full year in the major leagues."
Said Ruggiano: "I feel like I definitely need to prove to them all the time."
Beinfest said the Marlins have spoken to Yunel Escobar about moving to third base and "he was good with it."
"We have talked to Escobar and we spoke to him about playing third base," Beinfest said. "We actually met with him."
The Marlins have been shopping Escobar, though, so don't count him in just yet.
Beinfest all but said the Marlins plan to tender reliever Ryan Webb before tomorrow''s deadline, as he mentioned Webb and Mike Dunn as possible set-up relievers for closer Steve Cishek. Webb is the Marlins' only arbitration-eligible player.
Beinfest said reliever Jose Ceda (Tommy John surgery) should be ready for spring training.