Despite the fact many quality free agents are still available, the collection of players scheduled to arrive in Peoria, Arizona in a matter of days will be relatively unchanged. Unless of course, general manager Jerry Dipoto has another trick up his sleeve, but it seems unlikely most clubs focused on arbitration cases at the moment. As it stands, the club will begin the year with at least one fresh face at first base.
Gone is Logan Morrison, the Opening Day first baseman from a year ago. Also departed is Mark Trumbo, the mid-season acquisition that did little to aid an ailing offense. Instead, the Mariners will count on a different former 30 home run hitter, Adam Lind, and a yet-to-be-determined platoon partner. Former top prospect Jesus Montero and recent Korean import Dae-Ho Lee are expected to lead the competition for the right-handed portion of that platoon.
Though Lind may be unspectacular, he’s a solid contributor who offers a slightly more athletic skill set and superior plate discipline skills compared to what had existed. The trio of low-level minor leaguers dealt was not nothing, but none are expected to be major league contributors in the near future. It’s fair to say that some disappointment should be associated with the fact we don’t get to see what Trumbo could do over the course of a full season.
This isn’t because the cost of acquiring him included the only thing resembling a major league catcher in the organization last year. It’s because the idea of Trumbo hitting behind Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager makes for a highly formidable middle of the order. At least on paper.
Instead, and as a means of create a more athletic and flexible roster, Tumbo was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles along with reliever C.J. Riefenhauser in exchange for back-up catcher Steve Clevenger. Equally importantly, approximately $9 million in salary was relieved in the deal. Much of that freed cash will go towards Lind’s contract.
All this leads to the question: are the Mariners better off without Trumbo?
The short answer would be yes, considering Dipoto’s goal in the deal was to gain roster and payroll flexibility. That much he accomplished. But it isn’t fair to judge a deal without considering the other moves it allowed or didn’t allow the club to make; or a few months after the deal took place with a single game yet to take place. But we’re not doing that, exactly.
First, let’s take a look at what Trumbo and Lind produced in 2015, since they are the primary components in this discussion.
| 2015 Statistics |
From the power point of view, the pair were actually similar hitters in 2015 as their home run, ISO, and slugging percentage marks were in the same ballpark. What separates the two, besides Lind being a slightly better defensive first baseman, are the plate discipline numbers. Simply, Lind walks more and strikes out less. Again, those were characteristic desired by Dipoto, and add value to what the Mariners are collectively trying to do.
Lind did hit for a higher batting average, but the rate at which he drew walks gives him a considerable edge over Trumbo in the on base department. Five percent doesn’t seem like a big number, but over 400-to-500 plate appearances, that’s 20-to-25 times that the left-hander was able to get on base instead of making an out. Or in Trumbo’s case, striking out. Adding up marginal improvements like this one can make a big difference over the course of a season.
Posting a 108 wRC+, Trumbo was barely better than a league average first baseman with the bat. Lind’s 119 mark isn’t earth-shattering, but does play a role in his overall production as a league average player — this with a considerable platoon split, which we will touch on shortly.
Second, let’s look ahead at what both hitters project to produce in 2016 using the Steamer projections provided by FanGraphs.
| 2016 Statistics |
Trumbo is projected for a comparable offensive year in 2016, his first in Camden Yards, to his 2015. Lind on the other hand is projected for some regression. Lind will turn 33 next summer and his prime years are likely behind him, but there’s a case to be made that his 2016 numbers could more closer resemble his 2015 performance than that projection. Now we can bring in the matter of that platoon split.
In 2015 Lind saw left-handed pitching in just under 21 percent of his plate appearances. For his career he owns a 54 wRC+ and a 25.4 percent strikeout rate against lefties. It isn’t always as simple as protecting him completely from left-handers, but his overall numbers would likely look better if he only faced them 12 to 15 percent of the time instead. Of note: all 20 of Lind’s 2015 home runs came against right-handed pitching and against left-handed pitching he struck out more often than he picked up a hit.
Lind owns a career 130 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. This is where most of his value comes from. Who he will be platooned with has yet to be determined. Early speculation is that Montero will be his other, probably not better, half.
I’m in favor of giving the slugger a chance provided he performs in Spring Training and the gains made last year don’t appear to be lost. The former top prospect is out of options and needs a legitimate shot against major league pitching so the organization can figure out if he’s even worth discussing anymore. Dipoto has said that Montero will have every chance to crack the roster. At this point, if he can handle his half of a platoon job well enough and not be a total liability on defense, he offers some value.
Let’s see what a potential Lind/Montero platoon could look like based on the Steamer projections.
| 2016 Statistics |
Combined, the pair project to be worth about 1.4 fWAR, which would would be below average for a single position player. Getting 22 home runs out of first base isn’t terrible and the position should be a source for some power by looking at the isolated power and slugging percentage numbers.
Montero’s platoon split is less significant than Lind’s — a career 115 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and a career 77 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. Combining that 115 mark against the left side with Lind’s career 130 mark against the right side could make for a solid player from an offensive standpoint. Of course it’s not as simple as combining those two numbers, but they do provide some framework to estimate with as they are career marks and not career-bests.
If Lind and Montero are adequately protected from same-handed pitching they will be positioned to succeed. By fWar the platoon projects to be twice as valuable as Trumbo in 2016 and should get on base plenty more. There is the problem of having two one-dimensional players on an otherwise flexible roster, but we will see how that shakes out in the spring.
Stefen Romero has also had his name tossed in the mix as a candidate and offers the flexibility of playing all three outfield positions as well. In 214 career plate appearances though, he owns a paltry 54 wRC+ and has yet to prove he can consistently hit major league pitching. This is a significant roadblock for him.
Gaby Sanchez‘ name is worth a mention as he’ll be in the mix for a role. But over parts of seven major league seasons he has a pedestrian .254/.332/.413 slash line and probably doesn’t give anything that Montero doesn’t.
Lee is the real dark house since as he’s a relative unknown right now. He could adjust well to the North American game or require several months in the minors. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill further details Lee and what he could bring to an MLB roster. What we know with some certainty is that he doesn’t provide any value in the field or on the bases. For him it’s the bat or bust.
The Mariners are subtracting a potential 30 home run hitter from the lineup, but in 2015, Lind actually out-slugged Trumbo by 11 points — a testament to his more well-rounded skill set at the plate. There’s even a possibility that Lind is more valuable than Trumbo by himself solely as a platoon hitter. If his mate can produce at or above a league average level then the potential for improvement at the position only increases.
As Jason discussed, there’s legitimate concern for having a truly one-dimensional player — be it Montero, Lee, or another player — but that’s a conversation for a different day.
Overall, it would appear that, indeed, the Mariners are better off without Trumbo, and we didn’t even mention any value that his return, Steve Clevenger, could bring as a solid back-up catcher. The star potential may not be there quite as it would be with Trumbo, but Seattle has increased their certainty at a position that has been anything but in recent years.