December 1, 2015 will be known less for the trade that sent Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles, and entirely for David Price agreeing to take his talents to Beantown. But, it does mark week five of new general manager Jerry Dipoto‘s reconstruction of the Seattle Mariners.
In the deal, the Orioles receive a presumed replacement for free agent slugger Chris Davis and left-handed reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. The Mariners receive Steve Clevenger, a catcher most notably known for being the other player the Chicago Cubs sent to Baltimore in the Jake Arrieta trade two summers ago.
In Clevenger, Seattle adds some much needed major league calibre catching depth. The 29-year-old owns a 64 wRC+ in 446 career plate appearances, which is more than triple Jesus Sucre‘s career mark. Clevenger has hit well at Triple-A and posted a very respectable .287/.314/.426 slash line in 105 plate appearances for the O’s this past season.
Clevenger has posted solid walk and strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and has also spent time at first and third base. You may be tired of hiring it by now — or perhaps it’s a breath of fresh air after the carousel of all-hit sluggers — but this is exactly the type of player Dipoto has targeted.
On paper the left-hander will sit No. 2 to recent acquisition Chris Iannetta, which should push Opening Day catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A. With two capable catchers now on the roster, the Mariners can allow their former first-round pick to spend the entire 2016 season in the minors to work on his hitting if it’s necessary. Flexibility.
In Trumbo Baltimore gains a career .300 OBP first baseman — don’t pretend he’s still an outfielder — with the capacity for 30 home runs. He only hit 13 in four months with the M’s, but the combined 96 home runs between 2011 and 2013 is still tantalizing.
Riefenhauser was acquired as part of the deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays and figured to be part of the bullpen competition come spring.
Overall the Mariners are dealing a player who resembled a middle of the order bat perhaps more in reputation than performance. I thought he would have made a solid No. 5 or 6 hitter behind the triumvirate of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. But the resurgence of Franklin Gutierrez‘ power likely made the decision to deal Trumbo easier, if only slightly.
Most importantly, this trade gives the Mariners what Dipoto has sought: flexibility.
In his final round of salary arbitration before reaching free agency, the 29-year-old Trumbo was due approximately $9 million. Reportedly the Orioles tried to get Seattle to cover some of his projected salary, but were unsuccessful. This could be where the addition of Riefenhauser was required.
Clevenger will play for the league minimum in 2016 and given that the position was going to cost the Mariners at least that much anyway, one could argue that the club has the entirety of Trumbo’s projected salary cleared for spending elsewhere.
Now’s as good a time as any to mention that there’s no evidence to suggest the Mariners needed to move Trumbo’s salary due to budgetary restrictions. So let’s just leave that topic be.
One area that newly found money could be spent is on starting pitching. As evidenced in free agent contracts given out to Price and former Mariner J.A. Happ, there’s a lot of money to be had if you are a free agent starter.
As it stands, the M’s are not reported to be close to locking up Hisashi Iwakuma for 2016 and beyond. There were some rumblings the team was willing to go two years and $20-24 million in a deal. As has been stated in this space previously, there’s reason for Iwakuma to ask for three years and get it. And if not three years, a yearly salary more closely resembling the $15.8 million qualifying offer he declined. It’s conceivable that a couple of the saved millions could be allotted to Iwakuma or an equivalent starter.
While talks with the right-hander continue, the Mariners will need to turn some attention towards who will play first base.
The answer to that question is unlikely to come from within the organization. While I’d love to see a team rewarded for giving Jesus Montero a legitimate chance at winning a starting job in Spring Training, I don’t see it happening here. If he’s still on the club come March, there’s no reason not to give him a shot at making the team, but there’s still much to be proved.
D.J. Peterson is slated to begin 2016 at Triple-A and could earn a second-half call-up with a strong start to the season. Otherwise the pickings are slim. And no, Cano will not be the Mariners first baseman in 2016. But as Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins eloquently wrote, it’s a sensible possibility for the near future.
I don’t believe Chris Davis is a realistic option for this club despite the potential fit. Three players on contracts paying north of $20 million each per year doesn’t work. Unless, payroll were to increase by a proportional amount, which is still unlikely.
Mike Napoli is an interesting free agent fit. The recently-turned 34-year-old is coming off a down year and has some injury concerns, but his career 125 wRC+ would play. Otherwise the free agent market offers Justin Morneau and Steve Pearce, who aren’t regulars, and Ike Davis who was non-tendered by the Oakland Athletics today.
Davis hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded him while coming up in the New York Mets organization, but hits right-handers well and could be paired with a lefty-masher.
The Chicago White Sox would probably love to deal Adam LaRoche and the $13 million remaining on his deal, but the left-hander is coming off his worst year since an injury-shortened 2011.
Adam Lind could be a more suitable option with one-year and $8 million owed to him for 2016. He posted a 116 wRC+ with Milwaukee in 2015 but has a massive career platoon split: 130 wRC+ against right-handers and 54 wRC+ against left-handers. Conceivably the Brewers would be after pitching, or anything that would help, but it may not be in Seattle’s best interest to give up a controllable starter for half of a first base platoon.
I have previously plead my case for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Scott Van Slyke, and he could still be a fit now. The Dodgers are again likely to move an outfielder and Van Slyke is capable of handling all three outfield positions as well as first base. He has a career .337 OBP and 120 wRC+ but has yet to be a starter for a full season.
Picking up a back-up catcher is nice, but essentially the Mariners gave up a fringy reliever to rid themselves of the money potentially owed to Trumbo. If you remove Trumbo from the mix, since he could have been non-tendered anyway, the deal is Riefenhauser for Clevenger or a swapping of spare parts that fit needs.
My takeaway is that there was a very small market for Trumbo. There were reports that the Colorado Rockies were interested for a few moments — imagine that power in Coors field — but they were the only other team connected to the slugger.
I don’t see how the Mariners are better today than they were yesterday, but we won’t be able to judge this deal fairly until the money saved is spent. What they are today is more flexible, which has been Dipoto’s mandate thus far.