I’m going to have almost as much fun watching Mark Trumbo home runs in 2014-2016 as anyone else. Enjoying what he offers, though, does not mean we won’t suffer through what he doesn’t. And enjoying what he offers does not mean that the three-team swap that brought Trumbo to the desert today was anything but a failure of imagination by the Arizona front office.
Let’s look at a few aspects of this trade: 1) whether it was a good move, value for value; 2) whether it makes the D-backs better for 2014 and beyond; and 3) some silver linings.
Value for value, the Diamondbacks got #Trumboned
To obtain Trumbo, GM Kevin Towers traded LHP Tyler Skaggs and OF Adam Eaton. Arizona also gets two other players, one from the Angels and one from the White Sox. The Angels prospect appears to be A.J. Schugel, a right handed pitcher who struggled in AAA in 2013 before getting shut down due to a foot injury. Before the 2013 season, Schugel was ranked #10 by Minor League Ball’s John Sickels (C+ grade) in a system regarded by many as the worst in the majors. The prospect from the White Sox could be the 23-year-old Brandon Jacobs, an outfielder who put up a .727 OPS while being old for high A and AA. Sickels gave Jacobs a C+ grade, too, labeling him the #13 Red Sox prospect before the 2013 season (this is the second time he’s been traded in a year, as he was with Boston before the Matt Thornton trade).
For reference, before the season, Sickels gave Skaggs a grade of A- and Eaton a B grade. It wasn’t too long ago that Skaggs was the top lefty prospect in the game, but yes, he developed mechanical issues (mainly, staying too tall in his delivery) that robbed him of a few mph on his fastball. The curveball Skaggs offers still grades plus, and while his star has certainly fallen more than a little, a year ago trading Skaggs for Trumbo straight up would have been a horrific trade for the D-backs. Perhaps selling Skaggs at less than fifty cents on the dollar is a scathing indictment of the front office’s belief in its own staff’s ability to fix him.
Adam Eaton doesn’t easily fit into a category. His stock was also tarnished in 2013, but by injury, a partial ligament tear in his elbow that kept him out for about half of the season. Although his speed is plus or better, Eaton doesn’t seem to be well thought of defensively in center field (although most players’ range in center would look lacking when compared to that of A.J. Pollock). If Eaton isn’t a center fielder, then he’s an odd corner outfielder, a guy whose throwing arm was well thought of until his injury, but a guy who’s bat doesn’t profile as well in a corner. A very good baserunner, Eaton brings a lot to the table still — including on base percentages that hovered around .450 in many of his minor league stops. Should Eaton start to show .400 OBPs in the majors, he could become one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. I don’t want to fall into the trap of preferring some types of value to other types, but still: other than Mike Trout, can you think of many speedy, high OBP players in the majors, especially one who is cost-controlled for five more years? That could be something special.
Skaggs and Eaton might never be above average players, but they definitely could be — which is still saying a lot, especially in the context of a Diamondbacks organization that is incredibly average across the board. With a team like that of the D-backs, average or below average doesn’t offer that much right now, which is why selling Holmberg to move Bell’s contract was genius, and why the D-backs should be hoarding upside lottery tickets, not frittering them away.
As for Trumbo’s value, our Jeff Wiser had this to say on Monday:
Mark Trumbo has his warts, as do all players. As Mike Petriello pointed out over at RotoGraphs this fall, Mark Trumbo is who he is: a low-average, low-walk, high-strikeout player who doesn’t run the bases well and plays relatively poor outfield defense. So basically, if his power wasn’t nearly an eight, he would be in AAA. But his power is nearly an eight and that’s what the Diamondbacks want to buy from him. Both Steamer and Oliver projection systems see him hitting nearly 30 doubles and over 30 home runs in 2014. That’s power production, but it comes at a cost (low-OBP, clogging the bases, poor defense, etc.). He’s arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason and he’s likely to see somewhere in the neighborhood of $22-28M over the next three years. After that, he’ll be a 31-year old free agent who doesn’t appear to be someone who will age gracefully.
Compare that to five years of Eaton and six years of Skaggs. Is this really that close?
A little while ago, Jeff Sullivan had this to say at FanGraphs about what the D-backs got in Trumbo:
He’s not as good as his dingers and he’s not as bad as his OBP, and with his relatively low projected salaries, he stands to have some surplus value. It was worth trading something to get Mark Trumbo. But for three years of Trumbo getting paid many millions, Towers gave up six years of Skaggs and five years of Eaton. You’re not going to convince me that a couple players to be named later make this look good.
If Skaggs never recovers his 2011-2012 stuff, he might be a back of the rotation starter who will pitch almost for free for three years, before the arbitration scale starts. Eaton might be only a .370 OBP guy who stays as timid on the basepaths as he seemed to be at the end of the 2013 season. But these guys aren’t worthless, and a 2 WAR player who will be making arbitration salaries for the next three years is not worth a hell of a lot.
Think that Trumbo is worth a lot more than his 2 WAR status might suggest? Well, WAR is already about worth, and it seems as though you missed Jeff Wiser’s piece from this morning. If you did, go read the entire Perceived Value vs. Reality section now. Actually, just read the whole thing, as I’m not treading the same ground. I’ll wait.
Still not convinced? Well here’s Dave Cameron this morning at FanGraphs, before the trade went through:
If the reported price tag of Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs is even remotely close to true, it seems fairly clear that the Diamondbacks are drastically overrating the value of Mark Trumbo, an unsurprising result given that he possesses the skillset that is most often overrated. To give up a prospect like Skaggs for the right to swap a speed-and-defense +2 WAR player for a dingers-and-ribbies +2 WAR player suggests that the Diamondbacks are following the trend of putting far too much emphasis on the ways players create runs and not the amount of runs they create.
The idea that Eaton and Trumbo have similar on-the-field value goes right to the point: not getting fair value makes this trade a loss, but it’s the fact that the trade will not help Arizona win more games in 2014 anyway that makes it a failure.
All three of these players could be 0 WAR guys going forward, and while Trumbo is probably the best bet to be above 2 WAR (if barely), I think for a rough calculation, we can use 2 WAR for all three. 10 WAR at five years’ worth of major league minimum salaries is a treasure trove, and the cost versus benefit value at all three arbitration stairs still works against Arizona (two players versus one). That’s so, so much to give up.
You don’t have to believe me. Pretend that Skaggs isn’t part of the trade at all, that Trumbo is a 2.5 WAR guy moving forward, and that Adam Eaton is a 1.5 WAR guy. Overall, in the arb years, Trumbo probably will cost more, and give his team three more wins above replacement. Two years of Eaton at major league minimum salaries cancels that surplus value out, more or less.
Of course, it’s not all about getting a one hundred cents change for every dollar — it’s far, far more valuable, certainly, to have one 3 WAR player than to have two 1.5 WAR players (because if you had the 3 WAR player, you have the opportunity of filling the second slot with a player who is better than replacement level). I think, in reality, we’re looking at a discrepancy between Trumbo and Eaton of less than half a win, though, and while Trumbo pretty much is what he’s ever going to be, Eaton has a lot of room to improve (and potentially be a better player than Trumbo in 2015 and 2016). The idea that Arizona derives benefit from concentrating value in Trumbo’s slot is at odds with the reality that Skaggs would also get a bump in value, because his chance at being well above average means his new team could get to concentrate value in one slot, too.
It can also be good to trade a dollar for less than a hundred cents if you’re getting back something you need (upgrading a position at which you’re worse), or if you have more dollars than you can use (if you have three good third basemen, it makes sense to trade one or two for pitching, even at a discount, because pitching is more fungible). But did Arizona actually do either of those things?
Instead of making the team better, the trade is subtraction by addition
Here at Inside the ‘Zona, we’ve been obsessed with this playing time puzzle for 2014 since before the offseason began. The fact that Martin Prado could slot in at third or left complicates things, as does the fact that we can’t know what Cody Ross is capable of in 2014, and that Ross is too good and too expensive to just write off as a loss.
Since the summer, I’ve been a firm believer that time shares can really work, particularly one that involves 4 players and 3 position. Trying to play matchups and maximize production from 6 players (Eaton, Pollock, Parra, Ross, Prado, Davidson) across 4 positions (OF, 3B) is a much tougher proposition. We knew that something had to give, and so adding Trumbo is not a one-for-one proposition with exactly one player dropping out. We get that.
Still, you can’t add Trumbo plate appearances without taking them away from someone. According to Bernie Pleskoff, Towers has made it “very clear” that Prado will be the guy playing third, not Davidson. We’ll come back to that in a minute. But removing Davidson from the equation, Arizona still would have had Ross, Eaton, Pollock and Parra looking for playing time. Pollock is now the only true center fielder, so he’ll start most games, although it’s Parra that will probably move over to cover him (especially if Ross is around to fill in at right).
Switch Eaton out for Trumbo. With Pollock and Parra playing virtually full time, where does that leave Cody Ross? Is he just insurance, in the event of injury? If so, he’s only good as insurance for Trumbo and Parra, because Parra’s throwing arm has much less value in center field, and Parra’s throwing arm is a big part of his defensive value, and Parra’s defensive value is a big part of his overall value.
Parra is too good to bench. Of 558 position players who logged at least 50 PA in 2013, Parra tied for 32nd in WAR with 4.6 (twice as much value as Trumbo). As Jeff wrote about a possible platoon this morning:
Maybe you platoon the righty Ross and the lefty Parra in right field but now you’re cutting into the playing time of both players and spending over $15 million to do it. I’m not sure that’s the best use of resources for a mid-market team.
‘Nuff said. But if everyone reading this is willing to concede that Parra is likely to be a better performer in 2014 than Ross, then we can also think about this “subtraction by addition” issue by examining what would happen if Ross was benched entirely.
Cody Ross was very good in 2013 before he got hurt. Yes, he was barely above average offensively — it did really seem like he was starting to come on when he got hurt, but in his 351 PA, he was 2% better at creating runs than the average hitter (102 wRC+), not the 14% better he was in 2012 (114 wRC+). He was pretty damned good defensively, though. 23 UZR/150 is excellent, and 20 Defensive Runs Saved in a mere 712 innings is also excellent. Overall, Ross put up 1.8 wins above replacement despite just 351 PA, just over half a season.
Trumbo put up 2.5 WAR in 678 PA, nearly twice as many PA as Ross. Are we positive that blocking Ross with Trumbo is actually helping the team in 2014? We can’t possibly be. Maybe Trumbo would be better; maybe he wouldn’t. Since we’re paying Ross anyway, and since we have (or had) the depth to cover for Ross if he couldn’t play consistently, I’m not sure it was worth trading away two good players to find out. Steamer projects 1.8 WAR for Ross in 2014, with more playing time (expecting less of a contribution on defense). It projects 2.2 WAR for Trumbo, an upgrade, but not a big one. And, in case you’re counting at home, Steamer projects a 1.7 WAR for Eaton in 412 PAs (suggesting a WAR over 2 with more playing time). And, in case you’re really counting at home, Eaton would have had room to improve in subsequent years.
Ok, so maybe it’s a wash. But Ross does not become the only casualty with Trumbo getting virtually all of the LF starts — with Martin Prado at third base, Matt Davidson gets shipped away, or relegated to the bench.
This is where I really get confused. I don’t rate or evaluate prospects with anything but numbers, but all I’ve ever read about Matt Davidson are (extremely reasonable) reports of future .250 batting averages, with average defense at third — and 25 HR power. That’s short of the 34 HR that Trumbo put up in 2013, definitely, and the difference is significant. But factoring in defense and the fact that Davidson could play a skill position, and I think the 2014 D-backs (or at least the 2015 D-backs) come out behind, not ahead.
Steamer thinks that Davidson only gets 101 PA in 2014, so I’m going to decline to simply take his stats and multiply them (I would be much more comfortable doing so at 300 PA, maybe). FanGraphs also has the Oliver projections for 2014 ready, though, which rates most players similarly (although it has Eaton at a well-above-average 3.6 WAR). Projecting 600 PA, Oliver pegs Davidson’s likely 2014 contributions at 1.7 WAR. Given that Davidson’s power-first profile is of a similar type to Trumbo’s, but that he fits on the roster better, I think picking up Trumbo is subtraction by addition, if only for Davidson reasons.
As Jeff skillfully illustrated this morning, it’s not all about performance on the field in 2014, though. Even removing service time from the equation, the D-backs have only so much money, and the proper way for a mid-market team to spend money is something other than blowing it on upgrades that aren’t really upgrades. The money freed up by the Bell trade is now gone, and despite reports that they’re looking to sign a free agent starting pitcher, I’m not convinced that Arizona has more money bullets to fire.
The Silver Linings
I’m trying, here. I’m really trying.
One good thing is that the Trumbo trade seems to signal a commitment to A.J. Pollock in center field, as more or less a full time starter (unless the plan for Ross is to fill in at RF, pushing Parra). That’s pretty cool, if you ask me. Even those who rail against using a defense-first right fielder can be happy about having such a strong defender in center.
I was not a Pollock fan for much of the season, and a .409 slugging percentage will never set the world on fire. He’ll put up slightly above average batting averages, but keep things on the ground. In 2013, he was a mere 2% below average at creating runs (98 wRC+). But more importantly, Pollock did set the world on fire with his defense — particularly his range.
Of the 140 position players who qualified for the batting title, Pollock came in 8th overall in RngR, the component of Ultimate Zone Rating that constitutes range. Of the 7 players ahead of him, only Parra (RF only) and Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez were outfielders. But RngR is a counting stat, and no player ahead of him on the list had less than 1,000 innings at their position (Pollock had 915.2). That’s why that when UZR is turned into a rate stat, (UZR/150), Pollock does even better: 28.6 UZR/150, 5th best among all (qualified) position players in 2013. That’s defense worth playing even if it came with significantly below average hitting, a la Peter Bourjos.
So Pollock is worth quite a bit. I thought a 60%-80% playing time situation would work well for him, but Pollock could put up some interesting numbers in 2014. Of the 54 position players ahead of Pollock in WAR in 2013, only six had fewer than Pollock’s 482 PA: Juan Uribe (5.1), Hanley Ramirez (5.1), Carlos Gonzalez (4.9), Colby Rasmus (4.8), Yasiel Puig (4.0), and Yan Gomes (3.7). Most of the players ahead of him had more than 600 PA. Pollock could do some damage next year, even if it’s mostly from catching fly balls (and one wonders if he might typically shade to left field, given Parra’s fantastic range and Trumbo’s other kind of range).
Another thing that the Trumbo trade brings is clarity. Even if it’s for the worse, the roster is taking shape. Assuming health for Aaron Hill, Prado is setting up camp at third base, making Matt Davidson completely expendable. Sure, if Davidson is still on the roster and one of Trumbo, Prado or Goldy gets hurt, he’d be the guy to fill in. But I think we can expect that he’ll get moved, now.
Maybe Davidson won’t reach that 25 HR prediction, but consider this: only 6 third basemen had more than 22 HR in 2013. David Wright could have reached that level but for injury, but Miguel Cabrera (44 HR) is now moving to first. Power at third base is pretty scarce, and if Davidson is average defensively, he’s going to stick as an average player at third, rather than as a below average player at first. Davidson could get some real value on the trade market, and with the clarity brought by the Trumbo trade, there’s almost no reason not to cash it in.
What do you all thing of the Trumbo trade? Feel free to post some silver linings of your own. We could all use some.
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