Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk of you again
Because a trade softly creeping
Hit its bombs while I was tweeting 
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of “Trumbo”

Search this here website for “Mark Trumbo.” Seriously, go ahead. I’ve broached Mr. Trumbo in these pages time and time again. And I hope, with these finals words, to put an end to all of that.

On Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners traded Trumbo and minor league lefty-hander C.J. Riefenhouser to the Baltimore Orioles for 1B/C Steve Clevenger. Riefenhouser is a non-prospect lefty reliever who’s not pitched well in two short stints. Clevenger is a poor catcher who can’t hit. Mark Trumbo is a 1B/DH type who offers power and nothing else, but will cost Baltimore about $9 million in arbitration. The Mariners weren’t interested in paying his salary and dumped it on Baltimore in exchange for a bench player. At this point, that’s all Trumbo was really worth, and they had to throw another guy in the deal just to complete it.

And while we can point and laugh at the situation, we really shouldn’t. The Diamondbacks came within another poor Jack Z decision of being in the same position. Instead, they dodged a bullet midseason and spared themselves from being the butt of the joke (at least until they unveiled their new uniforms). As other have noted, baseball teams just aren’t willing to spend big money for one-dimensional baseball players any more. The game has changed and poor-fielding, slow, un-athletic sluggers are going to have a hard time staying employed. The Adam Dunn‘s of baseball are being phased out, one at a time.

If we want to trace the movement of Mr. Trumbo, it might go a little something like this:

  • Diamondbacks get 1B/OF Mark Trumbo from the Angels, give up LHP Tyler Skaggs and CF Adam Eaton
  • Diamondbacks trade 1B/OF Mark Trumbo and RHP Vidal Nuno to the Mariners for C Welington Castillo, RF Gabby Guerrero, SS Jack Reinheimer
  • Mariners trade 1B/OF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Reifenhouser to Orioles for 1B/C Steve Clevenger

Let’s just get this straight. Mark Trumbo was worth Skaggs and Eaton, a couple top-100 guys. Then, essentially, he was worth Castillo (who looked lost at the time), Guerrero and Reinheimer – basically an MLB fill-in and two okay-at-best prospects. Now he’s worth a little less than Steve Clevenger who’s barely a major leaguer.

Of course, that doesn’t take his salaries into account. The Angels got three years from Trumbo at the league minimum. Entering his first arbitration season, one in which he earned $4.8 million, he netted Skaggs and Eaton. By the time he was, or rather is, entering his third arbitration season when he’ll, again, make about $9 million, his value is at an all-time low. And we really have to ask: why is that? Is Mark Trumbo significantly worse than he was before? Why has his value dipped so sharply?

To answer the first question, no, he’s not markedly worse than before. He actually “rebounded” somewhat nicely in the final months of 2015 and put up a final offensive line like he did in 2011 and 2013. Sure, he played out of position in the outfield again, but that’s not his fault. He is who he was, mostly.

The answer to the second question is much more complicated and must more important. His value has dipped because his salary relative to his production has gone from “favorable” to “questionable” as he’s climbed the arbitration ladder. In arbitration, stats like home runs and RBI’s are overvalued. Trumbo can rack these up in the right scenario and they overshadow his warts. Even though his team has to deal with the whole package, they’re overwhelmingly paying for his best attributes while not getting credited for his worst. That’s arbitration in a nutshell – an non-nuanced process that distorts salaries.

So, what can we learn from all of this? I mean, Arizona was almost the team left holding the bag after all. The main takeaway is that one dimensional players are dropping in value and being stuck with them is something to avoid. This should tell you why no one’s knocking down Arizona’s door for Peter O’Brien. A secondary item may be thinking about which types of players are undervalued in arbitration – guys like Ender Inciarte who are productive but who’s selling points aren’t the traditional stats rewarded by arbitration. This extends to avoiding arbitration-eligible closers, like Addison Reed, as saves distort arbitration prices.

It’s hard to declare winners and losers of trades in the span of just a few months, but unless Steve Clevenger goes on to win the AL MVP or Vidal Nuno outpitches Felix Hernandez, the trade of Mark Trumbo to Seattle was a landslide win for Arizona. With that sentence, it’s time to stop writing about my old friend. It’s not, however, time to stop thinking about this all could have played out had the Mariners not bailed out the Diamondbacks. Would you rather have Castillo, Guerrero and Reinheimer, or Steve Clevenger? Wow, talk about avoiding a near-disaster. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

7 Responses to Double Plus: The Sounds of “Trumbo”

  1. If Trumbo hit like Adam Dunn in his prime, he would be a regular starting 1B for some team or a DH. The thing is, Trumbo’s OBP is horrific for a guy built entirely around power like he is. Dunn’s OBP was always quite good. Heck, even in 2011, when Dunn bordered on historically bad for the year, his OBP was almost that of Trumbo’s.

    “Let’s just get this straight. Mark Trumbo was worth Skaggs and Eaton, a couple top-100 guys.”

    Dipoto absolutely fleeced Kevin Towers while KT had his homer goggles on. Trumbo wasn’t worth anything close to what he Diamondbacks surrendered for him. Dipoto found someone who still believed that dingers were important all by themselves though.

    • anon says:

      Not sure why everyone was so high on Skaggs as people forget he had an ERA north of 5 at the highest level in two stints. His shine had been wearing off for some time. While he started as a top prospect, there were delivery concerns as well as injury warnings (which happened).

      • The issue was more about Skaggs still being a top-10-12 prospect in all of baseball. There were just as many signs that things could go right as there were that things could go wrong. He also was being shipped off with five controllable years left, the first 2 of which were going to be at league minimum. In exchange, they picked up one of the most expensive sorts of arbitration players out there. On top of that, they had no position in which to play him.

        No one is expecting the Dodgers to trade Julio Urias for a Trumbo-like player, and that is the sort of prospect profile Skaggs still had at the time.

        Yes, since the trade, Skaggs went under the knife. Trumbo also imploded. That doesn’t mean good value was bought in the trade with the assets the Diamondbacks had. Skaggs alone was too high a price to pay for Trumbo. Adding Eaton was just insult to injury.

  2. Amos Bullocks says:

    ….and Eaton lost the CF battle to AJP, a fact that pissed off many at the time.

    • Some of us were happy about that. I never wanted the team to trade either of them, but at the time, I still liked Pollock over Eaton. Eaton would have been right at home in RF though, leading off in front of Pollock and Goldschmidt. That’s a scary thought for opposing pitchers.

  3. BobJ says:

    Trumbo was never a fit here. He is clearly a one-dimensional AL player. He has no business in the NL. That being said, KT was definitely fleeced by Dipoto. Even if Skaggs numbers are not great, he was still a left-handed starter at the time. To package him with a potential CF starter such as Eaton should bring in more than a DH in trade. Thank goodness Towers is gone.

  4. jim says:

    Excellent article for so many reasons. But… all I can think about is the news that a little unknown guy named Zack will be pitching on Opening Day? I never would have thought that I’d be desperate to fly back to the states this coming summer to have a funky looking jersey with a funky sounding name like Greinky on the back… I can’t wait for a few double-plus articles about this trade well into the future! But, man, I’m super pumped but I hope the metrics tell us this was the right buy.

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