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To tender or not to tender: Mark Trumbo’s Future

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The deadline to tender contracts to team-controlled players is fast approaching, and the Mariners have a conundrum on their hands.

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Tomorrow, the Seattle Mariners are faced with an unenviable decision. The deadline to tender contracts to players under team control is on the horizon and I’d expect no surprises. Except in the case of Mark Trumbo. I’m not sure anyone knows what to do with Mark Trumbo. There’s a nontrivial case to be made for not tendering a contract to Mark Trumbo, as farfetched as it may seem.

Earlier in the offseason, there were a few rumors that Jerry Dipoto was shopping Mark Trumbo. Then, this morning, Bob Dutton threw more coal on the fire with this report:

Moving Trumbo makes sense based on the values and philosophies Dipoto has been preaching since being hired, but it may not be so easy. After five seasons in the majors, we have a pretty good idea of what Trumbo is going to provide. He’s capable of generating above average batted ball velocities, allowing his power to play no matter where he’s hitting. The rest of his offensive profile is lacking, however. He strikes out too much, he doesn’t walk enough, and the rest of his batted ball profile contributes to long stretches of streaky production. Playing him in the outfield is a disaster we witnessed last year, though he is an average defender at first.

Currently, Trumbo is penciled in as the starting first baseman if the season started tomorrow. However, if he’s moved, there isn’t anyone else who could step into that spot on the roster. Behind him on the organizational depth chart are Jesus Montero, Patrick Kivlehan, and D.J. Peterson. None of those three elicit any amount of confidence, so moving Trumbo would necessitate a follow up move.

Trumbo is scheduled to earn around $9.1 million in 2016 via salary arbitration (based on MLBTradeRumors’ calculations). That’s a hefty amount of change for a player who is projected to accumulate just 1.1 fWAR next year. Based on the current estimated value of a win on the open market, the Mariners would be slightly overpaying Trumbo based on his current projections. That’s a gross simplification of the situation but it illustrates the bind the Mariners find themselves in. Do they hope that Trumbo outplays his projections (and therefore his salary) or do they free up that salary for another player who might be a better fit for the roster?

This decision facing Jerry Dipoto is exacerbated by the impending deadline tomorrow. If he’s planning on trying to move Mark Trumbo this offseason anyway, it would be in his best interest to do it before tomorrow’s deadline. But if he can’t move him before tomorrow, why should the Mariners tender him a contract anyway? By non-tendering him now, Dipoto immediately frees up that salary for any future moves, including acquiring a new first baseman, whether it’s through trade or free agency. It would be a bold move, particularly in light of the black hole behind Trumbo in the organization, but one that could open up new possibilities.

If they non-tender Trumbo now, the Mariners would also forfeit any potential return a future trade might bring back—assuming Trumbo’s trade market is healthy and active. That’s a calculated risk Dipoto will have to make since a future trade is not guaranteed. Imagine the bind that could be created if Dipoto acquires another first baseman but is unable to unload Trumbo—or even if Dipoto has the opportunity to acquire another first baseman but has to pass because of the presence of Trumbo on the roster. Really, it comes down to your assessment of Trumbo’s value in a trade and the amount of talent he would return. He won’t return the same kind of talent as he did in 2013, and it’s unclear if he would return anyone who would be MLB-ready at all.

This isn’t an easy decision and each possibility comes with its own set of risks. I’ve simplified the problem to make it easier to understand but there are certainly nuances that I’ve condensed or overlooked. Luckily, I’m not the one making these decisions. This challenge facing Jerry Dipoto will test his ability to creatively tackle a problem he inherited from his predecessor. My guess is that Mark Trumbo will be a Mariner after tomorrow, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a Mariner come April.