Perhaps no single transaction feels like a better encapsulation of the failure of Jack Zduriencik and the 2015 Seattle Mariners than the decision to trade recently acquired catcher Welington Castillo for Vidal Nuno and Mark Trumbo. Despite being acquired to spell the struggling Mike Zunino, Castillo was given a scant 28 PA before being turned over for yet another in Zduriencik's long held infatuation with right-handed power at the expense of everything else.
In the immediate short term, the trade was an absolute disaster. In June with Arizona Castillo posted a .897 OPS, more than double Trumbo's .390 over the same time with Seattle. With Vidal Nuno in Tacoma or long relief and the season slipping away the trade's first 30 days of results proved the final nail for many with Zduriencik and in fact the entire 2015 team.
There is no way to spin the trade as a "good" one. Even had Mike Zunino somehow figured out how to not be one of the worst hitting major league baseball players of all time, the trade is almost certainly going to be a loss for the Mariners. But this article is not about lamenting the past, and this site is not about making scapegoats of players, particularly for one bad month. So, let's look forward.
With Mark Trumbo entering his last year of arbitration next year, should the Mariners keep him and if so, where does he fit?
Assumptions and generalities
Mark Trumbo over the past 3 years (including this year) has accrued 2.1 fWAR. His salary in 2015 is $6.9 Million dollars. For the purposes of this article my estimation of his 2016 arbitration salary is $9.5 million, give or take a million dollars or so.
Looking over Trumbo's career we see a career year peak in 2012 of 2.3 WAR, and a nadir in 2014 of -1.2 WAR. Ouch. Of course Trumbo's story doesn't end with 2014, it doesn't even end after most of us wrote him off after that horrendous June. Since the All-Star Break, over ~200 PA Trumbo has hit .278/.339/.487. We are going to give 2016 Mark Trumbo a WAR range of 0.8-2.4. The possibility of 2014 exists, but Trumbo has used the second half of 2015 to rebuff the idea that his career has spiraled beyond repair.
Looking back at Trumbo's career it's interesting to notice that, despite his wild streakiness in season, his year to year numbers have largely remained static. Mark Trumbo, whelming as he is, is pretty easy to pencil in for a walk rate between 6-8%, a strikeout rate between 24-27%, and an ISO between .180-.220. He is a high strikeout, low walk, big power bat. Ten years ago this profile probably sees Trumbo washing out of baseball. But in today's run starved climate, he still has a place.
That place, to be abundantly clear, is at first base, regardless of which team Trumbo plays on next year. Defensive metrics are a fool's alchemy to my eye but, regardless of that data, I have seen enough of Mark Trumbo, outfielder, to know that he has no business in any position that contains the word "field". So we are considering him as a 1B/DH only. Now, should that be on the Mariners?
The 2016 Seattle Mariners are a gigantic question mark. Without in place leadership the future of next year's roster, nay the entire organizational philosophy is an unknown. I am assuming that whoever the team hires is going to attempt to leverage the Cano/Cruz/Seager/Felix window and shoot to win next year. If that is the case whoever takes over will have many holes to fill. In no particular order the team will need:
1-2 starting pitchers
2-3 new bullpen arms
1-2 major league catchers
1-2 bench players
That's as many as 11 new players on the 25 man roster for next year. I don't expect it to be that drastic but, well, this team has obvious flaws. What's out there in free agency? First base?
Casey Kotchman! Luke Scott! Really for a substantive upgrade the Mariners would probably have to throw 100+ million at Chris Davis, and then they would still need all the other things on the above list. Not a great use of funds. Now, how about outfielders?
Now we're talking. I cut this list off before we even got to potentially useful pieces like Shane Victorino, Wil Venable and, yes, Austin Jackson. With the Mariners having exactly zero everyday outfielders locked in for next year (seriously, put Nelson Cruz at DH), the team can afford to cast a wide net in this deep pool, regardless of the player's best outfield position.
The point is that Trumbo's addmittedly "meh" contributions in 2016 could have huge ramifications for the team, both in that the difference between him and the next man up is vast but also that his marginal competence allows the team the payroll flexibility to pursue above average to elite productivity in an area with readily available talent from outside the organization.
Mark Trumbo is never going to be anyone's favorite player, save our own David Skiba, and he wrote a recap about the Mariners as Transformers. The combination of the player traded to acquire him, his non-Moneyball skillset, and the horrendous first impression is probably going to stick with most as long as he is a part of the team. However, given his likely acceptable performance as a first baseman going forward, organizational depth and available free agent talent it is my opinion that Mark Trumbo should be the Mariners' primary 2016 first baseman, barring an unforeseen trade or shift in organizational philosophy.