Assessing trades at the quarter pole: Steve Clevenger

On December 2nd, when the Mariners traded Mark Trumbo and C.J. Riefenhausen for left-handed hitting catcher Steve Clevenger, I was astounded. This looked like an NBA trade.

Thomas Nast Boss TweedThe trade always reminded me of this Thomas Nast depiction of Boss Tweed.

Trumbo was a lifetime .253/.303/.465 hitter with high strikeout and low walk rates.  He was defensively impaired at any number of positions.  Most importantly, he was going to be due between $9-10 million in arbitration.  Though Trumbo made progress in some of his all or nothing approach at the plate working with Edgar Martinez in 2015, it was just as clear that given his defensive limitations, Trumbo was someone Dipoto already traded once to Arizona, and he wouldn’t be afraid to do so again.

Clevenger has filled in capably as a back up for Chris Iannetta. In  43 plate appearances he’s hit .175/.233/.250.  He had a big hit to win yesterday’s game in Cincinnati.  Defensively, he isn’t horrible.  FanGraphs has him at -2 DRS.  No other ratings at all in his small sample size.

But the big part of the trade was the salary relief.  The M’s saved the $9.1 million Baltimore negotiated with Trumbo’s people prior to arbitration.  Undoubtedly the M’s put that savings elsewhere, like re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma.

Trumbo

How has that worked out?  Though he has cooled off in recent days, Mark Trumbo is off to a hot start, slashing .293/.345/.573 with 13 home runs and 31 RBI’s, good for wRC+ of 150.  These far exceed his career numbers. It’s unclear that he continue, and indeed his performance has cooled considerably in his last 24 games.

In retrospect, should the Mariners have held on to Trumbo, given his early season success? Hanging on to Trumbo likely would have meant the M’s could have avoided their current platoon situation at first base.  However, hindsight is always 20/20.  Trumbo’s quick start was not foreseeable; it is clearly out of line with his career performance. It’s also not clear that it’s sustainable, and we see that in his splits on Baseball Reference.

It was a strange move.  The M’s have a serviceable back-up catcher and cash. The Orioles have a serviceable outfielder with gigantic pop.  It’s a trade that seems to have worked out for both teams.

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