Mark Trumbo, Vidal Nuno –> Seattle; Dom Leone, Welington Castillo, Gabby Guerrero, Jack Reinheimer –> Arizona
The M’s and Diamondbacks pulled off a six-player swap tonight that bring free-swinging slugger Mark Trumbo and undersized lefty starter Vidal Nuno to the M’s. At first glance, this seems like something of an odd move. The M’s have done very well against lefties, and struggled a bit against righties on the year. The M’s have a high SLG%, low OBP righty to platoon at LF/DH in Rickie Weeks, and the M’s just saw Mike Montgomery pitch effectively against the Yankees. It seems odd, because it is – there’s no getting around it. Many baseball writers I respect are lining up to lambast the trade, and I completely understand the argument: the M’s have been terrible at getting on base, and adept at hitting home runs, and this combination has produced a bad offense overall. The M’s just acquired a hitter who’s terrible at getting on base, but adept at hitting home runs. Typically, teams patch holes by acquiring skills they don’t have instead of acquiring players whose skills mirror the club’s (hole-infested) overall numbers. When Mike Morse failed, the club brought in Corey Hart. When Rickie Weeks failed, they’re bringing in Mark Trumbo *at the cost of a top prospect*.
And yet, you look at the overall talent the M’s are bringing in versus what they’re sending out and the picture gets a bit fuzzier. This is, essentially, a brilliant answer to a question no one’s asked. And that brings us to something that may actually balance the oddity of bringing a sub-.300 OBP slugger to a sub-.300 OBP team. If you’re a big league GM in 2015, what’s the BEST POSSIBLE phone call you could receive? Maybe that your pitching prospect in AA is suddenly throwing 105, or that your low-A shortstop has homered in 15 straight at-bats. Failing that, though, I think perhaps the dream scenario is for Arizona GM Dave Stewart to call you, and for Dave Stewart to have a clear, imminent, pressing need. Arizona has confused the rest of baseball with a series of moves that, thus far, have failed to improve the club. They have a brilliant, all-star 1B and some solid pieces around him, but their eye for pro talent seems…different than other clubs. The club committed $70 million to Cuban Yasmany Tomas then tried and repeatedly failed to convince people he was a 3B and not a LF. This week, their starting catcher, Tuffy Gosewisch, went down with an ACL tear and will miss the rest of the year. The D-Backs are playing 3B/C Jordan Pacheco and the mortal remains of Gerald Laird at C right now, and you’re Jack Zduriencik, and a phone call comes in with a 602 area code. What would YOU do?
The D-Backs have been shopping Mark Trumbo for a while. They have three solid OFs in AJ Pollock, Ender Inciarte and David Peralta, and they’ve got Tomas, who seriously can’t play 3B and would have to move anyway when starter Jake Lamb returns from injury. If there’s one player in baseball available for a sub-market price, it might be Trumbo. Adding in Vidal Nuno, who fills an ACTUAL need for the M’s, and the move gets easier to stomach. More importantly, while Trumbo doesn’t seem like a great fit in Seattle, he’s probably a good fit *somewhere*. In the next month, teams that have a need might inquire about Trumbo, and now they’ll call Seattle. I believe the M’s acquired Welington Castillo with the belief that he’d stick around and provide some offense from the C spot, but dealt him because they had a better offer. Similarly, I think the M’s believe Trumbo is a solution to their runs-scored problem, but I have to think they’d listen if, say, the Angels wanted to upgrade from poor-man’s-Trumbo CJ Cron to the genuine article in an attempt to track down the Astros. The M’s have turned Yoervis Medina, Dom Leone and prospects into Mark Trumbo and rotation depth. That’s not an earth-shattering return, but it’s also not too shabby.
The part of this deal that stings is losing Gabriel Guerrero, Vlad’s nephew and an intriguing talent who was a consensus top-10 prospect for the M’s. Despite hitting .300 in the Cal League last year, Guerrero clearly hasn’t turned his raw tools into production at this stage. He’s got a .567 OPS in AA thus far – a .267 wOBA – in his age-21 season. The comparison is as unfair as it is inevitable, but Vlad Guerrero was *also* 21 when he AA, but his slash line was a bit different – it was .360/.438/.612. Turning tools to talent takes longer for some guys, so Gabby’s current year OPS is clearly not his ceiling, but bloodlines and tools only go so far. Magglio Ordonez famously struggled for years in the White Sox system and he turned out okay, but I think people forget just how unlikely it is for guys who struggle in the minors to turn into big league stars. I’m not as into scouting-by-statistics as I was when I was young and dumb, but Guerrero has plenty of red flags at this stage.
Castillo clearly filled a need on the M’s, and his absence makes the team marginally weaker. Instead of Castillo spelling Zunino, it’ll be Jesus Sucre or John Hicks. Neither has, or will ever have, Castillo’s bat, and that’s a clear downgrade. But both might be better defenders, and the offensive gap simply can’t be that big given the number of plate appearances Castillo and his replacements would get the rest of the way. Losing Dominic Leone is tougher now that the M’s vaunted relief-pitching depth isn’t what it used to be, but we’re talking about a (struggling) 6th inning righty. Leone wasn’t going to close for this club, and is appropriately behind Tom Wilhelmsen and Carson Smith as righty set-up men. Jack Reinheimer was a perfectly decent MiLB SS who was already splitting time with perfectly decent MiLB SS Tyler Smith for AA Jackson. The M’s side of the deal isn’t JUST org depth, but they paid a price they could afford.
Ultimately, your view of this comes down to two things. One, is Gabriel Guerrero one tweak away from stardom or another in a long line of Vlad’s relatives who haven’t been able to hack it in the affiliated minors? Two, is this a case where Zduriencik’s fixation on RH power will override any potential benefit the M’s might get from pulling off a solid trade – that is, will the club’s need to run an OF of Trumbo/Ruggiano/Cruz against any lefty, defense be damned, prevent them from maximizing their return? I don’t really know the answer to either question. I believe Guerrero is a long shot, and I believe Trumbo has actual value*. I think the M’s are in a better position as we near the trade deadline, even as I acknowledge that they haven’t materially improved the 2015 offense that much. I’m a bit concerned that the club doesn’t care about their own OBP, and I’m concerned at how they’ve handled the bench and LF spots to date. That said, I keep thinking about the value of a desperate Dave Stewart, willing to sell Trumbo and Nuno in exchange for Welington Castillo+.
* In a very low run-scoring environment, SLG% becomes more valuable, as you’re less likely to string a bunch of hits together to score runs. In a high run-scoring environment, OBP is more valuable, because the cost of each out is higher. The M’s play in a very low-scoring environment, so you could kind of straight-face an argument about Trumbo here. It wouldn’t really work given the M’s combo of terrible OBP, high-SLG% and terrible runs-scored, but you could say that Trumbo is in a way more valuable in Seattle than in Arizona, even if he’d likely put up better numbers in the desert. That’s putting aside his value to other clubs, which is real, and might rise the closer we get to the trade deadline.
[EDIT - Dave has a good article at Fangraphs this morning on the point I raised here, that Trumbo has a bit more value in Seattle *because* the team OBP and run environment are low. Take a look.]