Revisiting the Trumbo-for-Clevenger deal
With Mark Trumbo currently scorching all parts of the Earth with his bat, I’ve been asked by several casual Oriole fans, “Where did Trumbo come from?”
When I explain that the Orioles and the Seattle Mariners made a trade this December that sent reserve catcher Steve Clevenger to the Mariners for Trumbo and since waived reliever C.J. Riefenhauser, I get more queries.
“What in the name of Erik Bedard were the Seattle Mariners thinking?”
“Were they apologizing for signing Nelson Cruz?”
“Are the Mariners secretly invested in the Orioles’ success?”
My answers, in order: A financial decision; no; and, given the Trumbo trade and the 2008 Bedard deal (which netted the Orioles Adam Jones and Chris Tillman, among others), maybe.
Seriously, acquiring Trumbo for Clevenger was a simple matter of economics and fluid roster pieces; the timing worked out perfectly for the Orioles.
Trumbo was in his final year of arbitration this winter, and the assumption was he would make $9 million or more.
A new regime in Seattle was looking to shake up things a little, and they were about to sign free agent Nori Aoki, which would create a bit of a logjam in the outfield and ultimately at designated hitter, where Cruz needs to get occasional at-bats to rest his weary legs.
The Mariners also figured they could find a quality first baseman more cheaply – and a week later they did, trading for Milwaukee’s Adam Lind, who is due $8 million in 2016. Seattle also was in search of a backup catcher, so that prospect Mike Zunino could get more seasoning in the minors.
For Trumbo’s salary – which ended up being $9.15 million – the Mariners could pay Lind and Clevenger, create more lineup flexibility and have a little money left over to go toward another purchase.
The timing of the deal was exceptionally important for the Orioles. There was a concern that they may lose free agent first baseman Chris Davis and his prodigious power, and needed to fill that hole (Davis, ultimately re-signed for a seven-year, $161 million deal).
Also, a few weeks earlier, Matt Wieters had accepted the Orioles’ $15.8 million, one-year qualifying offer, meaning he, again, would be the club’s starting catcher and Caleb Joseph would be the backup. So Clevenger, who couldn’t accomplish much more in the minors, was in limbo.
Bottom line: The deal fit for both sides in early December.
But, even then, it seemed lopsided, assuming Trumbo could put up numbers similar to what he’s done in his career. He’s hit 22 or more homers in four of his previous five seasons; In 2012 and 2013, he hit a combined 66 homers and made 2012 the All Star team for the Los Angeles Angels.
We all know what he’s done so far with the Orioles, smashing five homers in a five-game period, including two in one inning Friday, while batting .400 with five, multi-hit games in his first 10 contests.
Meanwhile, Clevenger is hitless in seven at-bats in limited action with the Mariners. Lind is batting .192 with no homers in nine games for Seattle.
Riefenhauser is with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate after being claimed off waivers from the Orioles in February. In four relief appearances with Iowa, he has allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings.
It’s obviously way too early to evaluate the trade fully – Trumbo could get hurt and Clevenger (and Lind, for that matter) could end up hitting the way he is capable.
But, so far, the Orioles decision to pay the arbitration-eligible Trumbo is money well spent — and a heist potentially worth investigating.
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