When Kevin Towers took over the Diamondbacks as general manager, one of the first things he did was make a trade. In Mark Reynolds, he had a 27-year-old entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. The big righty had clear strikeout problems, and he wasn’t known to be an asset anywhere in the field, but what made Reynolds was his power. Strength was his defining characteristic, and to that point Reynolds owned a career 108 wRC+ while being worth about eight WAR. In short, he was simultaneously flawed and useful, and Towers gave him up to the Orioles in exchange for a couple relievers. One of them is all right.
Towers is still in charge of the Diamondbacks as general manager, and the most recent thing he’s done is make a trade. As had been rumored for a good while, Towers pulled the trigger on a deal to bring in Mark Trumbo. Trumbo is a 27-year-old entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. The big righty has clear strikeout problems, and he’s not known to be an asset anywhere in the field, but what makes Trumbo is his power. Strength is his defining characteristic, and to this point Trumbo owns a career 111 wRC+ while having been worth about seven WAR. In short, he’s simultaneously flawed and useful, and Towers got him from the Angels in exchange for Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs. Both of them could be quality young players.
The situation, naturally, is different for the Diamondbacks organization. And general managers and all people are always welcome to change their minds about things based on new information. But Monday night, on MLB Network, Towers went on and emphasized that he wanted to add some power to his lineup. Comparing the moves makes for an interesting parallel, because while Reynolds and Trumbo aren’t identical, they are different brands of the same thing. Towers sold one of them low, and he bought one of them high.
I guess I should lay out all of the details, because this is actually a three-way trade between the Diamondbacks, Angels, and White Sox. In sum:
- Arizona gets: Mark Trumbo, PTBNL from Chicago, PTBNL from Los Angeles
- Arizona gives: Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton
- Los Angeles gets: Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago
- Los Angeles gives: Mark Trumbo, PTBNL
- Chicago gets: Adam Eaton
- Chicago gives: Hector Santiago, PTBNL
The first remark is the harshest. While Trumbo’s a fairly well-known player, and while three-way trades are always good for intrigue, it might well work out that this trade doesn’t include any star players. It might not even include any good players, if good means at least above-average. Towers claims that the players to be named later are good, but rumor has it they’re both eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and they’re coming out of empty systems, so it’s not like they’re going to sway things more in Arizona’s favor. The way I see it, it’s an overall overrated exchange, where the White Sox do best, the Angels do fine, and the Diamondbacks confuse.
For the Sox, it’s basically a swap of Santiago for Eaton. The player to be named isn’t valueless, but he’s probably not a prospect of note, so it keeps things cleaner to think of this as a one-for-one. Santiago is a cost-controlled starter who can eat up some innings in the back of a rotation. Eaton, though, is a different kind of cost-controlled starter, and there’s a good chance he’ll be able to play a regular center field going forward. He even comes with an extra year before free agency.
Santiago’s strength is that he can miss some bats. The rest of his reality is that he doesn’t throw enough strikes or generate a high number of grounders, and you can see where this is going — his peripherals don’t come close to matching his sub-4 ERA, and in cases like this we always side with the peripherals. As a starter, Santiago looks below-average, with limited room for improvement. There’s some chance he ends up a reliever, which he was in 2012. He’s a potential long-term player who’s not a real long-term asset.
Eaton’s coming off a year of reduced stock, thanks in large part to an elbow injury that cost him playing time. There exist some questions about his defensive capability, and he’s a groundball guy more than he’s a power guy. What he does is make contact, run well, and mostly swing at the right pitches, which seems to establish something of a modest floor with limited upside. Of course, players like Eaton have failed before, but for a long time, for low prices, he could be average or a little better than that. That’s better than Santiago, which is the only thing that matters here.
Shifting to the Angels, they lose Trumbo, but they were prepared for that. They lose a player to be named, but presumably they’re always prepared for that. The deal addresses their lack of rotation depth, and while I’ve already said what I have to say on Santiago, he can at least be a functional sixth or seventh starter. Skaggs is the get, and he should work out of the rotation right away. He’s theirs through 2019 if they want him.
You can’t talk about Skaggs without talking about what he used to be. Two years ago, Baseball America considered him baseball’s 13th-best prospect. One year ago, they considered him baseball’s 12th-best prospect. Now he’s coming off a disappointing year that saw him pitch with reduced velocity. He didn’t pitch anywhere in September, the Diamondbacks preferring to give him the month off. As the problem, they identified some mechanical flaws, but it’s never been a secret that Skaggs was available for the right price.
Now he’s back in the organization that gave him up for Dan Haren. He’s 22 years old, and though he was throwing more in the high-80s than the low-90s, his secondary stuff was intact and Skaggs was still able to miss bats. It’s easy to see how Skaggs could be on the way to busting, but he still has promising statistical indicators, and of course there’s the history. As his diminished self, Skaggs can pitch out of a rotation. If he bounces back some, he can pitch toward the front of one. Buying low on young pitchers is a sure-fire way to end up with a lot of disappointing young pitchers, but Skaggs has clear promise and is the best gamble here to end up legitimately great.
One also can’t ignore that, this year, the Angels will save about $4 million. They’re a team that’s been hard up for money, so that’s not insignificant. They’ll save money next year and the year after that, too, presuming they would’ve otherwise just kept Trumbo. There’s a decent chance the Angels get nothing out of this. There’s a decent chance they get a good young starter.
Finally, the Diamondbacks. As Dave Cameron wrote earlier, Trumbo is simultaneously underrated and overrated. He’s not as good as his dingers and he’s not as bad as his OBP, and with his relatively low projected salaries, he stands to have some surplus value. It was worth trading something to get Mark Trumbo. But for three years of Trumbo getting paid many millions, Towers gave up six years of Skaggs and five years of Eaton. You’re not going to convince me that a couple players to be named later make this look good.
The easiest thing is to look at the projections. Steamer projects Trumbo for a 2.2 WAR, and it projects Eaton for a 1.7 WAR. However, that’s 1.7 WAR in 200 fewer plate appearances, so just on that alone, Eaton at least looks equivalent. Based on the projections, Arizona acquired an outfielder for a cheaper, equivalent outfielder and a talented young starting pitcher to boot. What Arizona gained, certainly, is a lot of power, which is exactly what Kevin Towers wanted. What Arizona didn’t gain, or at least what Arizona didn’t gain much of, is overall value. Even if you figure Trumbo will be better than Eaton in 2014, the gap can be only so big because Trumbo is only so good, and then there’s Skaggs being included in addition.
Trumbo might have as much raw strength as anyone else, but it doesn’t look like he’s on the verge of improving. He swings and misses too often, and he chases too often. He’s experienced in the outfield, but he’s not an asset there and now he’s clearly blocked at first base. Arizona will make for a much more hitter-friendly environment, but that doesn’t make Trumbo more valuable — that’s why we have park-adjusted statistics. Trumbo will be a pure power hitter slightly out of position, and though Eaton doesn’t share his handedness, it’s hard to see how Trumbo makes Arizona that much better.
It might be a very incremental, short-term upgrade. It probably doesn’t help the Diamondbacks catch the Dodgers, and it cost more than incremental short-term upgrades ought to. Maybe, Eaton just hangs around as a fourth outfielder, and maybe Skaggs busts completely, but it’s not just about their futures. It’s about what else Arizona might’ve been able to do instead, and it seems to me like they could’ve done more than this. Trumbo is exactly what Kevin Towers wanted, but what Kevin Towers wanted isn’t enough of an improvement to warrant the return.
Arizona gets the most visible player in the deal, and the player most likely to deliver the most highlights. Los Angeles gets the top pitching prospect, who could go in any number of directions. And the worst team involved makes the best deal involved, turning a mediocre young starter into a potential everyday center fielder who could stick around for years. It’s not going to be easy to turn the White Sox into winners, but these kinds of fairly quiet moves can help a whole lot more than they hurt.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.