Mariners Dump Trumbo, Add Aoki, And So Much More


It’s been a little over a week since the Seattle Mariners announced the signing of catcher Chris Iannetta to a one-year deal. That move wasn’t a “major” one, exactly, but it did give the M’s a tentative new starting catcher and a perfectly reasonable excuse to finally, mercifully re-set the Mike Zunino timeline. After the Ianetta signing, all was quiet on the Mariners front (other than Robinson Cano mutterings and a persistent Marcell Ozuna rumor). Fast forward to today, and the M’s have just wrapped up their fourth transaction of the past 24 hours. So it’s been a busy day, safe to say.

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By my approximation there have been two moves made since last night that have a large impact on the construction of the 2016 Mariners: the signing of right fielder Nori Aoki and the trade of Mark Trumbo and C.J. Reifenhauser to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Steve Clevenger. The team also signed right-handed reliever Justin De Fratus to a major league deal, then claimed first baseman Andy Wilkins off waivers. Oh yeah, and Edgar Olmos was DFA’d, and the Twins claimed John Hicks. That happened, too. So much just happened.

Let’s tackle this one item at a time. Trumbo is the biggest name involved, and not everyone is excited to see him go. He hit home runs for an improved Mariners offense last summer, after all, and now he’s been subtracted from the 2016 equation while the team adds non-bats such as Leonys Martin. Clevenger, the return for a year of Trumbo, is out of options and hasn’t hit a lick in the majors. Another hitter leaving without being replaced with a hitter.

But look: Trumbo isn’t very good. He does exactly one thing, and that’s swat bombs. Sometimes he doesn’t, such as the two months right after the Mariners acquired him. During that stretch he was one of the least pleasant players I’ve ever watched. He doesn’t get on base, he can’t run, he can’t field, and he’s got a frustrating approach at the plate. Oh yeah, and he was going to cost over $9 million in his last year before free agency.

Forget the Clevenger part. In fact, think of this trade as Reifenhauser for Clevenger, with Trumbo going to Baltimore just so that the M’s wouldn’t have to pay him. Reifenhauser is a bad reliever who just came to town in the Brad MillerNate Karns trade. He’s gone now, in exchange for a guy who’s likely to open the season as Iannetta’s backup. Trumbo is hardly relevant – the M’s weren’t guaranteed to tender him a contract, and it sure seems based on the trade that they didn’t want to. Instead of just letting him wander off into free agency, the sent him somewhere where he had a contract waiting. So kind of them!

Nori Aoki has long been one of my favorite under-the-radar players. He’s a fine bat with a fine glove, and plenty athletic for an older player. He’s 34 now, but is coming off a season in which he hit .287/.353/.386 for the San Francisco Giants. The contract he signed guarantees him a $4 million 2016 salary, with a reported option for 2017.

Aug 26, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Nori Aoki (23) rounds the bases on a solo home run against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Aoki’s 2015 was actually plenty more impressive than his above-average final slash line indicates, as he was just scorching before being significantly slowed by a scary concussion issue in the second half. He’s said to be back to full health now, and if that’s true then I just can’t understand why the Giants declined his cheap $5.5 million option. Aoki is just a hugely underrated player, and he’s been brought in to play an important role on the ’16 M’s. He should be fun to watch.

De Fratus is a fringey reliever who nobody expected to sign a major league deal. But MiLB-type relief arms signing MLB contracts has been hip for the last couple winters, and now Dipoto’s playing that game, too. Maybe it’s unfair to label De Fratus an “MiLB-type,” given that he spent all of 2015 in the Phillies’ bullpen. But given that he pitched 80 innings with a 5.51 ERA and 4.28 FIP, it probably was realistic to expect him to sign a minors deal with a spring training invite.

Yet here he is, having just inked a big league contract with Seattle. Why? Because in 2014 he ran a 2.39 ERA and a 3.11 FIP. He was effective in 2013, and in 2012, and in his 2011 cup of coffee. He’s 28 years old, and while he is coming off his lowest K rate in the majors, he also just put up his second-best BB rate. Maybe there’s something here. The Mariners thought it was worth a guaranteed spot to find out, and if they’re wrong, hey, they’re only out $750,000.

After sending an overpriced first baseman to Baltimore, the M’s then scooped up a near-freebie at the same position from the same organization. Potential Trumbo replacement? Not by any stretch! Andy Wilkins has received exactly one big league call-up, in 2014 with the Chicago White Sox. He was terrible. Last year in AAA with the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers he was a league-average bat, which is to say, he was no good as a plodding first baseman. He’s org filler. The kind of player you get off waivers as an “eh, why not?”

What the Mariners have done in this flurry of moves is a) save a bunch of money, and b) add a starting-caliber outfielder for pennies on the dollar. I guess Clevenger counts as a big league addition, too, though he’s a menial-enough piece that he may just be dumped before the season starts (or as soon as Zunino proves he’s ready to come back to the bigs). They also created a hole at first, which adds some intrigue to the rest of the offseason.

Jerry Dipoto has a clear vision of a more athletic, versatile Mariners roster. He’s realizing that vision, and fast. This has been a whirlwind, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.