Trumbo Immediately Fills an Area of Need
One of the biggest holes that the Indians need to fill this winter is right in the heart of their lineup.
In 2013, hitters in the Tribe’s cleanup spot posted a .771 OPS and hit just 23 combined home runs. In fact, the entire middle of the lineup struggled throughout the season. The three-through-six hitters combined for a .775 OPS, and less than half of the team’s home runs came from those four spots in the batting order.
If the Indians hope to go further into the postseason next year, it’s important that they find someone who can provide the power that they need in their lineup. There aren’t many viable options on the free agent market. Most of the power bats – including Justin Morneau, Brian McCann and even the aging Carlos Beltran – are likely to lock up expensive, multi-year deals that place them out of the Tribe’s reach.
Since signing a quality free agent slugger seems improbable, it might be smart for the team to turn to the trade market instead.
Mark Trumbo is one name that is frequently being mentioned around the baseball world right now. The Los Angeles Angels are hoping to move one of their extra outfielders in an effort to shed some salary, and are willing to listen to offers on Trumbo and Peter Bourjos.
Both players are eligible for arbitration this year, but the Halos have more incentive to move Trumbo, who is expected to make about $4.7 million next season compared to Bourjos’s $1.1 million. There is nothing inherently wrong with either outfielder. The Angels are simply focused on locking up Mike Trout with a long-term contract, and right now, they can’t sign him to one without surpassing the luxury tax limit. There is a considerable amount of pressure on the front office to free up some payroll space and get a deal completed.
Trumbo would certainly fill the Tribe’s need for a power bat. With a career .250/.299/.469 line, he is a fairly one-dimensional hitter. He posted a .219 ISO last season and hit 34 home runs, but had a .322 wOBA and a WAR of just 2.5.
Trumbo’s most glaring weakness is his inability to get on base. In 2013, he walked just 8 percent of the time, compared to his 27.1 percent strikeout rate, and he swung at the first pitch in over 53 percent of his plate appearances. He is not known for his patience in the batter’s box, and at 27 years old, that’s not likely to improve.
However, the Indians already have plenty of on-base hitters. The team had the fifth-best OBP in the American League last year, along with the fourth-most walks. Jason Kipnis and Swisher, who will likely bat second and third again next year, had a .366 and .341 OPS, respectively. What the Tribe needs for 2014 is someone who can drive in those runs.
Ideally, it would be nice to have a hitter like Trout or David Ortiz or even strike-out-prone Adam Dunn — someone who crushes the ball on a regular basis but still knows how to take a walk. But with a small budget and a fairly limited farm system, the Indians aren’t in a great position to acquire a do-everything guy.
Trumbo would be a good fit for their needs, despite his flaws. A lineup featuring him along with Swisher and Carlos Santana would pose a very real power threat for opposing pitchers.
So what would it take to acquire Trumbo from the Angels?
The Halos are primarily seeking starting pitching, which is an uncertain area for the Indians right now. Although it seems likely that Cleveland will extend qualifying offers to Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, there is a good possibility that other teams will be willing to give them more than the Indians can.
If they walk away, that leaves a rotation consisting of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar. Other potential starters include Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
Carrasco, who missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, might be an interesting trade chip. Overall, he ended the 2013 season with a 6.75 ERA and a 4.10 FIP, but he showed flashes of his potential in between rough starts this season, and he excelled out of the bullpen later in the year. His first relief outing of the year actually came against the Angels in August, when he threw five shutout innings and allowed just one hit and three walks.
Before 2009, Carrasco was considered a top-fifty prospect, but he hasn’t lived up to that reputation since coming to Cleveland. Despite his struggles here, some of which could be attributed to injury, he still has a lot of upside. He also won’t be a free agent until 2017, which fits the Angels’ need for young, controllable pitchers, but the Indians would need to add some more pieces to make the deal a possibility.
The Angels are in need of bullpen arms, too, and might be willing to accept Carrasco and some combination of C.C. Lee, Nick Hagadone and Preston Guilmet, who all performed well in Columbus this season. Hagadone, like Carrasco, has a shaky track record in the major leagues, but has high upside if he can improve his control. While none of those names are spectacular, Los Angeles needs so much pitching help that they might be willing to take quantity with upside over quality.
If the Angels demanded a better pitcher than Carrasco, would giving up Bauer for Trumbo be an option for the Indians?
It’s not a decision that seems entirely wise, but it is worth at least considering. Bauer was a disaster this season, but he is one of the best-ranked prospects in baseball for a reason. There’s no reason to write him off after one year, although the idea of flipping him for a much-needed power bat is tempting.
Prospects, regardless of how good they seem, aren’t guaranteed. Mark Trumbo is a proven commodity – he’ll hit homers, make a lot of outs, and somewhat-capably play the field. Bauer is still a bit of a mystery. He might figure out his mechanics and become one of the best pitchers in baseball, or he might remain a disappointment. The team would have to decide if it values a proven power hitter over a potential top starter, and that’s a difficult question to answer.
Once Jimenez and Kazmir make their decisions about free agency, the team’s pitching situation will become much clearer and the front office will know how much depth they have to work with. Whether it takes one good pitcher or a few lesser prospects, Trumbo’s power should put him near the top of the Indians’ off-season wish list.