The Mariners enter the offseason with two first basemen projected to earn a combined $13.2MM – Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison. Ten days ago, it was reported that the club may wish to winnow down to just one. Both Trumbo and Morrison can fake it in the outfield, but new GM Jerry Dipoto prefers athletic outfielders. In other words, there may not be a place for both guys.
Trumbo has battled injury over the last couple seasons and will earn about $9.1MM in his final spin through arbitration. Still, it seems unlikely that the team would non-tender him. He hit .263/.316/.419 with 13 home runs in 361 plate appearances after the M’s acquired him mid-season. While a non-tender would be shocking, a trade can almost be expected. After all, Dipoto already dealt Trumbo once while with the Angels.
As for Morrison, there are two considerations that could decide his future with the Mariners – does Seattle keep Trumbo, and do they think Morrison warrants a role. He didn’t do much for his stock this by hitting .225/.302/.383 last season. Over the last four seasons, he’s totaled negative 0.1 WAR according to FanGraphs. However, his best season was in 2014 (1.1 WAR). Management could hope last year’s success was a better representation of his talent.
His poor numbers are partially due to mismanagement. Against right-handed pitching, he slashed .241/.323/.444 (112 wRC+) with all 17 of his home runs. Fellow southpaws owned him yet he was allowed to hit 155 times against same-handed pitching.
As a point of comparison, Brewers slugger Adam Lind only had 112 plate appearances against lefties even though he had 61 more plate appearances than Morrison on the season. Lind had a much larger role with his club than Morrison so there’s really no reason for Morrison to see more lefties.
It’s worth pointing out that Morrison did have reverse platoon splits in 2014, but those depended upon a .389 BABIP. The reverse splits were also responsible for his career best performance last season. Research has shown that reverse splits are almost always illusory and do not correlate to future production. With this information in hand, it’s tempting to conclude that his 2014 campaign was an outlier.
Based on FanGraphs’ WAR model, his $4.1MM arbitration projection would equate to a little over half a win on the free agent market. In other words, he’s expected to be paid like a bench player. If he’s used correctly by his next manager, he could easily earn his keep. The bigger problem is constructing a division-winning roster around him if he’s used as a starter. If Morrison isn’t starting, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the roster spot would be better filled by somebody like Jesus Montero. That would also free up about $3.5MM for other purposes like shoring up the bullpen.
The deadline to tender a contract in early December could work in Morrison’s favor. If the club hopes to sign Chris Davis, they probably won’t yet know where they stand. Similarly, Korean star Byung-ho Park may not even be posted by that time. The other “big” names on the free agent market include Mike Napoli, Kelly Johnson, Steve Pearce, Chris Parmelee, and Justin Morneau (if his $9MM mutual option is declined). Of course, Morrison’s likeliest rival is Trumbo. And the club may ultimately choose to keep both players or discard Morrison regardless of the alternatives.