Not that it’s absolutely crucial to a team’s success to be loaded with sluggers (after all, the Bucs did make the postseason just fine), but with their divisional rivals looking to improve this offseason, the fact that Pittsburgh got a dismal 21st-ranked 0.4 fWAR out of their first basemen obviously cannot be overlooked going into a crucial encore season in 2014.
Fortunately for the Bucs, not being widely available doesn’t mean it can’t be found, and there just happens to be a slugging first baseman out west who could be available by the name of Mark Trumbo.
Even better for Pittsburgh is that they too have something of rare commodity in the bigs: young, talented starting pitching prospects. With the Los Angeles Angels having their share problems on the mound in 2013 and desperately needing to repair their 23rd-ranked 8.7 fWAR starting rotation, you can almost be certain that they would be interested in what the Pirates might have to offer.
Though they may not be so easily willing to part with the perennial 30-homer man, it’s far from the first time that the 27-year old would have been linked to a potential trade out of L.A. Should the Pirates look to begin talks, the deal likely begin and end with Jameson Taillon, the team’s near-MLB ready top pitching prospect who could make an impact as early as late 2014.
It’s not to say that the Bucs couldn’t use the help at the back end of the rotation themselves, but what they’re looking for there could be filled by a more established free agent. Upside isn’t so much a necessity for Pittsburgh more than a seasoned arm who could cover for the question marks such as Wandy Rodriguez (health) and Jeff Locke (6.12/1.87 ERA/WHIP and .298 BAA in second half — remember James McDonald?); as such, a Taillon may find himself expendable.
And if they were going to move a top prospect, they’d want to be sure that they’re getting a known quantity — and is there any other way to describe Trumbo’s power?
Tied for fourth in the bigs in home runs with 98 from 2011-2013, the Pirates know they’d at least be getting someone who they can stick at the fourth or fifth spot in the order to crush home runs, even if there are enough wrinkles to his game that explain why he’s often thought of as a trade piece.
In a sense, Trumbo is a “what you see is what you get” type of player. He doesn’t hit for much average (.250 career) and doesn’t really get on base very well (.299), on top of being prone to fast starts and slow finishes (.841 OPS, 0.32 BB/K in first half over career vs. 0.679 OPS, 0.18 BB/K in second). That has limited his ceiling to about a 2.0-2.5 fWAR per season player thus far in his career, and he hasn’t shown very much to suggest that this will change going forward.
Yet, 2.5 fWAR would be over six times the value that the Bucs got from Gaby Sanchez, Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones (the latter two were below replacement), so while they might not be getting a star, it’d be a vast improvement.
On top of that, the right-handed slugger has positional versatility as well, having played both corner outfield spots with L.A. With the Pirates also needing a corner outfielder, they can be sure that there’d be plenty of opportunity to get Trumbo in the lineup for 600-plus PA, even if the defense might leave a little to be desired.
Given the relatively weak crop of available first baseman in this year’s class and the fact that 2014 will be the first arbitration year for the the current Angels slugger, the discounted power that could be had for at least the next three seasons is not something that the Bucs are likely to find again any time soon. With this season’s FA/trade market set up to favor pitching, they probably won’t have to sell the farm to get it either.
Taillon may very well be a more productive player by the end of those three seasons, but the follow-up to their playoff run starts in 2014, you know?