Mark Trumbo of the Seattle Mariners and Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates are similar players: They have power ... and don't bring much else to the table. The deadline for teams offering a contract to arbitration-eligible players is midnight Wednesday, and the Mariners and Pirates are reportedly shopping Trumbo and Alvarez, hoping to trade them rather than pay them. Trumbo would receive an estimated $9 million in arbitration and Alvarez $8.1 million. If they're non-tendered, both immediately become free agents.
There's a reason neither has been traded, however: Neither is all that valuable.
If the Bucs can't get any return for Pedro Alvarez then they should keep him and pay the $8mill. No way you let 27 HRs walk for nothing.— James Kent (@Ochotexto19) December 1, 2015
Trumbo averaged 34 home runs and 94 RBIs per season with the Angels from 2011 to 2013, but a .300 OBP held down his value to 2.5 WAR per season. That player would be worth $9 million, especially if he's kept out of the outfield, where he's a defensive liability even though the Angels, Diamondbacks and Mariners all forced him out there at times. But in the past two seasons, he's averaged 18 home runs and 64 RBIs, posted a .303 OBP and averaged 0.2 WAR per season. He was a little better in 2015 after an injury-plagued 2014, but he hit just .263/.316/.419 with the Mariners -- poor numbers for a first baseman or DH. That player is a borderline tender candidate at $9 million.
Alvarez tied for the National League lead with 36 home runs in 2013, but he owns a career .236/.309/.441 batting line and hit .243/.318/.469 in 2015 with 27 home runs. After committing 25 errors in just 95 games at third base in 2014 -- he had throwing issues -- Alvarez moved to first base in 2015, but that was a disaster. He made 23 errors and was credited with minus-18 Defensive Runs Saved, dragging his overall value down to 0.1 WAR. In other words, a replacement-level first baseman. That player isn't worth $8 million, especially for a small-market team like Pittsburgh.
Part of the dilemma is neither team has an obvious replacement ready to step in. The Mariners have Jesus Montero on the 40-man roster, but he's worse than Trumbo and could be an Alvarez-like disaster on defense. Seth Smith might be an option, but he's never played first base in the majors. For the Pirates, prospect Josh Bell hit .317 between Double-A and Triple-A, but with just seven home runs in 489 at-bats, and he's still learning to play first base after moving there from the outfield in 2015. It seems like he needs another season in the minors to fine-tune some things, so the Pirates could try and patch together first base for a season.
The free-agent market for first basemen is pretty thin once you get past Chris Davis, with Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds, Steve Pearce, Justin Morneau and maybe Daniel Murphy (moving from second base) the best of the lot.
My guess is the Mariners will tender Trumbo a contract if they can't trade him by Wednesday night. Considering teams have given real money to guys like Mike Morse, Trumbo at $9 million is something a team like the Rockies might take a chance on.
The Pirates are more likely to non-tender Alvarez. They don't want to be stuck with an $8 million player who doesn't walk, hit for average or play defense when they need to replace A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ in the rotation. Alvarez's only role at this time is probably a DH, but why would a team give up a prospect to get him if they suspect the Pirates are going to cut him loose? Alvarez's .787 OPS in 2015 just about matches the DH average of .771, so there would be interest in him, maybe from the Orioles, White Sox or Angels ... or even the Mariners, if they want to play Nelson Cruz in the outfield.