The Mariners, in a race to beat the clock, closed in Tuesday night on a deal that would send first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo to Baltimore for catcher/first baseman Steve Clevenger.
Sources from both sides confirmed discussions were nearing a conclusion and that Baltimore would receive another player in the deal. That player was not identified but is believed to be on the Mariners’ 40-man roster.
“It’s going to get done,” one source said. “We’re down to looking at medicals (records). Barring something unexpected, we’ve got a deal.”
The move’s seeming benefit to the Mariners is that it clears payroll and, apparently, a roster space. Trumbo, 29, is eligible for arbitration and projected to make $9.1 million in 2016.
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Clevenger, 29, is not yet eligible and figures to make about $520,000.
The biggest hurdle, one source said, was the Orioles’ concern they might needlessly be surrendering a player (Clevenger) amid speculation Trumbo could soon be a free agent.
Clubs must offer contracts to all unsigned players on their 40-man roster by 9 p.m. Wednesday. Those who don’t receive an offer become free agents with no compensation to their former clubs if they sign elsewhere.
The contract deadline appeared to force general manager Jerry Dipoto into action inasmuch as the Mariners seemingly did not want to obligate themselves to possible salary arbitration with Trumbo.
Players who receive a contract offer by Wednesday’s deadline are considered signed players even if their salary has yet to be negotiated. As such, they are eligible for separation pay if subsequently released.
That compensation amounts to roughly one-sixth of a player’s salary even if he is released more than 15 days before the season starts.
The Mariners, by extending an offer to Trumbo, would effectively be taking a $1.5 million gamble that they could trade him at a later date. The alternative would be to retain him at his full salary.
The club has three other arbitration-eligible players: reliever Charlie Furbush (who projects to get $1.7 million), outfielder Leonys Martin ($3.75 million) and pitcher Anthony Bass ($1.1 million).
Players not yet eligible for arbitration must also be offered contracts but — as is the case with Clevenger — they have little negotiating leverage and typically sign for the major-league minimum ($507,500) or slightly more.
The Mariners’ desire to trade Trumbo, a proven power hitter who averaged 26 homers over the past five years, stems from a belief that he is a poor fit in Dipoto’s quest to build a more athletic, better defensive club.
Dipoto reached the same conclusion roughly two years ago when, as general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, he traded Trumbo to Arizona in a three-team deal that involved six players.
The pending deal would leave the Mariners with Jesus Montero as the only full-time first basemen on their 40-man roster, although Stefen Romero and Pat Kivlehan have played the position on occasion.
The trade would also position catcher Mike Zunino, once viewed as a franchise cornerstone, as a long shot to make the club. Zunino was a starter for two-plus seasons before closing last year in the minors.
The Mariners held multiple discussions with the Orioles and Colorado Rockies over the past two weeks in an effort to trade Trumbo. When talks with the Rockies stalled, the Mariners pushed harder with the Orioles.
Clevenger, 29, is a left-handed hitter who is out of options. He batted .287 last season in 30 games for the Orioles but spent much of the year at Triple-A Norfolk, where he batted .305 in 75 games.
A seventh-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2006, he reached the majors in 2011. A July 2013 trade brought Clevenger to the Orioles in a four-player swap that sent Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta to the Cubs.
Clevenger has a .228 career average in 148 games over parts of five big-league seasons, but he has a .310 average in 733 minor-league games over 10 years.
Trumbo batted .263 last season with 13 homers and 41 RBIs in 96 games after joining the Mariners with pitcher Vidal Nuno from Arizona in a June 3 trade.
The Diamondbacks received catcher Welington Castillo, reliever Dominic Leone and two minor-league players: outfielder Gabby Guerrero and infielder Jack Reinheimer.
That trade represented an effort by the Mariners’ previous regime to jump-start what, at that point, was a struggling attack. But Trumbo got off to a dreadful start at 11-for-79 in his first 22 games.
Trumbo then rallied by batting .302 over his final 74 games with 12 homers and 36 RBIs. Overall, he finished last season at .262 in 142 games with 22 homers and RBIs.
INTEREST IN DE FRATUS
Add another name to the Mariners’ offseason target list: right-handed reliever Justin De Fratus, who is seeking a bounce-back season after a rough year in Philadelphia.
De Fratus, 28, became a free agent in October when he rejected an outright assignment to the minors upon clearing waivers after compiling a 5.51 ERA in 61 games.
That followed a successful 2014, when he compiled a 2.39 ERA in 54 games. He had a 3.08 ERA in 130 games over four seasons for the Phillies prior to last year’s struggle.