SEATTLE — C.J. Riefenhauser’s time with the Mariners turned into a footnote Wednesday when he joined Mark Trumbo in heading to the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for Steve Clevenger.
The move came just 27 days after the Mariners acquired Riefenhauser, a lefty reliever, from Tampa Bay in a six-player deal.
News of possible Trumbo/Clevenger swap surfaced Tuesday afternoon, but it wasn’t until later in the day that sources confirmed the Orioles were getting an additional — and at that point unidentified — player.
That player turned out to be Riefenhauser, who split time last year between the Rays and Triple-A Durham. He has a 6.30 ERA in 24 big-league appearances over the last two years.
The Mariners finally confirmed the deal Wednesday afternoon after both clubs reviewed the latest physical examinations on all players. General manager Jerry Dipoto cited Clevenger as an addition that filled a need.
"Adding Steve further addresses our desire to build depth and balance behind the plate," Dipoto said. "He’s coming off of a season in which his bat clicked at the major-league level the way it always has in the minors."
Clevenger is leaving his hometown club but admitted he was expecting a trade after veteran catcher Matt Wieters accepted Baltimore’s qualifying offer.
"The Orioles aren’t interested in three catchers," Clevenger said. "They’ve never really carried three catchers. So I figured they are trying to shop me around and get someone to help their team out.
"There are no hard feelings. I loved Baltimore, cherished my time here. But it’s exciting for me. And hopefully I’ll go to Seattle and establish a major-league career."
The Mariners’ decision to surrender Riefenhauser suggests they were keen to unload Trumbo, a first baseman/outfielder, prior to Wednesday’s deadline for offering contracts to unsigned players on the 40-man roster.
"It’s difficult to trade away right-handed power…," Dipoto said. "(But it was an) opportunity to bring in a left-handed-hitting backup catcher and create enough payroll and roster-related flexibility to do some other things."
Trumbo, 29, is eligible for arbitration and projected to make $9.1 million in 2016 before qualifying next winter for free agency.
More than his salary, Trumbo became expendable because he is viewed as a poor fit in the organization’s philosophical shift under Dipoto to emphasize speed, athleticism and defense.
Trumbo is, instead, a lumbering power hitter who averaged 26 homers over the last five seasons. He batted .263 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs last season in 96 games after arriving in a June 3 trade from Arizona.
While Clevenger, 29, provides the Mariners with a viable backup catcher to just-signed veteran Chris Iannetta, the move’s primary benefit is that it frees Trumbo’s projected salary for other needs.
The Mariners are still looking to retain free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and will now likely be shopping for a first baseman. Trading Trumbo leaves Jesus Montero as the only full-time first baseman on the 40-man roster.
"Our goal between now and opening day," Dipoto admitted, "is going to be to add to that."
Clevenger is not yet eligible for arbitration and figures to make around $520,000. He is under club control through 2019, but he is also out of options — which could push Mike Zunino, at least temporarily, to the fringe.
Zunino, 24, was the starter for two-plus years and viewed as a franchise cornerstone before deepening struggles resulted in a late August demotion to Triple-A Tacoma. He still has two options remaining.
"This does allow us the ability to send Mike back to Tacoma to start the season if that’s what we choose to do," Dipoto acknowledged. "He’s not going to be forced onto the major-league roster until he’s ready to be there."
Clevenger is a left-handed hitter who batted .287 last season in 30 games for the Orioles, but he spent much of the year at Triple-A Norfolk, where he batted .305 in 75 games.
While he has a .228 career average in 148 big-league games over parts of five seasons, he flashed greater potential in the minors by batting .310 in 733 games over 10 years.
"Part of the appeal in Steve is he can swing the bat," Dipoto said. "He has been an excellent offensive player. He can hit…He’s always been an on-base guy. It’s more of a singles, gap-type guy with doubles power."