The Angels won the trade on paper, but the White Sox won the results by a mile.
For the fourth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here. This series was first started in 2016 by Spencer Bingol, who has been part of the Red Sox Baseball Operations department for the past two years. Congratulations to Spencer on the team’s recent World Series championship!
In early December 2013, the Angels, Diamondbacks, and White Sox executed an interesting three-team trade. Mark Trumbo went from Los Angeles to Arizona; Adam Eaton from Arizona to Chicago; Tyler Skaggs from Arizona to Los Angeles; and Héctor Santiago from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Angels and White Sox received players that filled important needs, while the Diamondbacks left everyone scratching their heads.
In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.
Neither the Angels, Diamondbacks, nor White Sox made the playoffs in 2013, or even came close to it. The 63-win White Sox, in fact, had one of the worst records in baseball. The Angels and Diamondbacks were in position to compete for a playoff spot in 2014 with a strong enough offseason, while the White Sox were clearly in a position to rebuild.
The Angels’ starting rotation needed help. They had solid pitchers at the front of their rotation in C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver, but Jason Vargas had recently signed with the Royals, and it was tough to know what to expect from Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker. As for Trumbo, he was currently an odd fit in Los Angeles. C.J. Cron was expected to debut early in 2014, so first base and DH were going to suffer a logjam between him, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton. The Angels would sign Raúl Ibáñez a few days after the trade, so they were well aware that Trumbo would no longer have a place in an era of short benches. While Trumbo was a good defensive first baseman, he had no business in the outfield, and even if he did, the outfield was full anyway.
Adam Eaton had a rough beginning to his major league career. Over 380 plate appearances between 2012 and 2013 seasons, he hit just .254/.332/.373, which was surprising for someone who raked in the minors prior to his major league debut. He still profiled as an average regular, but that was contingent on him staying in center field because his bat would not play in a corner. Considering how good his approach at the plate was, it was reasonable to believe that his bat would improve. My fellow Puerto Rican from New Jersey Héctor Santiago was a solid pitcher in 2013, but the White Sox did have starting pitching depth they could leverage. Even though Eaton did not have a terribly high upside, this was a good acquisition for a rebuilding team.
With all due respect to the late Kevin Towers, this trade made little sense for the Diamondbacks. The organization had center field depth beyond Eaton thanks to A.J. Pollock and Ender Inciarte, though believe it or not, neither of them profiled to be better than Eaton. Tyler Skaggs had disappointed in Arizona, but ESPN’s Keith Law believed that he still had number-two starter potential if he went back to his old delivery. A change in scenery involving a return to the team that originally drafted him could help. Parting with these players was not the problem so much as parting with them for the return that they got.
Trumbo was the quintessential low-OBP/high-SLG hitter. In 2013, he hit .234/.294/.453 with 34 HR. A sub-.300 OBP from a first baseman is brutal, and it contributed to him having only a 107 wRC+ despite all the power. Furthermore, he was a poor fit for this Diamondbacks team. They obviously don’t have a DH, and first base was blocked by Paul Goldschmidt. The only place for him was in the outfield where his defense might very well take away most or all of his gains with a bat.
This really was a perplexing trade for the Diamondbacks. Did the organization sour on Eaton and Skaggs? If so, why not try to get a better return? Did the not very analytically inclined front office fall for Trumbo’s 100 RBI season in 2013? And if they did, why acquire a player that was such a poor fit for the team?
The White Sox did well here, but it was the Angels that excelled. Then-GM Jerry Dipoto turning Trumbo into Skaggs and Santiago was outstanding work, and that is before mentioning that Trumbo was going into his first year of arbitration, while Skaggs and Santiago were pre-arb.
As bad as the rationale was for acquiring Trumbo, the results were worse. The Diamondbacks finished with the worst record in baseball in 2014, and Trumbo had the worst year of his career. He was a below average hitter with a line of .235/.293/.415, and his outfield defense was pretty bad. He played in only 88 games, mostly due to a stress fracture in his left foot, but despite barely playing more than half a season he was worth just -0.9 WAR.
Though Trumbo improved in 2015, hitting .259/.299/.506 through 46 games, the Diamondbacks finally realized that this was not working and traded him to the Mariners. Dipoto became the new Mariners GM at the end of the season, and once again traded away Trumbo. He had the best season of his career in 2016 with the Orioles, just in time to hit free agency. They ended up giving him a three-year, $37.5 million deal. Unfortunately, Trumbo followed up his best season at the plate with his worst. The good news is that he bounced back last season as an above average hitter. and he is currently entering his contract year.
Adam Eaton blew through his projected ceiling while with the White Sox. In the three seasons following the trade, he hit .290/.362/.422 and accumulated 15.3 WAR! The White Sox were so happy with him that they signed him to a team-friendly extension before the 2015 season. It was a five-year, $23.5 million deal plus two team option years at $9.5 million (2020) and $10.5 million (2021).
Eaton’s center field defense fell off a cliff in 2015, but he was hitting well enough that moving to a corner was acceptable. He played mostly right field in 2016, and he ended up being one of the best defensive right fielders in baseball. The White Sox still were not able to be competitive, so they traded Eaton to the Nationals in December 2016 for a big prospect package headlined by Lucas Giolito.
Sadly, Eaton tore his ACL barely one month into the 2017 season. Eaton was ready for the 2018 season but required ankle surgery in May. He played in only 95 games last year. The good news is that he hit well when he did play, slashing .301/.394/.411. He did struggle in the field, though, likely due to his injuries.
Héctor Santiago struggled for much of his time in Los Angeles. He was pretty homer prone and had sub-par strikeout rates. He did have a 2 WAR season in 2015, but that was with a good amount of BABIP luck at .252. The Angels decided to trade him to the Twins at the 2016 trade deadline. He missed a lot of time in 2017 due to injury, and when he did pitch he struggled badly with a 5.63 RA9. He rejoined the White Sox last year and transitioned to the bullpen, but it really did not help much. His 4.76 RA9 was not too bad, but his 13 BB% was. Santiago recently signed a minor league deal with the Mets.
Tyler Skaggs is the only player in this trade who is still with the team that traded for him. He has been wrecked by injuries, including missing all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery. It was good to see him have some success last season with a 4.31 RA9 and career-best 24.3 K%. The Angels have him on his rookie contract for two more seasons.
Yikes. I am sorry to say that this turned out as expected for the Diamondbacks. Trumbo just did not hit well enough to make up for his poor outfield defense.
Wow! It really does not get much better than that for a trade acquisition, and all this cost was Héctor Santiago. You can’t assume that a player would have developed the same in a different organization, but it must have really hurt the Diamondbacks to see Eaton play so well in Chicago.
Given what the Angels paid, though, this is not too bad. The results were perhaps a bit disappointing, but at least Skaggs is still going. It is still better than what Mark Trumbo would have given them had they hung on to him for the remaining four years of his rookie contract.
As I have said time and time again since I took over the Trade Retrospective series: You can’t predict baseball. The Angels easily got the best return for what they paid, and even though Trumbo did not work out in Arizona, the Angels’ excellent process was not rewarded with great results. The trade was more even from the White Sox perspective, but their results were phenomenal, and they were able to flip Eaton for a great prospect package later on (though those prospects are not looking so good right now). Trade results will frequently surprise, but you don’t see trades that are this lopsided on paper anymore. Front offices are too smart for that nowadays.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.