The Orioles, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, are believed to be the team with the best offer on the table to free agent slugger Mark Trumbo. For anyone who wants to see the Orioles take the draft pick, add to their farm system, and allocate their limited resources towards addressing one of their needs, rather than retaining Trumbo, this continuing interest from the O’s in retaining Trumbo is disheartening.
You can probably tell from the above what is my opinion about the O’s possibly re-signing Trumbo. That the Orioles should let someone else be the team that makes the bet on whether Trumbo’s 2016 power surge is enduring has been an assumption that I’ve held strongly since at least August.
Yet it’s important in baseball and in life to challenge one’s own assumptions. Indeed, the more strongly one holds an assumption, the less likely one will be to accept facts counter to that assumption and the more likely one will be to be totally wrong.
Although not every move made by the Orioles brain trust works out, and while their strategy is at times puzzling, the fact remains that they have demonstrated that they aren’t dunderheads. The Orioles have cobbled together teams three out of the past five years that made the playoffs despite no one looking at them and thinking, “Playoffs!”
So with that in mind, what if it’s NOT actually a horrible idea for the Orioles to re-sign Trumbo?
That was a lot of home runs
The number one biggest thing in Trumbo’s favor is staring us right in the face. He just hit 47 home runs! It’s 48, if you count the postseason. Trumbo was the entirety of the Orioles run output in the Wild Card game against the Blue Jays.
There are a lot of things you can bring in to try to negate the value of his 47 home runs - his unimpressive on-base percentage, his right field defense - but these amount to the opposite of the old “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” retort. Of course if you take away what was his best trait, he was actually bad. But the best trait is still there.
It’s fair to have concerns over whether Trumbo can sustain that level of production. After all, just within the 2016 season, we saw a different Trumbo in the second half, batting only .214/.284/.470. That’s bad! Still, same thing: You can’t just ignore his first half either. And put it all together and it’s a just fine .256/.316/.533 batting line. Great OBP? No. But DINGERS!
Plus, what if this was not a fluke 47 home run season? I don’t mean he’s sure to hit 47 or more next year, because that’s just tough to pull off. What I mean is that it may not be a coincidence that Trumbo arrives in Baltimore and then hits more home runs than ever.
Trumbo was a similar player in other stops in his career - good power, bad OBP, seen as one-dimensional. Then here he comes to the Orioles, who throw open their arms and say, “Welcome to the tribe, brother!”
Here, he was among his people, and would be with them again next year. Trumbo was not any kind of focal point for the Orioles offense going into the season. He was not THE power guy. He was one of several power guys.
So, freed from any pressure whatsoever to need to try to carry an offense, not having to look over his shoulder because they might yank his job away from him at any moment, is it a shock that he suddenly blossomed and may continue to blossom in similar circumstances going forward? Those conditions will still exist in Baltimore next year.
Trumbo would still be in the same lineup as Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop, all of whom hit at least 25 home runs. Davis hit 38 home runs, for crying out loud, and he was obviously hurt for a large chunk of the season. It was a down year for him and he hit 38! Same for Jones at 29 home runs.
On the other hand, Machado with 37 home runs and Schoop with 25 feel like they’re on the rise. There were many homers. This is the Orioles we’re talking about. There will be more homers.
Solve the defense problem: Put him at DH
A lot of the hesitation about enjoying Trumbo’s 2016 season comes from his performance in right field, which was poor. That’s not surprising for a guy who should be a first baseman or designated hitter. Again, the Orioles aren’t dumb. They wouldn’t do that again, we must hope. A Trumbo signing for DH poses its own problems, but it looks so much better if we know he won’t play right field, ever.
One more scary thing about signing Trumbo was that $80 million over four years number that he was said to be seeking. Even if you feel pretty good about Trumbo, that’s a big bet to make per year. But baseball’s free agents are ever seeking things and few of them ever get all of it.
The O’s own Davis wanted $200 million last offseason, after all, and he had to settle for $161 million with a lot of that money deferred. If Trumbo gets the same percentage of his asking price as Davis, he’ll end up with $64.4 million guaranteed, and if the Orioles are able to defer some of that money, well, now we’re talking.
That’s still $16 million or so per year, which is a lot of million per year that could go instead towards, say, a Machado contract - whether an extension or simply a free agent deal. But on the other hand, the Orioles are going to spend $20 million on Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley combined this year.
Not that it’s a binary choice, but still, would you rather have those two at that price or Trumbo at $14-16 million? You can give me the dingers.
No, I’m still not convinced that bringing Trumbo back would be a good idea. He’s a good bet to be worth $15 million, but I’m not sure he’s a good bet for the Orioles, given their payroll constraints, to pump that money into to be a DH - or even worse, to play right field.
There is at least a picture of what might make Trumbo’s retention seem to be a good idea, though:
- Believing in Trumbo’s power surge for at least a couple more years
- Limiting Trumbo to designated hitter or first base
- Keeping the contract closer to the O’s reported $52-55 million offer than Trumbo’s demand
- Thinking that Trumbo is more of a sure thing than Trey Mancini
- Not particularly giving a crap about the #29 overall draft pick
I don’t believe in that last one, but the Orioles themselves have not placed a high value on these late first round spots, choosing to instead try to win now. At that draft spot over the past 15 years, you get Carlos Quentin if you’re lucky. Well, or outfielder Lewis Brinson, currently the #14 prospect in all of baseball. If you’re not particularly lucky or unlucky, you get Slade Heathcott.
If it was up to me, I still wouldn’t be angling for Trumbo to stick around. The Orioles sure seem interested in keeping him. They’re not dumb, so let’s hope this is one of the times they’re right.