When the O’s traded Steve Clevenger for Mark Trumbo in December, feelings were mixed. On one hand, it gave the Orioles a much-needed bat - Chris Davis was still a free agent at the time, and the team had one starting outfielder and no DH. On the other hand, he was a guy with a .300 career on-base-percentage and a $9 million dollar contract.
The O’s still had Davis and Darren O’Day to re-sign, along with holes in the outfield and the rotation. We all know what happened next - the O’s broke the bank for Davis, the Dexter Fowler fiasco went down, and Yovani Gallardo came to Baltimore.
Headed into Spring Training, Trumbo was a bit of a forgotten man. Now, he’s one spot out of an All-Star starting position and tied for the Major League lead in homers. Trumbo’s performance has been exciting, and it’s a big part of why the Orioles are where they are today.
It’s also, in a weird way, a cause for concern: while the prospect of Trumbo leaving in free agency probably didn’t scare anyone in February, it’s not exactly the most pleasant thought right now. So, what would a Trumbo extension even look like, and is it realistic?
First, let’s look at the Orioles’ payroll situation. This year, the payroll is around $148 million. The team currently has $87 million committed to next season, but that’s without arbitration raises for a whole slew of players.
Four players (Schoop, Gausman, McFarland, Joseph) will be hitting their first year of arbitration - Schoop and Gausman in particular will likely get a decent raise. Brad Brach, Ryan Flaherty, and Vance Worley will get their 2nd arbitration raises, and then we get to the big guys.
Chris Tillman and Zach Britton are both making between $6 and $7 million, and those numbers should go up. And, oh yeah....there’s Manny Machado. It’s so rare for a player to be a an MVP candidate in his first arbitration year that it’s difficult to project what he’ll get, but it won’t be cheap. His $5 million price tag from this year is going to escalate quickly.
Based on this, we’re probably looking at something in the vicinity of $50 million committed to arbitration players, for a total of $130-140 million in payroll commitments next year.
That doesn’t give the O’s a lot of room. Fortunately, they don’t have a lot of guys to sign. The only impending free agents are Trumbo, Matt Wieters, and Pedro Alvarez, so it’s not as if there’s a Chris Davis mega-deal that needs to be addressed.
Now, let’s look at what a Trumbo contract might cost. Since it’s unrealistic to assume that Trumbo will hit this well the rest of the year, we’ll use the rest-of-season projections from Fangraphs. ZIPS has him finishing at .274/.325/.532 with 39 homers, making him worth 2.8 WAR, while Steamer likes him just a tad less (.271/.323/.521, 38 homers, 2.3 WAR).
Using Beyond the Box Score’s 2015-16 free agency calculator and a WAR of 2.5 for this season, that gives us an average annual value of $9.8 million if Trumbo were to hit the open market. That calculator is generally a very good predictor of free agent value, but in this case I think it misses the mark, primarily because because it’s weighed down by Trumbo’s 2014 WAR (the calculator factors in the last three seasons’ WAR totals, with the current season counting the most). Trumbo had a horrible injury-plagued year two seasons ago, where he managed to somehow be worth negative 1.2 wins.
Since Trumbo averaged over 2 WAR in the three years prior to 2014, I really don’t think that one outlier year will hurt him that much. Even changing that variable to +1 WAR in the calculator makes the average annual value around $12-13 million, which seems more like it.
From a qualifying offer standpoint, Trumbo seems like a perfect candidate. If he accepts the offer, it wouldn’t be too much of an overpay, and his 1-year deal would be off the books before the big boys need to be re-signed. If he doesn’t, there’s the obvious draft pick benefit should he sign elsewhere.
Another benefit to the O’s if Trumbo rejects a qualifying offer is that the draft pick attachment tends to hurt players’ value in free agency. Beyond the Box Score found that the effect is about 14%, which is at least a million or two in annual value for a player in his price range.
Ultimately, if the season plays out close to the best guess put forward by the projections, it makes sense for the O’s to slap a qualifying offer on Trumbo and go from there. If he accepts it, they’ll get a good player and the contract won’t kill them. If he rejects it, his value will be depressed by the draft pick attachment.
With the draft pick attachment, on the free agent market, Trumbo might command something along the lines of 3 years, $30-35 million. That seems like a good deal, but the O’s might be hesitant to commit money through the 2019 season with so many key players becoming free agents in the next few years.
Finally, there’s one more thing to consider: this is Mark Trumbo! Known as one of the streakiest players in the game, Trumbo has a tendency to get red-hot (as we’ve seen) or ice-cold at the drop of a hat. For all we know, Trumbo could go into 2014 mode for the second half and become a much more affordable asset (if the O’s would even want him).
He could also keep up his hot hitting from earlier this year and finish with 45 bombs and an OPS over .900, making him one of the premier free agents in a weak class and pricing himself out of Baltimore.
If Trumbo were to go in either of those directions, this article would be moot (I told you this is way too early!). Regardless, it’s fun to think about bringing Trumbo back beyond 2016 with the way he’s been playing so far this year.
What do you think? As an O’s fan, how many dollars and how many years would you be willing to commit to Trumbo? Let me know in the comments.