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Orioles need Mark Trumbo to rebound from disappointing 2017

With $26 million still owed to Mark Trumbo over the next two years, the Orioles are relying on a comeback season. But if he needs to be on the team, he should have to earn his playing time in 2018.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the 2017 season is all but over, thoughts about the 2018 Orioles roster begin to percolate. And one Oriole that comes to mind who really doesn’t deserve more than a cup of coffee, but will likely get a free refill, is Mark Trumbo.

Even though Trumbo’s skill set doesn’t match the Orioles’ needs for next season, his contract all but guarantees he will be on the opening day roster. He has two years and $26 million left on last year’s ill-advised three-year deal, and the Orioles will therefore give him another opportunity at everyday play despite coming off of his worst-ever season.

Ever since his opening day, walk-off homer defeated the Blue Jays 3-2, Trumbo has been a major disappointment in 2017 Orioles and a key contributor to their embarassingly disappointing September fade.

Through Wednesday’s game, Trumbo’s WAR sat at -0.4, according to Baseball Reference, before going 0-for-3 with two more strikeouts last night. He’s currently hitting just .235/.290/.400 – his worst career numbers since his injury-marred 2014 season with the Diamondbacks. He was a 28-year-old battling a foot fracture then. He’ll be 32 in January.

Dan Duquette will have to hope Trumbo returns to his 2016 production when he hit a career-high 47 homers with 108 RBIs. This outlier year was enough for Peter Angelos to again show loyalty to an Orioles player just entering free agency. He gave a three-year, $37.5 million dollar contract to a 1B/DH who would seemingly block the team’s most major league ready offensive player – Trey Mancini.

The signing also ensured that Trumbo wouldn’t play much at his natural first base position, thanks to the albatross contract of seven years at $161 million that Chris Davis signed the previous year.

And let’s not forget Captain America’s, Adam Jones, request of management last off season to sign more athletic outfielders to help him patrol Camden Yards. Duquette responded by signing a statue like Trumbo to play right field, to platoon with no one’s Al Kalline, Seth Smith.

But what’s done is done, and looking ahead, Trumbo has no trade value and will remain with the team. Even if the Orioles were willing to pay as much as $16 million of his remaining contract, making him a $5 million a year player for two years for another team, who would be willing to take that on?

Maybe there is some power-starved team that desperately needs a potential 30-homer-per-year slugger to serve as a trade partner, but Angelos would have to eat too much money to make that work. That’s not his style.

So, Trumbo makes the 2018 opening day roster. That doesn’t mean he has to play everyday and there are plenty of reasons he shouldn’t.

The Orioles’ decision to bring up outfielder Austin Hays this month and start his arbitration clock indicates that he has an excellent chance to make the team out of spring training. If that happens, Hays should be given the chance to be the team’s regular right fielder and shouldn’t have to sit for even an occasional start there by Trumbo.

Chris Davis’ contract is almost certain to be a one of the biggest mistakes the Orioles’ front office has ever made. He is completing his second year of his seven-year deal, both of which have been disasters. But, he’s going to play. The Orioles shouldn’t have to be stuck starting two under performers based upon the money they’re being paid. It’s bad enough they have to play one.

If Tim Beckham’s defense doesn’t warrant his offensive production, his options are limited with Trumbo on the team. Beckham is the front runner to be the Orioles’ shortstop of the immediate future, but he still needs to prove if his glove can handle that responsibility.

At best, he’s an average defensive shortstop, and that may be sufficient as long as he comes close to being the hitter he was during his first 29 games with the Orioles when he hit .394/.417/.646. But shortstop is an essential defensive position and average may not be good enough, especially if he puts up numbers closer to his September line – .171.250/.368 through Wednesday’s game.

If the Orioles find themselves with another option at short, Beckham could be moved to DH and backup at several positions. But Trumbo blocks that route as well.

The Orioles already have two first basemen. The aforementioned Chris Davis is going to start there most games, and Trey Mancinii will be manning left field. This actually might end up being the most beneficial part of signing Trumbo last year. If it weren’t for that, we many never know that Mancini can actually be a serviceable defensive left fielder. But he has always been a first baseman and serves as more proof that Trumbo is just in the way.

There’s lots of time between now and opening day 2018, and many roster decisions will need to be made. But despite the money due to Mark Trumbo, there’s no need to lock him in as a regular starter if the team has better options.