If you have been following our reviews for the players that made up the 2018 Baltimore Orioles, you have noticed a trend: below average performances and injuries. It is the latter that derailed Mark Trumbo’s season. This is especially disappointing because he looked better at the plate when he was on the field than he did in 2017.
Trumbo entered the 2018 campaign as the second year of his three year, $37.5M contract that he signed prior to the 2017 season. He was expected to rebound from a poor 2017 (.234/.289/.397 with 23 homers) and be the middle of the order power bat he was in 2016.
Unfortunately for Trumbo and the Orioles, those plans were nixed before the season even started by injuries. A March 15 MRI revealed that Trumbo had a quadriceps strain and he was placed on the disabled list on March 29. After recovering from that injury, he returned to the active roster on May 1 and was fairly productive. While he only swatted two home runs in May, he hit .303 with an OPS of .776 during that first month. Those are not numbers we would expect from a power hitter making $11.5M, but it was a definite improvement over 2017. The Orioles’ season was already dead, but Trumbo was heading in the right direction.
Another injury then struck, and this one lingered. Trumbo hurt his right knee on May 22 while sliding into second base. The ailment did not get better despite periodic days of rest, injections, and other treatments over the summer. Speaking about the injury near the end of the season, Trumbo said “I’ve dealt with this for quite a while now — months on end of trying to go out and perform and all the while, knowing something didn’t feel right. There was hardly any relief. Maybe a spotty day here or there that was a little better than the one before it, but going back to feeling lousy the next day.”
The extent to which this knee issue impacted Trumbo’s offensive game cannot be known for certain. He posted a lousy .209 batting average and .741 OPS in June, but rebounded slightly in July before catching fire in August. He hit .304/.322/.571 in 16 games that month. If he was still being bothered by that knee, it wasn’t showing up in his offensive performance. But after aggravating the knee on August 19, Trumbo flew back to Baltimore for an examination. He was put on the disabled list which was the end of his season.
Less than two weeks later, it was announced the Trumbo opted to go under the knife for surgery. The procedure fixed a cartilage issue under the knee cap. Buck Showalter said that future quality of life also factored into Trumbo’s decision to go under the knife.
With those two injuries limiting Trumbo to 330 at bats in 90 games, it is difficult to accurately judge the numbers he put up. But even while battling nagging ailments, his numbers were decent. He finished with a slash line of .261/.313/.452. The first two of those statistics are above his career average and his slugging percentage is only nine points off his career mark. All of those numbers are vast improvements over 2017. He hit 17 home runs in those 330 at bats, which is a much better rate than the 23 he hit in 559 at bats in 2017. That adds up to an offensive WAR of one. In an Orioles offense that struggled mightily, he pulled his weight.
While Trumbo has had offensive success throughout his career, the question mark has always been his defense. The problems with his right knee made playing defense even more challenging. Fangraphs says his defense in right field cost the Orioles seven runs and his UZR/150 was graded at -31.4. Baseball Reference rated his defensive WAR as -1.3. These are not good numbers.
Trumbo has a place on next year’s team because he has an eight-figure guaranteed salary. Whoever takes over as president of baseball operations would surely love to dump Trumbo’s salary on any willing team in exchange for a bag of baseballs. Unfortunately, it is not known if he will be fully recovered from knee surgery by the time Opening Day rolls around. It is a near impossibility that a team would trade for him this offseason.
When Trumbo does make it back to the active roster in 2019, he will occupy right field or the DH spot. Fans will complain that he will take playing time from somebody such as DJ Stewart or Austin Hays. And that is justified. In what will be a rebuilding season, we want to watch young, exciting players as opposed to an aging slugger whose chances of being part of the next competitive team in Baltimore are nearly zero.
But let’s choose to look at the positives. The 2019 Orioles will be a very young club and the veteran leadership Trumbo provides may be beneficial. He recognizes the fact that he will play the role of mentor, saying “as someone that’s been around a little longer than quite a few of the current players, it’s going to be up to me and a few of the other guys to try and help these guys, give them some insight.” Trumbo has the reputation of being a solid clubhouse guy and he could prove valuable as a mentor. Let’s just hope he doesn’t talk with the young guys about the danger of celebratory pies.
The best case scenario in 2019 from the Orioles’ perspective is that Trumbo makes a full recovery from surgery, performs well, and is traded for a prospect or two. If that doesn’t happen, Baltimore will surely not make an attempt to re-sign him when his contract expires after next season.