The free agent market in the 2016-17 offseason has been strange. The Blue Jays came out of the gate in mid-November inking Kendrys Morales to a three-year $33 million contract, while spurning Edwin Encarnacion (nabbed by the Indians) and Jose Bautista (who finally agreed to a one-year deal in Toronto). The Blue Jays bet too early on what would become a slow-moving market for slow-moving sluggers.
The Orioles, not known for opening the checkbook for free agents, offered Mark Trumbo a qualifying offer, which he expectedly declined. The reunion, however, seemed inevitable, as seven of the players offered qualifying offers ended up returning to their original clubs (only Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler, and Ian Desmond changed teams).
Last year, Trumbo divided his time between right field and the designated hitter spot, platooning at DH with Pedro Alvarez. With the expiration of Alvarez’ contract, and the departure of both Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce, penciling the 31-year-old Trumbo into the DH spot full-time makes sense.
Having led the league in 2016 with 47 home runs, Trumbo presents a better value than Morales and Ian Desmond. Desmond is penciled in to play first base in Colorado, hereby mitigating any of his defensive value. Comparing the three players makes it pretty clear Baltimore did well in a down market for aging free agent hitters.
|Player||Age||Team||Terms||2016 HRs||2016 Avg||2016 OBP||2016 SLG||2016 wRC+||2016 fWAR|
|Mark Trumbo||31||Orioles||3 yrs, $37.5m||47||.256||.316||.533||123||2.2|
|Kendrys Morales||33||Blue Jays||3 yrs, $33m||30||.263||.327||.468||110||0.7|
|Ian Desmond||31||Rockies||5 yrs, $70m||22||.285||.335||.446||106||3.3|
Trumbo is clearly a better hitter than Morales and is two years his junior. Although Desmond posted a higher fWAR, his contract cost Colorado more in average annual value than Trumbo cost Baltimore, and even worse, the contract includes an additional two years despite both he and Trumbo being the same age.
Trumbo may be on the "wrong side of 30," but his 2016 strikeout rate of 25.5 percent and walk rate of 7.6 percent are well in line with his career averages (25 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively). The Orioles are getting a player who has demonstrated recent success with the team and one who fits in well with their shorter terms goals. While no one would identify Mark Trumbo as a superstar or a franchise player, he does have a good amount of value at the plate, a defining characteristic that makes him appealing to the Orioles.
Trumbo’s skillset aligns well with Baltimore’s strategy as an offense-first team. As flawed as a strategy spurning starting pitching may look, focusing on hitting and relief pitching in recent years has yielded the O’s success. It is easy to overlook the Orioles, who seem to overperform their projections on an annual basis, but Baltimore played in the AL Wild Card game last year, and made it as far as the ALCS as recently as 2014.
This team seems to be going all-in while they still have an offensive cast of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones complemented by a relief corps cemented by Zach Britton and Darren O’Day. Inking Trumbo is just another piece to the puzzle. At the modest annual cost of $12.5 million, this is the right move for the Orioles.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano