To Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo, surviving six major league seasons and making a first foray into free agency after leading the league in home runs should have meant this offseason was more a coronation than the crucible it proved to be.
It ultimately delivered a satisfying end, with his three-year, $37.5 million contract representing a deal that landed him on the ballclub he envisioned himself with all along at a price the club was happy with.
But before that came together, Trumbo learned the realities that this particular free-agent market held for players like him, endured some difficult moments and came out smiling on the other side Friday at his re-introductory news conference.
“I wouldn’t say it was exactly what I had thought,” Trumbo said. “You kind of go into it thinking you might have a ton of suitors. You lead the league in home runs. Who’s not interested in that? Then you realize that, you know, there aren’t that many vacancies at times for what you do, especially this year. There are a lot of people who have similar skill-sets to me, and you see a lot of those guys who are still out there fighting for two or three jobs. That’s just the way this year went.
“Had it been another year, it could have been different. I felt the teams that were interested were very professional, but the whole time I really wanted to be back here. That was always the mindset I had personally. I think that it was a pleasurable experience in a lot of ways. Some of it wasn’t as much, but ... I’m thrilled to be back with a ballclub that was my first choice, by far.”
Trumbo, after three months on the market, on Friday found himself at the ballpark where he enjoyed a career year. In 2016, his first year with the Orioles, Trumbo hit a major league-high 47 home runs, drove in 108 runs and made his second All-Star Game appearance. While Trumbo accumulated those stats, executive vice president Dan Duquette said the Orioles learned about attributes that made him particularly appealing to secure long term.
“He’s got some great personal qualities,” Duquette said. “He’s very dependable. He shows up for work every day. He’s got an excellent work ethic and he’s a very, very good veteran player who is an example for the younger players in the organization. We’re happy to have him back.”
Duquette made it clear that the Orioles didn’t need to be reminded of those things for a deal to come together. The delay, from Trumbo declining the $17.2 million qualifying offer and becoming a free agent in early November until his Jan. 20 signing, was all about the price tag.
“He’s got a lot of great qualities that the Orioles recognize, and we always did recognize,” Duquette said. “It’s just that we wanted to get the deal that was right for our club, in our market.”
Because of that qualifying offer, which required any team signing him to give up a draft pick that could be as high as a first-rounder, and the sheer amount of free-agent power hitters, Trumbo found the market to be a slow-developing one. He found it to be an amplified version of the salary arbitration process, where a player’s faults are used to drive down his price.
“I guess there were a few offers that might have made some sense,” Trumbo said. “That was very early on. But there were a few others that came along that were easy to kind of pass on just because I always held out a lot of hope that there would be an opportunity here down the road, which is fortunately what ended up happening.”
In the meantime, fellow sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista took deals that pale in comparison to what was expected at the outset of free agency. Seeing that, and recognizing that Camden Yards was a venue that’s “really inspiring to come to work every day” at, Trumbo and his representatives reached out to the Orioles around Jan. 15 to re-engage. A few days later, the two sides agreed to a deal.
“Mark was always clear about his desire to re-sign with the Orioles,” Duquette said. “I think that really helped with us getting the deal done. He made it clear at the start of the process that this is where he would like to play, and during the process he also reiterated that he wanted to come back to Baltimore, that he had a good year and this was a place where he wanted to call home. That’s really why we got the deal.”
Once the agreement was reached, Trumbo said he heard from many of his once and future teammates. Many were urging him to sign all offseason. First baseman Chris Davis was there in support Friday, as were many others from different facets of the organization.
That collective spirit, he said, is partially owed to a feeling that will drive Trumbo individually and the Orioles as a whole this season. Last October’s extra-inning loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League wild-card game was a harsh end to the year, and the meat of that team is back to make another run at it.
“I think anytime you get close to something with a good group, you want to see it through a little bit more, at least,” Trumbo said. “I think the team and the season we put together last year was really incredible. We ultimately didn’t get as far as we wanted, but when you look at the bulk of what we did, it was quite impressive.”
Trumbo said he hasn’t been told where he’ll be playing in 2017, but expected it would be some mixture of right field and designated hitter, the two positions he played most in 2016. If it is the outfield, he said he’s ready to reprise that role.
“I know I get hammered in a lot of places for some of the things I do [defensively], and that’s the opinion of many. But at the end of the day, I strive to make the routine plays out there,” Trumbo said. “I throw the ball well. I’m accurate. I may not make some of the 'Web Gem' catches, but I definitely don’t think I’m a liability out there. So if [manager Buck Showalter] chooses to put me out there, I’m going to go and play a good right field, left field, wherever needed on the defensive side. But if I ended up DHing most of the time, that would be great, too.”