However protracted the process was, Mark Trumbo’s return to the Orioles appears to be a reasonable piece of business for a player whose market all along indicated a reunion with Baltimore might best serve all parties.
And considering myriad factors, the Orioles' biggest piece of offseason business could prove to be their last. From the crowded roster they’ve built to the jostling for playing time that will come when spring training begins next month, there’s plenty of fallout from the pending Trumbo deal worth exploring -- including what they're getting in the player himself.
Part of the reason Trumbo lasted so long on the market, aside from the fact that a team would have to forfeit a first-round draft pick for him, is the relative uncertainty as to what he will be going forward. His 47 home runs last year were a career high, while his strikeout and walk rates (25.5 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively) were in line with his career averages. His .256 batting average was in line with his career mark, too.
But the difference was the power, and whether that was a one-year mirage or a lasting development will be what distinguishes this deal over its three-year life span. What was different last year? Trumbo hit the ball in the air more often than he hit it on the ground for the first time in his career, and combine that with a career-best 24.6 percent home run/fly ball rate and you get a league-high 47 home runs.
The Orioles are betting, for a pretty reasonable price tag, that Trumbo’s power stroke remains what it was last year. They’re signing him for the power.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but this is the firmest indication that the Orioles are going to ride out their current core group and keep their offense-first philosophy no matter what.
At least for now, they’re not trading a top player under club control to ensure that life after 2018 — when Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Tillman could all be gone — isn’t so gloomy. And given Trumbo’s skill set, where his premium power stands in contrast to his lack of a true defensive position, the expectation should remain that the Orioles offense will be home run-heavy.
In Welington Castillo, the Orioles got a similar bat to replace Matt Wieters. In Seth Smith, they got a useful corner outfield piece with more on-base capability than some of his peers, and his left-handed bat could be the right-handed half of a platoon.
All told, there won’t be much different about the 2017 Orioles from the 2016 Orioles, except for how often Trumbo serves as the designated hitter as opposed to the right fielder.
Last year, Trumbo started in right field against right-handed pitching to allow Pedro Alvarez to serve as the designated hitter, and when the Orioles faced a left-handed pitcher, he took the DH spot to create an outfield spot for Nolan Reimold.
This year, the most logical thing would be to reverse that.
Reimold isn’t back this year, nor is Steve Pearce, another player who pushed Trumbo to DH against lefties. But Smith’s presence as a player who excels against right-handed pitching, plus the fact that Hyun Soo Kim was only mostly limited to hitting against righties (and did it rather well), mean those two have the inside track for corner outfield spots when the Orioles face such a pitcher.
Joey Rickard, last year’s Rule 5 draft pick, hit .313 against left-handed pitching last year and could be the small half of a platoon, as well as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner. That only accounts for one spot. Perhaps Kim uses his second major league spring training to show he can hit lefties and becomes an everyday player. But if not, Trumbo could end up playing right field against lefties to accommodate Trey Mancini, the man the team had pegged as its designated hitter before this agreement.
If it seems like there are a lot of moving parts, it’s because there are. And at this point, Mancini’s role on the major league roster is the one that comes immediately into question.
Remember, Mancini was a player who all of last offseason had his name bandied about as someone the Orioles were comfortable replacing Chris Davis with straight away. It got to the point that Scott Boras himself began asking around to his staff about this Mancini kid who is supposedly major league ready. Then, the Orioles re-signed Davis and Mancini didn’t surface in the majors until September.
It’s different now, and Mancini hit three home runs in his brief time in the majors after a strong season mostly spent at Triple-A Norfolk, but there might not be a spot for him. Consider the Orioles’ bench space.
On a typical day, with their infield remaining the same as always and Castillo behind the plate, the outfield might include Kim, center fielder Adam Jones and Smith, with Trumbo at DH. That’s nine position players, with Caleb Joseph or Francisco Pena breaking camp as the backup catcher on the bench along with Ryan Flaherty and Rickard. If the Orioles go with a four-man bench, that leaves one spot for Mancini, Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander, and any other acquisitions they might make that get them closer to their goal of improved speed and outfield defense by the time the offseason ends.