Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli talks about slugger Mark Trumbo decision to reject the Orioles offer and test the free agency market. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Free agent outfielder Mark Trumbo on Monday declined the team's $17.2-million qualifying offer, according to an industry source.
Instead, he will enter free agency for the first time in his nomadic, seven-year career.
Trumbo, who led the majors with 47 home runs, now enters a market heavy on power hitters, including outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Bautista, and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.
Trumbo had a week to decide after the Orioles extended the offer on Nov. 7, but as the deadline drew near, the team's expectation was that Trumbo would decline. Both sides expressed some interest in a reunion as the regular season drew to a close, meaning Trumbo could still return through traditional free agency channels, though that would be at a price the market dictates.
With Trumbo now able to be courted by the rest of the league, the possibility is as real as ever that he'll follow in the footsteps of Nelson Cruz, who used his one year in Baltimore to build up his value then cash in elsewhere in free agency.
Acquired last winter in a trade that sent backup catcher Steve Clevenger to Seattle, Trumbo came to the Orioles having already played for three teams — the Los Angeles Angels, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Mariners — in the previous three years. Baltimore, however, was as good a place for a slugger like him to play his final year before free agency.
Through the first two months of the season, Trumbo was one of the game's best hitters. That earned him his second All-Star game appearance, and first since 2012.
His batting average fell sharply in the second half, but he still paced the league in home runs and came in with a batting average of .256, right around his career levels.
Many estimates have Trumbo in line to receive a contract similar to the four-year, $57 million deal Cruz got from Seattle. Trumbo, 30, is several years younger than Cruz was at the time, but has a shorter track record of success.
But the potential for the power gains he made this year in Baltimore being permanent, combined with a roster situation that accommodates him at first base or as a designated hitter, could make Trumbo a valuable asset around the league.
To sign him, another team would have to give up a draft pick. The top 10 picks in the draft are protected, meaning any team with one of them would lose a second-round pick. But any other team would be ceding their first-round selection for Trumbo. The Orioles would in turn receive a pick at the end of the first round for losing Trumbo.
The draft pick compensation element of these qualifying offer free agents has, at times, suppressed value for some riskier players on the market.
The Orioles have waited until late in the offseason to score deals seen as below sticker price on Cruz and pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014, and right-handed pitcher Yovani Gallardo in 2016. Outfielder Dexter Fowler was close to joining that list last spring, but ultimately returned on a one-year deal to the Chicago Cubs.
Such is the risk of declining the qualifying offer so early in the offseason. Should the market tamp down Trumbo's value to the point that he isn't going to get the salary or years he feels he should command, the only real option for rebuilding his value on a one-year contract is in Baltimore.
Teams usually won't sacrifice a draft pick for one year of a player, and each year several players who have qualifying offers attached to them don't have a home in spring training because the cost of signing them with the salary and draft pick is too significant.
Trumbo's fate, as well as that of the other nine players who declined qualifying offers, is still to be determined. According to multiple reports, Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker accepted the qualifying offer. The rest of the 10 who had looming decisions declined.