There's still a few weeks remaining in the Orioles' offseason, but even with the roster not necessarily finished, the re-signing of slugger Mark Trumbo to a three-year contract makes clear that their core beliefs haven't changed.
Above all else, at least offensively, the Orioles are a team that is built on the home run ball. And no amount of suggestions that the club should trade a star approaching free agency or shift toward a lineup with better on-base capability can change that.
The Orioles are going to be a team that's mostly the same when they take the field in 2017, and Trumbo's return solidifies that.
"Well, we've had the leading home run hitter in the American League on our club for the last four years," executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "We aim to put a good team on the field every year. In 2017, we have an established club that made the playoffs, and we have a lot of the players returning, a lot of position players returning. We have the strength of the bullpen, we have a solid infield. Trumbo was a big part of the success we had last year. So, we're glad to have that back."
Even considering the year the Zach Britton-led bullpen had, perhaps no other aspect of the 2016 season shone as brightly as the Orioles' power at the plate. Trumbo's 47 home runs helped them to a league-high 253 on the season, with an assist from first baseman Chris Davis (38), third baseman Manny Machado (37), center fielder Adam Jones (29) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (25).
Those five will now return as the presumed heart of a batting order on a team that will be nearly as static. Duquette added to his outfield and possibly added by subtraction to his starting rotation when he sent Yovani Gallardo to the Seattle Mariners for platoon corner outfielder Seth Smith. He also added Welington Castillo to replace former first-round draft pick Matt Wieters behind the plate, but is confident that Castillo is a better talent overall.
But Castillo's calling card, just like Trumbo's, and just like the Orioles' as a whole, is the pop in his bat. That's why in a market thin on catchers, Castillo signed a deal worth $6 million with a player option for 2018, and Trumbo, the reigning home run king, was available in January.
Power as a whole has taken a plunge on the market the past two years, save for Davis' monster contract last January with the Orioles. Neither Edwin Encarnacion nor Jose Bautista saw their price range in reality meet their expectations, and many said they believe that reflects a change in the game's philosophy to discount power.
No such thing has happened in Baltimore, in no small part because of the team's current roster construction and that it's the easiest path back to contention in the short term. To see the Orioles double down on power in their lineup isn't a surprise, considering some of the team's recent moves. Other teams are valuing on-base percentage, speed and defense, and some are winning doing that. But changing mid-stream is harder than outsiders might make it out to be, said ESPN analyst Doug Glanville.
"It's usually not this one formulaic thing that can push you over the edge," said Glanville, who played nine seasons in the major leagues including a half of one for Orioles manager Buck Showalter in Texas. "You have to do it with your environment, your ballpark, your staff, your strategy, how your minor league is built, your cash flow — all that is going to shape whether you can veer off of where you are today to accommodate this new wave of analytics. There's a transitional period you have to go through to get the other side. You can't snap your fingers and say I'm going to get some OBP guys. You're maybe built very differently."
These Orioles, over the past few years, haven't submitted to the latest trends. MLB Network analyst Cliff Floyd, a former All-Star outfielder who came up for Duquette's Montreal Expos in the early 1990s, said that comes down to Duquette's vision.
"I think that's the direction that the general manager wants to go down," Floyd said. "When you talk to Duq, and some of the things he thinks about — it's a new era for how they sort of look at the future of the game. That team has some studs, let's not get it twisted. But when you look at how the game has changed, where power is not looked at the same, at least this year — you look at all these guys sitting out there. … We'll see how it works out."
Floyd, and many other observers, take pause when they see a team so openly going against much of the current accepted wisdom. Sure, the Orioles aren't valuing on-base ability or defense as much anymore, but they were ahead of the curve on building a deep, top-end bullpen. Their reliance on power could set a new mold if it ends up working.
"It might make me think power is not the best thing, but I'm going to also believe that we still need to be able to hit that three-run homer," Floyd said. "We still need to be able to have guys and not say they're old at 31 years of age, or unable to duplicate that again because of whatever reason and say we don't value power that way. Because 47 homers is 47 homers, and not only does it put butts in the seats, it gives your team a chance for a W in that win column every night, and I bet you Buck is thrilled to have Trumbo back, especially if you're going to be able to DH him a little more."
That front-office philosophy trickles down to the players, too, the analysts said. If the Orioles shifted their entire offensive philosophy in one offseason, let alone one when so many aspects of their roster are the same, it could send the wrong message to a clubhouse that values continuity.
"There is something about that that gives you, as a player who walks into the clubhouse, you think they have something here," Glanville said. "There's a plan. There's a strategy. There's a style. And that is something to grab onto. Whereas if you're changing wholesale, you're developing your culture as you go, you're going to take a few lumps."
To Glanville and Floyd, the Orioles will find themselves in position to contend in 2017 if a few things go right. For Floyd, Castillo could make the loss of Wieters moot, and the bullpen will be strong again, but it comes down to the rotation, as most Orioles seasons do. If Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are all front-end starters, the Orioles will be in the thick of the American League pennant race.
Glanville suggested a shift in positioning for Jones — a la Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, who moved back 15 feet and saw his defensive metric ratings soar — as a way to improve the Orioles defense. Likewise, he said a player like Machado going back to his 20-steal ways of 2015 would make them a more threatening team offensively.
But both said they believe the Orioles' tactic of re-assembling their imposing offense from a season ago is the way to go for a team that believes it's as close to taking the next step as the Orioles are.
"Once again, they've had success," Glanville said. "They haven't won the World Series, but they've been a consistent competitor. It makes you feel like a piece here, a piece there, a couple guys have career years and that could be the difference in any given year."