Orioles' Mark Trumbo speaks his mind

Getting to know Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo on and off the field.

When the Orioles and slugger Mark Trumbo reached an agreement to keep the reigning home run leader in Baltimore for the next three seasons, the team locked up more than just a big bat.

In his one season in Baltimore, Trumbo made an impression on both the fans and the ballclub, with manager Buck Showalter constantly praising how tuned in he was to his surroundings.


That spans a lot — from his own game and his teammates to the game as a whole. Showalter said he was an asset in the team's prep meetings going over opposing pitchers. He constantly had perspective on what the team was going through, good or bad.

And that type of perception means he has opinions on plenty. In a wide-ranging interview with The Baltimore Sun, Trumbo sat down this spring to discuss his career year in 2016 and how he returned to the Orioles, the latest trends in baseball and how analytics are applied to a modern player, his love of music and travel, and what he thinks of some of the Orioles' most prominent figures.

I wanted to go back to this time last year first. You're with a new team for the fourth time in four years, you're going into your free-agent year. What's the mindset of a player when they're in that stage of their career where it's not make-or-break, but this is your biggest chance to actually make?

I think the mindset can be a little all over the place. Everyone that's played, and I guess played for a few years, knows that the magic number is six full seasons. Free agency, everything that comes with it. It's all how people handle pressure, and I know personally, I've never been very good when I add a bunch of extra pressure to anything, or try to do too much, as they say. That doesn't equal results for me. I do a much better job when I kind of keep focused on very small goals and for me, coming into a new team, a lot of it was me trying to integrate into this system as opposed to thinking about what could be in the years following. I just really wanted to be a contributor on this team. I had come off a pretty good-feeling end of the season in 2015 with the Mariners, and thought that I had a pretty good thing going offensively, and really just wanted to do what I could to keep that rolling as opposed to trying to have some monster season that could result in big dollars. That doesn't work for me. I know that.

When you were in Florida, I feel like once you got into a groove, you did seem comfortable in the clubhouse. You were performing on the field in spring training. Was there a point when you realized, in the spring, that this was going to be the place where things might come together the way they did for you?

You can't know that. I knew that I felt comfortable here. I knew that the role was something I felt like was good for me. The guys were great. Everything added up to, you know, the type of situation that can allow you to play well. But once the season starts, you never quite know exactly what you're going to get. There's a certain level where, if you've done it in the past, you're definitely capable of doing that. But if you blow through some of your previous standards, at least if we're talking hitting-wise, it's a pleasant surprise.

And you were doing that the first few months of the season. You were on an incredible pace. Is there a point as you're doing it, as it's happening, where you sit back and say, "This is different"?

That's the weird thing; no. You go and you're playing and your numbers are accumulating, but there's always the competition aspect that's going on, too. At no point do you have time to reflect and say, "Man, I'm doing something special here." Maybe at the All-Star break a little bit, because there are a few days off. It's constant, the battle mode. There are always guys around you that are putting up big numbers, so it's not like in my case I ran away with anything in that nature. I just felt like we're always in contention. We were in first place for a long time, and that was far more important than what I had going on personally.

Staying chronologically, you came to this team [with a reputation], and even as you're having the first few months that you have, you had the reputation that even Buck mentioned where the first half is always better for you than the second half. Is there anything about that that you can pinpoint as to why that happens, or is it just the natural occurrence?

The previous year, in '15, I had a much better second half. It's part of it. If you're in there every day, you're going to get tired. There are some, sure, that turn it on and have great Augusts. But I think the natural tendency is the body starts to fatigue a little bit, and some of the things you take for granted the first couple months of the season, whether it be the bat speed, the power, they don't go away entirely, obviously. But I do think it gets a little bit tougher as the season goes on.

To jump out of order, do you think a different role this year where you might DH more, play a little more first [base], might reduce that wear and tear?

I DH'ed a lot last year. I don't think that that has all that much to do with it. And sometimes, too, you get into bad habits at certain points. For me, for whatever reason, the second half sometimes I can get into a little bit of a rut. But I tend to not think about first and second halves so much. I think that can be really unproductive. I think the guys who maybe don't have the second half that they were hoping for, it can kind of really bog you down mentally when you go into the offseason. I like to just take the season as a whole and not break it up like a lot of people like to do.

And when you do take the season as a whole, I remember talking when Kevin Gausman was having his incredible run in the second half of the season and I asked, 'Is this who he is now? Is this what he is?' And you said, 'Guys are kind of who they are until they show you otherwise.' Is last year what Mark Trumbo is when everything is going right — when you find the right club, right circumstances and everything kind of falls into place?

You know, it was "who I am" last year. I think I've always been of the mindset, and I think playing with some veteran guys when I was a little younger, Torii Hunter was always big on [saying], you know, there's certain numbers you know you're going to be able to put up, and those are usually pretty realistic goals. Last year, I couldn't have predicted I hit as many home runs as I did. I'm certainly happy I did, but to put that kind of number as the new standard, I think that leads to that pressure I was talking about earlier. Obviously, I'd like to do something similar to that, but I don't know if I have a goal to come in and hit 55 home runs or something like that. That type of mindset doesn't work for me.


And you end the season with a home run in the wild-card game. There's team disappointment, but you had a pretty good year. Dan Duquette has mentioned that they knew this was a place you wanted to come back to. This was a place you wanted to be. Specifically, in the qualifying-offer process, was there any inclination to take it?

It was an easy pass. There was a little bit of discussion, but the way everything was lining up, and if we're talking the business side of things, a lot of the predictions were a four-year contract for north of $50 million. You kind of think if enough people are saying that, there's some truth to it and that's a possibility. I'm a 31-year-old now. when you're weighing a decision of taking three or four guaranteed years, as opposed to one singular year, even though it is a lot of money, from the business side of things it makes sense to get something done now. The older you get, obviously the less desirable you'll probably become.


It has become an Orioles tradition of sorts for there to be these public and protracted negotiations that go through the winter meetings and are ultimately cut off when the winter meetings end and there's no agreement. What was it like for you during that phase when you have these ideas of what your contract might be, you're seeing the market not only not develop for you but for hitters of your profile in general? Especially in that winter meetings area when you expect a big-ticket free agent might get done, what are you thinking at that point?

The emotions are all over the map. A lot of highs, a lot of lows. The one thing I know is nobody is going to have any sympathy for highly paid athletes. But the realistic answer is there's a lot of close calls, at least in my case, and it seemed like something might have materialized and then there was more waiting. Whether it be a couple weeks, a couple months, whatever it is. Mentally, I think you're just looking for a fair deal and the right home for you. And sometimes, when it takes a while, it can be a little bit discouraging. A guy like Pedro Alvarez, for example, had a very productive major league season last year. He's a proven major league veteran, and he doesn't have a job right now. [Alvarez signed a minor league deal with the Orioles shortly after this interview.] A guy like Chris Carter, hit 41 home runs and he signed a contract that a lot of people thought wasn't that much money for a guy that did what he did. I think the landscape of the game is changing, and I think the tools that are being evaluated are completely different than what they might have been in the past. It seems like there's an emphasis on a few other categories, and me personally, I was in that boat. There were a bunch of us who were all very similar players who were fighting for not too many jobs and maybe don't have the skill set that some of these teams are coveting these days.

We're going to get back into that soon, but I just want to touch first on when you did kind of come back together with the Orioles in negotiations. What spurred that in your mind, and how did that process ultimately end up working out as well and quickly as it did?

To be honest, I think my agent Joel Wolfe contacted Dan [Duquette] and Dan got back to him and said, "I want to talk about working something out," and a day later we had a deal done. As long as things took to kind of get to that point, we came to an agreement within a matter of minutes, almost. Just bizarre. But I'm obviously very happy about it. It's kind of strange how the timing of things [goes].

Were both sides ready for something like that at that point?

In most situations, when there's a deal to be done and both sides are motivated, you can work something out pretty quickly. I think for a number of reasons, it took the length that it did, but once it came time and it made sense for the Orioles and for us, we just made it happen.


You mentioned how the game is being evaluated these days, how it's being played, how it's being viewed and consumed. What did your free agency tell you about baseball in 2017?

I can't speak on the pitching side of things. I'm not hyper-aware of how the contracts on that side of things are going. I think on the offensive side, the biggest thing you can have is age on your side, especially if you're a young free agent. But in addition, it seems like teams are placing a premium on other skills, whereas power used to be the most desirable trait by a ways. It seems like defense probably has taken over that category. On-base percentage is also highly sought after, for obvious reasons. Power may or may not be slotting maybe into that third category. And that's not to say that that's every time. If you have a player that does multiple things well, those are the guys who are going to get some of those really big contracts. But I think that's kind of how I see it, at least.

This team, and how it has been constructed over the years, doesn't exactly fly in the face of that, but there's a lot of players who are maybe your profile than a profile a lot of other teams might value, or people who analyze the game might value. How do you think the Orioles fit into that landscape?

I get [it] on the offensive side, but our defense is as good as anyone's. I think we have, by far, the best defense in the league, especially on the infield side. I've never had the pleasure of playing with a core group of guys that does a better job of doing the routine plays, making the tough plays, finding outs, throwing behind runners. It's really amazing. We get so many extra outs throughout the course of the year because of the work these guys put in.

But offensively, we're a team built on power. That's pretty obvious. We strike out more than most teams. I assume our walks are somewhere in the middle, maybe toward the bottom. And yet we win a heck of a lot of games, and do a lot of damage. I don't think in this game, there's no one way to skin a cat. There's a number of models that can work, and the one that we have seems kind of built on a couple of things, and they work pretty well.

You mention the infield defense, but obviously the outfield defense is a constant point of discussion around here. What did you think when Adam [Jones] said there wasn't the defense that was necessary at the corners, that there wasn't the foot speed and athleticism to compete in today's game?

I mean, that's a realistic answer. You can't take offense to it. I get what I do. I think [Hyun Soo] Kim, for example, he lacks the foot speed for some of these guys that get mentioned quite a bit, but he's as sure-handed as anyone. He plays a smart outfield. It's just his range that people would take aim at. And a lot of times, you're seeing guys that are playing corner outfield that are legitimate center fielders. It's just really not fair to try to compare myself and Kim to guys that are just superior runners and much quicker, much faster, much better athletes in certain regards. We're all fighting for the same jobs, but some of the trade-offs probably are what we bring on the offensive side of things. Are we ideal defenders? Probably not, but we're going to find a way to make it work.

A lot of those judgments are made by publicly available metrics that websites will put out there. The league is trying to get involved in having its own centralized Statcast analysis. People always want to find ways to evaluate the game in different ways. You seem like you consume a lot of baseball outside of playing it. Is there anything that has been brought about in the past few years, as stats become more public and more prevalent, that has impacted how you view the game? How you play the game? How you go about your at-bats?


There are a few things. I've spoken about it before, but I think the launch angle aspect of it has helped me. The thing that stats have done, at least in my opinion, is giving a better understanding of things that people already know. We talk about launch angle and exit velocity. Those things are not new. They just are explained a little bit better now. And depending on the type of hitter you are, especially if you're a power guy, who doesn't want to hit it high and hard? That's where the damage is done. but now, it's obviously being discussed a lot more because there's all these advanced metrics that back it up and it allows people to make perfect sense of how it does work.

Spin rate is another thing. Whereas four, five years ago, a guy would have been sneaky. Now, we can say he's got high spin rate. That makes a lot of sense. Why is this guy sneaky? I don't know, he's got a quick arm or whatever. Now we've got these stats that show he spins the ball more than the guy who pitched before him, after him, or whatever it is. That can help. If you know a guy has high spin rate, you know the mental adjustment and the physical one as well is you've got to get started a little earlier. Not that the ball is going to come in harder, but it's going to look harder, and your reaction time is going to be a little bit less.

So, rookie Mark Trumbo knows he wants to hit it high and hard. How does, whether mechanically or approach-wise, that change in 2016 or 2017 knowing launch angle is a thing?

It's got to be a mechanical change, but also a mental one, too. I just have tried to, as I've played — some years have been a lot better than others obviously, but the last couple years and last year in particular, I think watching Nelson Cruz when I was in Seattle proved pretty invaluable. There was a guy who was doing what I wanted to do, putting up the type of numbers I thought I was capable of. I realized he was doing things more efficiently than I was, so I basically tried to steal some of his moves.

You mention Nelson. You mention Torii Hunter. And growing up, I think being an Angels fan, there were a lot of players with similar skill sets that I know you looked up to. Now, being a guy who is the veteran in there, who's going to be in the Orioles clubhouse for the next three years, is going to be a presence, do you take anything from those guys or do you have to be your own kind of leader?

You watch and you figure out what you like about those guys, what do they do, and what they were doing when I was younger and who was helpful to me and try to do that with some of these guys. At the end of the day, you've got to be yourself. Some things don't come naturally to certain people, but I can do a little bit of everything. I think I've got a pretty good relationship with younger players here. Manny [Machado], for example, he doesn't need much help. He's going to be a perennial All-Star and he's going to do a whole lot of damage, but maybe every once in a while I can help. [Jonathan] Schoop, for example, he's a little bit more of a blank canvas, I guess you could say. He's an outstanding player, but some of the things I've learned may help him. Maybe not. You never know. But I do enjoy trying to help some of these guys to maybe avoid some of the pitfalls that I've had to experience, just like guys tried to do for me.


So people know that you like to hit baseballs a long way, they know this side of you, but you seem like — probably by design — a private guy in your personal life. But you do like music, and every person who likes a certain kind of music or really identifies with one has their seminal moment where they discovered that type of music that was their gateway and it becomes a lifestyle. You really like rock music, and I know that's a broad generalization, but what was your "aha" moment when you learned about the type of music that became so important to you?

You know, it's changed over time. I remember listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was one of the earliest memories, getting one of their memories when I was younger. I went though a few phases like everyone does. I listened to some really heavy stuff for a while, then lighter stuff, then kind of realized I really enjoy late '60s, '70s, '80s [music]. That's pretty much all I listen to now. There's been very few records the last five or six years that have excited me, which isn't to say the music is bad, it's just not my personal choice. But yeah, maybe that Red Hot Chili Peppers album with Dave Navarro playing guitar was one of the earliest memories I can recall.

Any musical phases that you're embarrassed of at this point in your life?

At the time, no. In the late '90s, who didn't like Limp Bizkit, Korn? These bands were popular for a reason. If you like rock music, that's what you listen to. Now? Say what you want, maybe a little bit hokey, but that was all good.

How big of a role does music play in your offseason? Are you a concert guy? Do you play?

I like going to as many shows as I can, and I think through baseball I've been fortunate enough to make some friends who do that for a living, and that's one of the neat things that I know. I have no chance of knowing some of the guys that I do and getting to go hang out and maybe jam with them, or things like that. I think one of the huge perks about playing is you have the ability to meet some people, and in addition to traveling, and a few of the other hobby-type things I do, I think going to concerts is one of the most fun things I can think of.

What do you play?

I started off playing drums when I was 13 or 14, and I did that for four or five years. I can still get behind there a little bit, I'm a little rusty. And I think one or two years into pro ball, I had a buddy who wanted to take some guitar lessons and I said, "Sure, I'll do that with you." He ended up giving it up within the first month, like most people do, whether the hands are too small or whatever the excuses are, they're all over the map. I really enjoyed it, stuck with it a little bit. I'm a total hobbyist when it comes to skill level, but it is something I enjoy doing. With the stuff that goes on on the field, you've got to have a few hobbies and a few things that can just take you away. That's a good release for me.


Is there anyone you want to name drop that you've jammed with that people will be impressed with?

No, I don't think so. [Pearl Jam guitarist] Mike McCready. I talk to Geddy Lee regularly from Rush. I'm friends with some smaller bands, too. Not smaller in terms of how much I like them, but popularity-wise. Thrice, I use their walk-up music. Have for many years. They're all really good guys, and I've gotten to play with them. There's probably quite a few more that I'm going to leave out, but it's always … I'll tell you what. It's equally, I feel more comfortable playing in front of 50,000 people in a playoff baseball game than I do having to jam with some of the guys I've mentioned before, and that's a good kind of nervous. That's why it's really fun for me; it kind of takes you out of your comfort zone.

What kind of traveler are you? You mentioned traveling, but are you a "go places and shut out the world" [traveler] or do you want to see the tourist sites?

I try and do a little everything, but especially after the season is done, when possible, I try and go somewhere and just kind of forget about everything. Good, bad, indifferent, whatever. I think it's cool just to get away, and totally away. It's a good little reset, then when you get home, you can start gearing up again. But I'd recommend it to guys who, especially if you're coming off a year you weren't happy about, go do something different. Put it down. Let it go. Don't constantly spin the wheels on what happened or what you're going to do. Just put it behind you for a little while and start over again.

This wasn't that type of year for you, but where was this year's trip?

I went to London, I went to Prague and we went to Amsterdam. I've been to London three or four years in a row now. Been to Japan, Germany, France, Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada. Quite a few more. Australia. Those are the ones that come to mind. I played in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and all those places are really cool. There's still so many places I'd like to see, but a lot of it is just giving you a little better perspective on how things are here, how good you actually have it. It's just kind of one of those deals.

I know last year, you guys play for six months a year and baseball kind of consumes your life. But now that you're committed to Baltimore for three seasons — I know you said you didn't get out and see the city that much — is there anything about the city you're looking forward to soaking in now that you're an Oriole for the next three seasons?

There's a lot. I think food-wise, I could have done a much better job. We kind of roamed the same area, by and large. I know there's some excellent food. I'll make a much better effort. And then getting outside of the city, too. There's so many cool areas that are accessible. I think during the season, I'm always so focused on what's going on on the field that I generally try and stay pretty narrow-minded. But I think maybe over the next couple of years, it's kind of a must to get out and see what home has to offer.


Lastly, you've gotten a year in this clubhouse to get to know the coaches and players. I just want to throw some at you and have you give what stands out most to you. We'll start at the top with Buck Showalter.

He's the best for me. His track record says that, but he's helped me immensely. Just a great manager for any team, but especially our team. He really understands what's going on here, gets the most out of his guys, great communicator. Guys just want to run through a wall for him. They really get motivated to play for him.

Seth Smith?

I know Seth well, being one of his ex-teammates, now current teammate. I've tried to help him, coming over. I think he's going to be a great addition. Fans will really like him. He's not, maybe, as open in the media as some other guys, but he is very, very committed to his team. He's going to provide that on-base presence that we're all looking for. He plays a nice right field. I think he's very underrated on defense. He does play a very good outfield. And he's having a great time so far.

Ryan Flaherty?

Flash. The baby puppy. You've got to have guys like that on the team. Obviously, he keeps it loose, has a good time. He can be the punching bag at times for some of the guys, but the on-field stuff is vital. His versatility, his ability to go into any position on the field, it gives the team so much more comfort knowing that not only is he going to be able to play, he plays quality defense at all those spots. He's always the guy who gets called on to give a tough at-bat late in the game against one of the nastier pitches in the game, and he finds a way to go up there and battle. His role is very, very difficult, and he does a great job doing it.

Dan Duquette?

Dan has been doing this for a long time. He's got a lot of wisdom, a lot of knowledge. I really like what he has going. I think he does a great job as a general manager, and dealing with him this offseason, he can play hardball when he needs to but at the end of the day, it's always for the good of the team. I think you've got to respect that. He doesn't move quickly when he doesn't have to, and makes decision that set us up for success.

Two more. Hyun Soo Kim?

Kimmy, you've got to love what you saw last year. From spring training to getting some boos or jeers on Opening Day — that's got to be the low point of anyone's career. If you really watched how his season progressed, fans were going wild for him. After a little bit of time and that adjustment, it did take probably longer than he wanted or anyone else wanted, but he was a huge contributor to the team and will be again next year, too. Great guy, super funny. It's just been a pleasure being his teammate.

The last one is Adam Jones.

He's the leader around here. He's the vocal leader, but also a great example for younger players and older players, too. He just gives it his all. You can see he's as passionate as anyone. He takes it very seriously, works extremely hard and he's the pillar of the Orioles' team in Baltimore. He's going to have an outstanding career, and if you go by the early results here, this could very well be a career year for him.