It’s been a long offseason if you’re a slugger (non-Yoenis Cespedes division). There’s been a lot of waiting, plenty of anticipating, but not much in the way of consummating. That changed earlier this week when Jose Bautista re-signed with the Jays and continues as Mark Trumbo re-signed with the Orioles for three years and $37.5 million. A little north of $12 million per year seems like it might be a good deal for the reigning home run leader for his age 31-to-33 seasons, especially in light of the fact that Bautista is getting $18 million for his age 36 campaign, but is it, really?
As you probably already know if you are reading baseball transaction articles (and definitely know from the preceding sentence), Trumbo led all of MLB with a whopping 47 home runs last year. That seems like the kind of thing that gets a gentleman signed to some kind of deal, but instead here we are, over halfway into January, before it finally happened. As with Bautista, Trumbo had a qualifying offer, making other teams leery of giving up a draft pick to sign him, but that in and of itself wasn’t the dealbreaker for teams who were looking for a heavy hitter to insert in their lineup.
First of all, there’s the defense. Whether you go by either DRS or UZR, he’s (at best) had a couple of above-average seasons at first base and is pretty much replacement level there. Of course, for the Orioles, Chris Davis exists, which means that Trumbo was pushed to an outfield/DH combo during his lone season in Baltimore after coming over in a trade from Seattle. The results were, ahem, not pleasant.
Out of 74 outfielders with at least 750 innings of work, Trumbo was the 11th worst by UZR and tied for the 6th worst by DRS. If you prefer the good old fashioned eye test, well, Fangraphs’ Fan Scouting Report (which, as it sounds, polls fans for their opinions) has him tied for the 4th worst. All of this is to say that Trumbo doesn’t bring much in positive value to the field, so it wasn’t any surprise that he ended up on an AL team, and he’ll likely spend a decent amount of time occupying the DH spot over the next few years.
It’s not just the defense that raises red flags, though. Trumbo’s 2016 K% was 25.5%, the 15th worst among qualified in MLB, and unsurprisingly, he ended up with an extremely troublesome .316 OBP and .256 AVG, both of which put him in the top 50 worst qualified players last year in those statistics. He’s also a below average runner once he’s on base. If you want to put an overall number on it, despite the fact that Trumbo hit almost 50 home runs last year, he was only worth 1.6 bWAR/2.2 fWAR. While a large chunk of that was due to the fact that a good bit of time time negating his offensive contributions with poor fielding, there were other value-related questions that probably made teams hesitant to commit to Trumbo.
On top of those high strikeouts, which one takes with most sluggers, and that really low OBP, which separates him from the higher quality sluggers, Trumbo also came in 6th in MLB by home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (24.6%), much higher than his career number (19.3%). He changed his approach and hit a lot more fly balls (in 43.1% of his PAs, vs. a career 39.7%). A lot of those ended in outs and, if Trumbo stops getting as much on the ball, a lot more will.
As we mentioned when looking at Bautista earlier this week, his pitch selectivity and ability to draw walks is something that suggests that he might very well age well, so long as he can stay healthy. For Trumbo, the opposite is true, in that Trumbo has eschewed a patient approach and embraced the strikeouts. His value is already extremely limited based on the fact that he’s a defensive liability or else a designated hitter. If the power drops even a little and less of those balls leave the park, things will get ugly fast.
Grade for Trumbo: C+
It was starting to look like Trumbo might end up on a “prove it” contract to show that his ultra-homer-happy 2016 wasn’t just a fluke. His contract came in below what a lot of folks initially thought it might, but the market for players like Trumbo just doesn’t exist like it used to thanks to shifts in the thinking of front offices around the league.
Grade for Orioles: C+
The Orioles are paying Trumbo to do one thing, and that thing is mash dingers. Lots of dingers. It more or less worked out last season, as Trumbo was still making arbitration money. While he will keep hitting dingers, it’s unlikely that he’ll continue to lead MLB in home runs. And if he doesn’t then his value will diminish, and he’s already walking a tightrope here in terms of actually providing value to his team. To an old school baseball fan, this probably looks like a great deal for Baltimore, but it’s really just an OK deal, because even though Trumbo came relatively cheap, there’s a lot in his game that’s cause for concern going forward.