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Why Did MLB Home Run King Mark Trumbo Come so Cheaply to Orioles?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 20, 2017

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04:  Mark Trumbo #45 of the Baltimore Orioles runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre on October 4, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Major League Baseball's reigning home run champion has a new contract, and it's not the most expensive deal signed this winter.

Not even close.

Mark Trumbo, he of the league-leading 47 home runs in 2016, agreed to return to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports was first with the details of his new pact:

Jeff Passan @JeffPassan

Source: Mark Trumbo's deal with the Orioles is for three years and around $37M. Slight deferrals lower the present-day value.

And that's all there is to it. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, there's no opt-out in Trumbo's $37.5 million contract. He'll be an Oriole for three more years, spanning his age-31 season to his age-33 campaign.

With that, we know the terms of the 11th-largest contract signed this winter.

Trumbo's deal ranks just ahead of the three-year, $33 million pact Kendrys Morales signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. The group of 10 players ahead of him is headlined by Yoenis Cespedes at four years and $110 million and includes three relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon), a platoon outfielder (Josh Reddick) and an oft-injured starter (Rich Hill).

OK, so it's not the biggest injustice that Trumbo won't make more money than most or all of those guys. But if nothing else, he is coming in under initial projections.

The guys at MLB Trade Rumors had Trumbo pegged for $60 million over four years. That didn't sound so unreasonable for a guy who'd hit 131 homers in five major league seasons even before breaking out in 2016. Teams normally love power, after all.

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But in retrospect, the danger of Trumbo's struggling to find a market existed from the beginning.

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 18:  Mark Trumbo #45 of the Baltimore Orioles takes a swing during a baseball game against the the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 18, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Orioles won 13-5.  (Photo by Mitchell L
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

As good as it looks on the surface, Trumbo's career year in 2016 was more like a career half-year. He was unstoppable with a .923 OPS and 28 homers before the All-Star break. He was then quite stoppable in the second half with a .754 OPS and 19 homers.

This was an effect of pitchers treating Trumbo like the kind of slugger he was. As Brooks Baseball shows, the righty swinger's first-half power was concentrated on the inside. So pitchers went from challenging him before July 11:

Image courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.

To pitching him almost exclusively away after the break:

Image courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.

A more advanced hitter might have been able to adjust, but nobody's ever accused Trumbo of being one of those. With too many strikeouts (25.5 K%) and not quite enough walks (7.6 BB%), his hitting has always been about power first and everything else second.

That's one thing prospective suitors had to worry about. They also had to worry about Trumbo's defensive limitations.

He's not a shabby first baseman, but most of his experience has been in corner outfield spots. With minus-24 defensive runs saved for his career, he has been shabby there. The man himself was honest back in July, saying the outfield is "daunting" at times, per Eno Sarris of FanGraphs.

Trumbo was thus prepared to head out to the open market with a bat-only profile in which even the bat came with question marks. He then added another black mark to his profile when he rejected a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Orioles, tying himself to draft-pick compensation.

In past offseasons, he might have found his desired payday anyway. Heck, it was just a couple of years ago that Nelson Cruz, an older hitter (then 34) with a similar profile, landed $58 million despite being tied to draft-pick compensation.

But at a certain point, it became apparent this offseason was different.

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Reality started to sink in when Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Cleveland Indians for just $60 million over three years. That was well below the $92 million MLBTR projected for him and less than he seemingly deserved in light of his average totals (.912 OPS, 39 HR) since 2012.

More recently, Jose Bautista became the next slugger to land short of expectations when he accepted a deal from the Blue Jays that only guarantees $18 million for one year.

With Trumbo the latest to come in below expectations, things aren't looking so hot for remaining free-agent sluggers Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Pedro Alvarez and Adam Lind.

Certainly, this is an unusually large collection of sluggers for a single offseason. But as Dave Cameron argued at FanGraphs, there's something fishy about any notion of there being more supply than demand:

But the way you get a big supply of free agents or players available in trade at one spot is to have a lot of teams losing a player at that spot, so if the demand was there to replace the skillset, price shouldn't be impacted all that heavily. But what we have now is supply without demand, as there just aren't that many teams looking to add bat-first players to their rosters this winter...

Teams could be miscalculating how much they need power. But since the smart people who run these clubs tend to be good with calculations, this is more likely the effect of a larger trend.

This brings us to a reality that B/R's Jacob Shafer wrote about recently: Power on the free-agent market may be devalued because power is suddenly everywhere in today's game.

Trumbo wasn't the only one launching bombs in 2016. Pretty much everyone was. There were more home runs per game last year than every season in baseball history except 2000. In an environment like this one, power hitters aren't such rare commodities.

It all adds up to a tough break for Trumbo and a solid deal for the Orioles. And one they needed to make, to boot.

Baltimore won 89 games and nabbed a wild-card spot in 2016 in large part thanks to an offense that clubbed an MLB-high 253 home runs. With Trumbo back in the fold, they once again have a shot to ride a wave of home runs to October.

In lieu of the contract he may have been hoping for, maybe that'll do as a consolation prize.

        

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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