When Mark Trumbo rejected the Orioles’ $17.2 million qualifying offer Monday, several readers immediately made a relevant correlation: Nelson Cruz.
I’ve used it myself, and at first look, it makes plenty of sense.
The Orioles made the playoffs in 2014, partially thanks to the bat of Cruz, who led the majors in homers that season with 40. He hit .271 with a .333 on-base percentage and 108 RBIs, and provided great leadership in the clubhouse. He took advantage of the cozy confines at Camden Yards, but still blasted 25 homers and slugged .584 on the road.
The Orioles made the playoffs in 2016, partially thanks to the bat of Trumbo, who led the majors in homers with 47. He hit .256 with a .316 on-base percentage and 108 RBIs, and provided great leadership in the clubhouse. He took advantage of the cozy confines at Camden Yards, but still blasted 22 homers and slugged .519 on the road.
Management said it wanted to keep Cruz, and the Orioles made him a qualifying offer, which he rejected. He then signed a four-year deal worth $57 million with the Seattle Mariners while the Orioles received a draft pick. The Orioles then missed the playoffs in 2015, while Cruz had another outstanding season.
Management says it wants to keep Trumbo, and the Orioles made him a qualifying offer, which he rejected. Now it’s open season for Trumbo as a free agent, and several teams are circling, like they did with Cruz. If he goes elsewhere, the Orioles will get a draft pick.
Yes, plenty of similarities here.
There are a few big differences, though:
Cruz was 34 when he signed that four-year deal, meaning he’ll be 38 when it finishes (he had another great year at 36, by the way). The Orioles had no problem with paying Cruz roughly $15 million per year, they just weren’t going to a fourth year.
Trumbo is 30. He turns 31 in January. That fourth year is a given.
One of the biggest concerns about Trumbo is that he’s not particularly good defensively and some have suggested he’s on his way to being a DH-only player. But he’s not there yet, certainly not as close as Cruz was to that designation in 2014.
Scouts say Trumbo is a better first baseman than outfielder, but that opportunity wasn’t available in Baltimore with Chris Davis handling first base duties at a Gold-Glove level.
So, Trumbo was forced to play right – and play there a whole lot. He made 96 starts in the outfield, 59 at DH and four at first base. In contrast, Cruz started 70 games in the outfield and 89 games as DH for the Orioles in 2014. This past year, Cruz made 107 starts at DH and just 48 in the outfield. The point is, Cruz was already primarily a DH, basically because of leg soreness, before he even signed his big deal.
Not that this mattered by the 2014-15 offseason, but let’s not forget that Cruz was suspended in 2013 for violating the league’s performance-enhancing-drug policy, which damaged his free-agent market heading into his one-year deal with the Orioles. So, there was a little bit of baggage there that Trumbo doesn’t have to carry.
Add it all together, and Trumbo in 2016 appears to be a more attractive free agent than Cruz was in 2014, especially considering his age in comparison with some of the other vaunted sluggers on the market: Edwin Encarnacion (34 in January), Jose Bautista (36) and Mike Napoli (35).
Although if you want to compare the two with advanced statistics, Cruz fares much better using the widely accepted Wins Above Replacement statistic. Cruz’s WAR in 2014 was 4.6 and his career WAR in 12 seasons is 26.2. Trumbo’s this year was 1.6 and his career WAR is 9.6 in seven seasons.
Trumbo’s poor defensive metrics throughout much of his career probably have something to do with the disparity, along with a career on-base percentage of .303; Cruz’s career OBP is .338.
The website, mlbtraderumors.com, suggested that Trumbo will get a four-year, $60 million deal this winter – and, given a few million built-in for inflation from Cruz’s 2014 contract, it makes some sense.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if Trumbo blows those numbers away.
Remember, in the same offseason as Cruz, a 28-year-old Pablo Sandoval received a five-year, $95 million deal from the Boston Red Sox. That same offseason, the Red Sox paid Hanley Ramirez, who was about to turn 31, $88 million over four years.
And the cost-conscious Orioles shelled out $161 over seven seasons for Chris Davis last offseason as he was about to enter his 30-year-old season.
The bottom line is that once a player gets to free agency, no one really knows what the market will be. Insanity absolutely could follow. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Trumbo could be that guy everyone underestimates, salary-wise, until the final numbers are announced.
And, if I’m right, there’s no way the Orioles are in that mix – though industry sources have said they maintain a legitimate interest in retaining Trumbo.
Davis was a special situation for the Orioles, a guy who had made his mark with the Orioles and in the community and was rewarded for that. As much as Trumbo was embraced in the Orioles’ clubhouse and at Camden Yards, he doesn’t have that same currency – pardon the pun – as Davis in Baltimore.
One other thing about the Cruz/Trumbo comparison worth mentioning: Fans were a lot more vocal about the potential of losing Cruz in 2014 than they have been so far with Trumbo’s possible departure. I think that’s because, after three trips to the playoffs without making the World Series, people understand this team needs to diversify its lineup and rely less on the all-or-nothing approach to take the next step. It’s not Trumbo’s fault that he’s in a lineup with other sluggers who strike out a lot and don’t get on-base often enough; it’s just the reality.
So, the popular opinion is that the Orioles should use any money it was going to throw at Trumbo and, instead, get one or two solid defenders who can get on-base and, maybe, steal some bases. Keeping Trumbo would be great, but that, in itself, isn’t the missing ingredient for a deep playoff run.
Of course, we’ll see if that tune changes next year if Trumbo’s hitting his bombs elsewhere and the Orioles are struggling to score runs.