With free agency near for Trumbo, choice looms in RF

Ac­quired to add depth at first base and DH, slug­ger fin­ished with a ca­reer year

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion around the di­a­mond. We’re break­ing down ev­ery po­si­tion in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rat­ing the play­ers all t

The man: Right field was one of the more un­set­tled po­si­tions the Ori­oles had in 2015, but al­most out of ne­ces­sity, Mark Trumbo set­tled it this sea­son. Trumbo was seen as depth at first base and des­ig­nated hit­ter when the team ac­quired him from the Seat­tle Mariners for backup catcher Steve Cle­venger, though he en­tered the mix in right field per­ma­nently when the Ori­oles signed Pe­dro Al­varez in March.

Sim­ply put, Trumbo was there for his bat. The free agent-to-be hit a ma­jors-high 47 home runs as part of a ca­reer year with the Ori­oles, lead­ing the team with a ca­reer-high 108 RBIs while bat­ting .256/ .316/.533. That was good for a ca­reer-high .850 OPS.

Trumbo did most of his dam­age in the first half of the sea­son, when he played far above his ca­reer paces, with 28 home runs at the All-Star break and a .288/.341/.582 line. He slowed con­sid­er­ably after the break, though his av­er­age ended near his Mark Trumbo

ca­reer mark of .251, with his other rate stats buoyed by the strong first half.

De­fen­sively, it was a dif­fer­ent story. Trumbo was re­al­is­tic en­ter­ing the sea­son about his lim­i­ta­tions in right field, a po­si­tion he had played only oc­ca­sion­ally be­fore start­ing 95 games there for the Ori­oles this year. He had 10 out­field as­sists and five er­rors, though his lack of range meant most de­fen­sive met­rics rated him poorly there. He still earned plau­dits from team­mates and coaches as the sea­son went on for play­ing a more dif­fi­cult po­si­tion un­der such scru­tiny. The al­ter­na­tives: Trumbo was es­sen­tially only the right fielder against right-handed starters, and would shift to des­ig­nated hit­ter when the op­po­nent put out a left-han­der. Early in the sea­son, rookie Joey Rickard would shift there from left field against lefty starters.

Once Rickard went out with a torn thumb lig­a­ment in July, sev­eral other play­ers were called upon to give Trumbo a day off his feet. There was al­ways Nolan Reimold, but Steve Pearce, the team’s July 31 trade-dead­line ac­qui­si­tion from the Tampa Bay Rays, gave man­ager Buck Showal­ter al­ter­na­tives. Showal­ter played both Pearce and Chris Davis in right field at times, with Pearce able to play first base in Davis’ stead as well, though a lin­ger­ing el­bow prob­lem pre­vented Pearce from play­ing right field much after he ar­rived.

In Septem­ber, waiver ad­di­tion Drew Stubbs and Aug. 31 trade ac­qui­si­tion Michael Bourn were added to the right-field mix. Bourn be­came the ev­ery­day right fielder for the last few games of the sea­son, with Trumbo slot­ted in at DH. The fu­ture: Both of the most well­known names in the sys­tem in right field have ma­jor league time, though they seem to have lost their lus­ter in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Dariel Al­varez had two stints with the Ori­oles this sea­son, but spent most of his time at Triple-A Nor­folk. He hit .288 there but had just four home runs after two straight sea­sons of 16 home runs in the mi­nors. Henry Ur­ru­tia, who ap­peared with the Ori­oles in 2013 and 2015, be­gan in Nor­folk as well, but was des­ig­nated for as­sign­ment and The Ori­oles have no one in the sys­tem who could re­place the of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion of Mark Trumbo, who had a ma­jors-high 47 home runs and a ca­reer-high 108 RBIs. out­righted to Dou­ble-A Bowie in mid­sea­son. He hit .245 for the Tides but did well in the East­ern League, bat­ting .316 with 21 ex­tra-base hits in 75 games.

Mike Yas­trzem­ski has also been on the radar. Be­gin­ning the sea­son back at Bowie, he earned a pro­mo­tion after 33 games. Yas­trzem­ski hit .234 with 13 home runs and 14 steals be­tween the two lev­els.

We haven’t men­tioned the play­ers at High-A Fred­er­ick often in this ex­er­cise, but they Keys had two good per­form­ers in right field this sea­son. Cam Knee­land, 26, was a util­ity man who played the most at right field and hit .245 with 47 ex­tra-base hits, while Conor Bier­feldt hit .265 with 20 home runs be­tween Fred­er­ick and Bowie.

There were also a pair of strong right field­ers at Short-A Aberdeen, where Austin Hays gave early signs he was worth the 2016 third-round pick the Ori­oles used on him by hit­ting .336 with four home runs in 31 games. Hays’ sea­son was short­ened by a wrist in­jury, but while he was out, 19th-round pick Cole Billings­ley bat­ted .286 with three home runs in 53 games. The skinny: Other than catcher, where pend­ing free agent Matt Wi­eters could be gone, there’s no po­si­tion with more un­cer­tainty this off­sea­son for the Ori­oles than right field.

Trumbo, who was a bar­gain this sea­son, could use his big year to cash in on a con­tract in free agency and leave the Ori­oles search­ing.

Ex­tend­ing the qual­i­fy­ing of­fer to Trumbo, which could be worth a re­ported $17.2 mil­lion for one year, gives them a chance to get him back on a short-term con­tract, but the Ori­oles can’t ex­tend that lightly, and he might go for a longer-term deal any­way.

If he does re­turn, he might not even play as much in right field. The po­si­tion of­fers the best chance for the Ori­oles to find the on-base-de­fense ele­ment of their ros­ter that is un­der­rep­re­sented in a room full of slug­gers. There are plenty of op­tions within the sys­tem for pla­toon help at this po­si­tion, start­ing with Rickard, but noth­ing to re­place the ev­ery­day lineup pres­ence Trumbo pro­vided.

JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES

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