Slug­ger hits the market

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

Out­fielder Mark Trumbo led the ma­jors in home runs in 2016 with 47, like this one against the Red Sox at Cam­den Yards on June 2. Trumbo de­clined the Ori­oles’ $17.2 mil­lion qual­i­fy­ing of­fer Mon­day but could still re­turn to the team by sign­ing as a free agent.

Free-agent out­fielder Mark Trumbo de­clined the team’s $17.2 mil­lion qual­i­fy­ing of­fer Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try source.

In­stead, he will en­ter free agency for the first time in his no­madic seven-year ca­reer.

Trumbo, who led the ma­jors with 47 home runs, en­ters a market heavy on power hitters, in­clud­ing out­field­ers Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes and Jose Bautista, and first base­man Ed­win En­car­na­cion.

Trumbo had a week to de­cide after the Ori­oles ex­tended the of­fer Nov. 7, but as the dead­line drew near, the team ex­pected Trumbo to de­cline. Both sides ex­pressed in­ter­est in a re­u­nion as the reg­u­lar sea­son drew to a close, mean­ing Trumbo could still re­turn through tra­di­tional free-agency chan­nels, though that would be at a price the market dic­tates.

With Trumbo able to be courted by the rest of the league, the pos­si­bil­ity is raised that he’ll fol­low in the foot­steps of Nel­son Cruz, who used his one year in Baltimore to build up his value be­fore cashing in else­where in free agency.

Ac­quired last win­ter in a trade that sent backup catcher Steve Cle­venger (Mount Saint Joseph) to Seat­tle, Trumbo came to the Ori­oles hav­ing al­ready played for three teams — the Los An­ge­les An­gels, the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs, and the Mariners — in the pre­vi­ous three years. Baltimore, how­ever, was as good a place for a slug­ger like him to play his fi­nal year be­fore free agency.

Through the first two months of the sea­son, Trumbo was one of the game’s best hitters. That earned him his sec­ond All-Star Game ap­pear­ance; the first was in 2012. His bat­ting av­er­age fell sharply in the sec­ond half, but he still paced the league in home runs and fin­ished with a bat­ting av­er­age of .256, right around his ca­reer level.

Many es­ti­mates have Trumbo in line to re­ceive a con­tract sim­i­lar to the four-year,

$57 mil­lion deal Cruz got from Seat­tle. Trumbo, 30, is sev­eral years younger than Cruz was at the time, but he has a shorter track record of suc­cess.

But the po­ten­tial for the power gains he made this year with the Ori­oles be­ing per­ma­nent, com­bined with a ros­ter sit­u­a­tion that ac­com­mo­dates him at first base or as a des­ig­nated hit­ter, could make Trumbo a valu­able as­set around the league.

To sign him, an­other team would have to give up a draft pick. The top 10 picks in the draft are pro­tected, mean­ing any team with one of them would lose a sec­ond-round pick. But any other team would be ced­ing their first-round se­lec­tion for Trumbo. The Ori­oles would re­ceive a pick at the end of the first round for los­ing Trumbo.

The draft pick com­pen­sa­tion el­e­ment of these qual­i­fy­ing-of­fer free agents has, at times, sup­pressed value for some riskier play­ers on the market.

The Ori­oles have waited un­til late in the off­sea­son to se­cure deals seen as be­low sticker price on Cruz and pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014, and right-handed pitcher Yo­vani Gal­lardo in 2016. Out­fielder Dex­ter Fowler was close to join­ing that list last spring, but re­turned on a one-year deal to the Chicago Cubs.

Such is the risk of de­clin­ing the qual­i­fy­ing of­fer so early in the off­sea­son. Should the market tamp down Trumbo’s value to the point that he isn’t go­ing to get the salary or years he feels he should com­mand, the best op­tion for build­ing his value is a Mark Trumbo, fol­low­ing through after hit­ting a three-run homer against the Astros on Aug. 18, hit .256 in 2016. one-year con­tract in Baltimore.

Teams usu­ally won’t sac­ri­fice a draft pick for one year of a player, and each year sev­eral play­ers who have qual­i­fy­ing of­fers at­tached to them don’t have a home in spring train­ing be­cause the cost of sign­ing them with the salary and draft pick is too sig­nif­i­cant.

Trumbo’s fate, as well as that of the other nine play­ers who de­clined qual­i­fy­ing of­fers, is still to be de­ter­mined. Ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple re­ports, Philadel­phia Phillies right-han­der Jeremy Hel­lick­son and New York Mets sec­ond base­man Neil Walker ac­cepted the qual­i­fy­ing of­fer. The rest of the 10 who had loom­ing de­ci­sions de­clined.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BALTIMORE SUN

GAIL BUR­TON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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