Perhaps the best thing about the Orioles' under-the-radar trade with the Seattle Mariners this December is that it was, more than anything, supposed to serve as an insurance policy if Chris Davis were to sign elsewhere.
In a few months, it's gone from simple insurance to an accepted assurance that the Orioles have one of the best offenses in the American League.
Funny how things work out.
Some background: Knowing that the Orioles' lineup is built on launching home runs at cozy Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the concept of losing Davis' prodigious power at the cleanup spot this winter was concerning.
So club executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette worked his low-risk, high-reward voodoo magic again. He dealt reserve catcher Steve Clevenger to the Mariners for Mark Trumbo and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser (who was claimed off waivers in February and is now in the Chicago Cubs' organization).
"We didn't know what players we'd be able to sign in the free-agent market when Trumbo became available in a trade," Duquette said. "He had hit over 30 home runs (twice), and so we thought he could be a positive addition to the club."
Even at the time, the deal looked a little one-sided.
Clevenger, a Baltimore native and gritty hard worker, basically had lost his shot at significant playing time when Matt Wieters accepted the club's qualifying offer in November, creating a logjam behind the plate.
Trumbo's tenure in Seattle also was coming to a close; he was due more than $9 million in his final year of arbitration before free agency, and the Mariners' new front office regime wanted to use that money to fill other holes. The Mariners were considering non-tendering Trumbo, which would have made him an unrestricted free agent. Duquette seized the opportunity to acquire Trumbo before other clubs could get involved.
"Sometimes these things are about timing," Duquette said. "We knew we had openings at a couple of positions, a potential opening at first base, and we were looking to upgrade at DH and outfield, and Mark Trumbo was a fit to fill one of those slots."
Although right-handed, Trumbo needed to fill the Davis role: first baseman and cleanup hitter who could bash a bunch of homers and keep the opposition from pitching around Manny Machado or Adam Jones.
Then the unexpected -- or at least fairly unlikely -- occurred. Davis re-signed with the Orioles, inking a franchise-record, seven-year, $161 million deal.
"I knew that ownership wanted to re-sign Chris at a point that made economic sense. Sometimes the free-agent market goes well beyond what makes sense in the Baltimore market," Duquette said. "In this case, we were able to sign Chris. He wanted to come back to Baltimore, and we were able to get a deal done that made sense, where the team is concerned."
Suddenly, the Orioles had Trumbo and Davis, both 30 years old, one right-handed and one left-handed -- a pair of sluggers in a sport where power is a rare and coveted commodity.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter admitted he never fully considered managing both until Davis' new deal was officially announced.
"When did I think it could happen? When Chris agreed to the contract. There's so many variables there that you don't count anything until then. You do think about, 'What ifs?' How would it work?" Showalter said. "You have to look at that. It's been encouraging, to say the least."
What was Trumbo's reaction to the Davis signing?
"I was all the while rooting for Chris to come back here, overwhelmingly so," Trumbo said. "Just because I've played on some below-average teams in the past. And I think you are gonna have good years, and you're gonna have bad years, but the years that you win are that much more special."
This is Trumbo's seventh season in the majors and fourth team. He's never been in a playoff game. By re-signing Davis, the Orioles improved their chances of making the postseason, and consequently, Trumbo's as well.
"Winning is a lot more fun, the time goes by a lot quicker, you don't get run down throughout the course of the year, endlessly racking your brain for answers as to why we're not winning," Trumbo said. "So to come into a contending team, especially with Chris being here and firing on all cylinders, is an ideal situation for anybody. But for me especially."
Davis and Trumbo played against each other in the minors and then in the AL West, when Davis was with Texas (2008-2011) and Trumbo with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2010-13). Davis didn't know if he was coming back to the Orioles this winter, but he knew he'd like to have Trumbo on his squad.
"I always knew he was a strong hitter. There was no doubt about it," Davis said. "I think a lot of times you just need the right environment, and I think that's what he's got here. It's a good group of guys that he feels comfortable around. I think there is a lot of trust here, and that's something that guys are definitely looking for."
What Trumbo has done in his short time in Baltimore has been tremendous -- and a big reason why the Orioles have been around the top of the AL East so far. During his first 27 games, Trumbo hit .324 with a .953 on-base plus slugging percentage while leading the team in homers (eight) and RBIs (22). He's played mainly in right field -- and has held his own defensively.
"Mark is a good athlete, and he wants to play every day," Duquette said. "He takes a lot of pride in his all-around game and has always had a good throwing arm. He has improved his first step in the outfield, and that has allowed him to play capable defense."
Bottom line, though, is Trumbo was acquired because he has a thunderous bat, slugging 131 homers in his six previous seasons. He's brought that and a whole lot more, and the Orioles are better for it. That has gotten the attention of -- among others -- the player Trumbo was supposed to replace.
"He's got a lot of power. But I think the most impressive thing for me is his knowledge of himself," Davis said. "Knowing what he is expected to do here and knowing what his role is and really buying into it -- that's really the big thing. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you're not buying into what the team is selling, then a lot of times it doesn't matter."
Issue 221: May 2016