Last winter, the Baltimore Orioles needed several things. They needed an outfielder, and they needed a left-handed bat. The Orioles got neither, but they did consider Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon. After another solid campaign in the Mile High City, Blackmon is on the trade block yet again. This time around, should the Orioles pull the trigger?
The 29-year-old outfielder is coming off a 2015 season that saw him hit .287/.347/.450 with 17 home runs, 58 RBIs, and 43 steals. The power numbers were up a bit (57 XBHs vs 49 XBHs) from an All-Star 2014 season, as were the steals for Blackmon. The second-round pick out of Georgia Tech in 2008 will be eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. As Blackmon prepares to earn a sizable raise from the $517,500 he made last season, now may be the time for the Rockies to aggressively shop him.
If a team is going to make a deal for a player like Charlie Blackmon, how worried should they be about the Coors effect?
The answer falls somewhere between moderately worried and very worried. In 226 career home games, Blackmon has slashed .334/.386/.501. On the road, in 236 games, the numbers fall to .241/.283/.370, but 20 of his 45 career home runs have been hit on the road. It is a significant and impossible to overlook drop in production, but not out-of-this-world. Before you fully write Blackmon off as a mere product of Coors Field, however, consider his batting average in 107 career games as a visitor in National League West stadium. Playing in one of the more pitcher-friendly divisions, Blackmon has batted .276 as a guest of the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Interestingly enough, Blackmon has really struggled while playing as a guest in a handful of Major League parks. When the Rockies visit the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Milwaukee Brewers, Blackmon is a .179 hitter in 60 career games. What would that say exactly about a hitter who is a .288 hitter overall? That handful of teams represents a group of teams that Blackmon plays very infrequently. He bats below his career averages against all of them, regardless of whether or not it is a home or away game.
With Blackmon, it may not be about home and away splits. He may simply be a better hitter against the pitchers he is most familiar with. Even in this day and age of extremely advanced scouting, hitters still have a degree of uncertainty when they go to the plate against pitchers from other divisions around baseball.
With the fact established that Charlie Blackmon is likely not quite as good as his raw numbers would indicate (the career OPS+ of 99 paints a clearer picture of how much Coors Field affects his numbers), should the Orioles consider pursuing him in a trade? There are still glaring holes in the Baltimore lineup when it comes to left-handed hitters. Even if Chris Davis is somehow re-signed, the lineup still skews heavily to the right side.
The Rockies will likely seek a high price in return for giving up three years of Blackmon. His numbers look good on paper, but there are other factors that must be considered when looking at his near-.800 OPS. Defensively, Blackmon is average at best despite his speed. He does hit right-handed and left-handed pitching at roughly the same clip, and is a great fastball hitter. Sliders and changeups can give him a hard time, but the same can be said of most hitters. Blackmon does not walk very often, and he does strike out close to 100 times per 162 games.
The most troubling statistic with Blackmon is not his home/away decline. Rather, a team acquiring him should be wary that he will have a hard time adjusting to a different division or league. Obviously that will change when given time to get comfortable with a new team. A team trading for Blackmon should be prepared to deal with an initial slump over the first month or two of the year.
If the Rockies are unwilling to be reasonable when fielding trade offers for Charlie Blackmon, the Orioles should steer clear. Baltimore’s two best pitching prospects, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, should be untouchable. Behind the pair of oft-injured prospects, the Orioles do have some names that could be of interest, including Jomar Reyes, Trey Mancini, Christian Walker, and Mike Wright. Wright and Walker have already reached the Major Leagues with varying degrees of success.
At the end of the day, Charlie Blackmon is not as good as his slash line would indicate, but still a solid all-around player. He has good speed, something the Orioles need, does not have drastic platoon splits, and should still hit well in a home ballpark like Camden Yards. The rest of the league, however, may drive the asking price up, and the Orioles cannot afford to overpay for a player with some real question marks dogging his seemingly solid numbers. Blackmon could be a good fit with the Orioles, but it is unlikely he winds up leaving Colorado for Maryland.