The news that the Orioles have re-signed right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo to a three-year, $37.5 million deal, pending physical, has created an interesting roster dilemma.
What does the club do with right-handed hitting Trey Mancini, a first baseman by trade who is not as good defensively there as incumbent Chris Davis?
The answer to that question is likely still in the development stages, and it may not be flushed out until late into spring training.
Here’s what we know:
** The Orioles were not satisfied with Trumbo’s defense in right field in 2016 and set an offseason goal of improving that position defensively.
** Trumbo will be in the lineup, in some capacity, nearly every day, and so will Davis, though manager Buck Showalter wants to give his veterans more off days in 2017 if possible.
** Davis was considered for a Gold Glove at first base last year, and the Orioles don’t expect to move him from first to the outfield, even though Davis is solid in right and Trumbo is considered a better first baseman than outfielder.
** Mancini, the rookie who had five hits, including three homers, in his first 14 at-bats as a big leaguer last year, is a first baseman or designated hitter, not an outfielder.
** Executive vice president Dan Duquette has stated repeatedly that he believes Mancini could handle regular DH duties in the big leagues in 2017.
** Mancini, who turns 25 in March, hasn’t had a full season in Triple-A yet. He started 2016 in Double-A – a decision that still seems odd – but picked up 536 plate appearances at the minors’ highest level. He hit .280 with a .349 on-base percentage and 13 homers for Norfolk.
** The Orioles traded for left-handed hitting outfielder Seth Smith, who is considered an upgrade in right over Trumbo, but probably not significantly so. As the roster is situated now, Smith would probably play right versus right-handers, meaning Trumbo would DH in those games.
Add all of this together and Mancini’s return to Triple-A Norfolk to start 2017 looks plausible. But I think it really depends on whether the Orioles upgrade defensively in right. Players such as Michael Bourn and Angel Pagan, for instance, are still free agents.
Both could lead off – and both could also spell Adam Jones in center field on occasion; the Orioles haven’t really had a true backup center fielder for years, and that has likely taken its toll on Jones’ health. Plus, there’s still concern as to who on this roster will bat leadoff and whether the Orioles need another addition to help improve their team on-base percentage.
Joey Rickard, who missed most of the second half with a thumb injury, could be a platoon player in right versus lefties and spell Jones, but he’s also a wild card at this point.
The bottom line is if Duquette acquires a strong defensive outfielder, Mancini is probably headed to Triple-A. If Duquette doesn’t, Trumbo could play right field most games and Mancini and Smith could platoon at DH. But if the intent is to keep Trumbo out of the outfield, and mainly at DH and subbing in for Davis at first, then Mancini appears to be the odd man out initially.
Now, I’ve seen some suggest that the Orioles should trade Mancini, especially since first and DH could be locked up through 2019. But I’m not sure Mancini’s trade value is at its peak at this point. He had a nice season at Norfolk, but not one that has propelled him into league-wide status as a top prospect.
Therefore, my guess is the Orioles just let everything play out. See if they get another outfielder. See if everyone is healthy heading into April. And then make the tough choices. It’s not as if Mancini had such a dominating year at Norfolk in 2016 that he has nothing to learn there. He could still work on his defense and hitting right-handers.
So, Trumbo’s signing may complicate things a little bit. But no team has ever complained about having too many solid major leaguers on the roster or waiting in the wings in the minors. And improving the quality of bench players has also been a priority for this squad for some time.