CHICAGO—Every team needs a player to rally around, to serve as the so-called “face of the franchise.” The Orioles have that player in Trey Mancini.
Over the past several weeks, a number of teams have extended the contracts of their most promising players, buying off years of arbitration and the first few years of free agency. That’s what the Orioles should do with Mancini.
Mancini missed the past two games because of a bruised right index finger. After Tuesday’s rainout, he should be back in the lineup today when the Orioles and Chicago White Sox play a doubleheader beginning at 4:10 p.m. Eastern time.
After Mike Elias became the Orioles’ general manager, he sent an email to season ticket-holders, identifying those he thought would be building blocks for the future. He named Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Cedric Mullins and Mancini.
Mullins is back in Triple-A after being overmatched by major league pitching. Bundy and Givens have been disappointing, but Mancini has played brilliantly.
Entering Tuesday, he led the American League in hits (39) and total bases (68). Mancini has a .355 average, a .405 on-base percentage and .618 slugging percentage. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) is 1.023.
A year ago, big things were also expected from Mancini, who had finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017. However, Mancini had a horrid first few months and ended up slashing .242/.299/.416. His OPS of .715 was far below his rookie number of .826.
Mancini’s 2019 numbers are even more impressive when you look at the rest of his team’s offense. The Orioles have a .695 team OPS, ranking 12th in the American League. In their two games without Mancini, they were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
A political science graduate of Notre Dame, whose father is a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, Mancini’s intellect is obvious. He is also grounded — always generous with his time, and explains baseball concepts simply.
He’s admired for his work ethic and his willingness to accept responsibility.
When teams play poorly, some of the best players are hard to find after a game. Just like with Adam Jones, who served as the unofficial team spokesman when the Orioles hit a rough patch, Mancini won’t hide and never refuses an interview request.
With Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop gone and Chris Davis still working to re-establish himself, Mancini is the player the media often comes to for comment. He doesn’t embrace the role, but he accepts it.
The Orioles are 10-20, an improvement of two wins over last season’s first 30 games. It’s clear the team is in the early days of rebuilding.
While Givens could always be traded, the Orioles aren’t likely to receive a top-shelf prospect in return. Before Brad Brach, Zack Britton and Darren O’Day were traded last July, Givens was the team’s fourth-best reliever, and he’s not going to be another team’s closer after the July 31 trading deadline.
Mancini, on the other hand, could bring in a huge haul, but the Orioles shouldn’t think about it.
If Elias seriously considers trading Mancini, it would be indication that he doesn’t think the Orioles are going to be much better by 2022, Mancini’s final year under club control.
Mancini will be eligible for arbitration following this season, and the Orioles could have him for three more years without negotiating a new contract. They shouldn’t hesitate to do that.
Attendance at home games continues to fall, and fans need a player to identify with. There’s no better one than Mancini.
In Mancini’s three-plus years with the team, I haven’t heard a negative word about him, and in the catty baseball world, that’s remarkable.
Mancini has a Twitter account, but unlike Jones, uses it sparingly, and never for anything controversial.
Elias has many priorities. For the next month or so, he’ll be focused on his first draft and then must sign those players and assign them to affiliates. Once that’s done, the trade deadline looms.
Givens, who can’t be a free agent for another two seasons, and Andrew Cashner, a free agent after this season, are arguably two of the Orioles’ most tradeable commodities.
After trading Machado, Britton, Brach, O’Day, Schoop and Kevin Gausman a year ago the Orioles aren’t left with many boldface names. Some fans have shown patience with the rebuild. Others are getting anxious.
One way to show stability and investment in the future would be to sign Mancini to a five- or six-year extension, one that would take care of his three years of arbitration and two or three years of free agency.
Mancini is 27, and signing him through his age 33 season seems like a wise investment.
The rebuild may not show tangible results for another two seasons or so. In the meantime, Elias needs to show the fans that the Orioles are serious about keeping their best players.
Trey Mancini is their best player, and he needs to stay with the Orioles for years to come.