This fall, the Orioles are faced with a decision about one of their key players, Trey Mancini. The 29-year-old first baseman/designated hitter is in his final year of eligibility for arbitration and, according to MLBTradeRumors.com, could receive a contract for $7.9 million.
Mancini, who missed the 2020 season after colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy, played 147 games for the Orioles, second most on the team. He hit 21 home runs, fourth most, and his 71 runs batted in were tied with Austin Hays for second most on the team, behind Ryan Mountcastle.
Mancini’s comeback was remarkable, and he remains a productive player. But what’s his future with the Orioles?
For a franchise with a low payroll, a $7.9 million contract shouldn’t be a problem. The Orioles don’t have a single player with a guaranteed deal for next season and, with the retirement of Chris Davis, the money should be there.
Mancini’s production was solid, and the guess here is that after a full offseason of rest and working out, he’ll come back stronger and healthier and have an even better season in 2022.
He was more productive when he was the designated hitter (.295 with an .846 OPS in 68 games) than he was when he played first base (.220 with a .671 OPS in 76 games).
Having Mancini as the primary DH with some first base mixed in could mean a more potent lineup. With Cedric Mullins, Hays, Mountcastle and a healthy Anthony Santander, the Orioles should be better offensively.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has been proactive with players in their final years before free agency. In the past two offseasons, Elias has dealt infielder Jonathan Villar, and pitchers Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb. Villar and Cobb had one year before free agency. Bundy had two.
Mancini appears to be a special case. His courage in coming back from his illness, his willingness to share his story, his community activity and his character make him a valuable asset.
Besides dealing veteran players for prospects, Elias has yet to sign a player to an extension, and there’s no sign that the Orioles are eager to extend Mancini.
As long as Mancini would agree to a reasonable extension, he’s valuable to the Orioles on and off the field. Having an accomplished veteran on a young team is important. Having an accomplished veteran who has endured what he has is even more important.
Elias has been an aggressive trader. During his first season, he sent pitcher Andrew Cashner, in his final months before free agency, to the Boston Red Sox for two young Dominican Summer League prospects.
When the Orioles traded Villar, they received young left-handed reliever Easton Lucas from the Miami Marlins. Lucas was 3-1 with a save and a 3.96 ERA in 27 games for High-A Aberdeen this year.
Bundy brought back four right-handed pitchers from the Los Angeles Angels — Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich, Isaac Mattson and Zach Peek. Mattson has already pitched for the Orioles. The others showed promise in the minor leagues this season.
Cobb’s return from the Angels was second baseman Jahmai Jones.
If the Orioles were to trade Mancini, the return would have to appear to be high to placate a restive fanbase, many of whom would like to see him extended.
The Orioles could always check the trade market this offseason and, if it wasn’t to their liking, hold on to Mancini and trade him at the deadline. If Mancini played well in the first half of the 2022 season, assuming the National League adopts the designated hitter, maybe his return would be higher.
But they shouldn’t be in any rush. If they traded Mancini, there’s no one to immediately fill the DH role. The Orioles could always try DJ Stewart as part of a platoon, but who would be the right-handed hitter to pair with the left-handed Stewart?
Outfield prospect Kyle Stowers probably won’t be ready to begin the 2022 season and, if he’s ready midway through the year, the team could deal Santander, assuming his 2021 downturn was related to the sprained left ankle he played with for much of the year.
Instead of more prospects, the Orioles could have Mancini for another year. He’s far more important to the team than Bundy, Cashner, Cobb or Villar were, and he’s probably more valuable to the Orioles than to another team.
Mancini has often expressed his willingness to remain with the Orioles. It’s time that the team thanked him for his hard work, his example on the field and off, and rewarded the fans with an addition—instead of a subtraction.