The Major League Baseball lockout has delayed the Orioles’ decision on the future of their most popular player, Trey Mancini. The Orioles’ first baseman/designated hitter turns 30 on March 18th, and the nearly 2-month-old labor dispute hasn’t provided any clarity on what comes next.
Mancini is the oldest position player on the Orioles’ 40-man roster. Only reliever Cole Sulser, who turns 32 on March 12th, and starter Jordan Lyles, who’s 30 but still needs to pass a physical before his contract is official, are older.
The Orioles offered Mancini a contract by the November 30th deadline to prevent him from becoming an immediate free agent. He’s eligible for free agency after the 2022 season.
Offering a contract just before the deadline for an arbitration-eligible player didn’t stop the Orioles from trading starter Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels in December 2019, but Mancini’s case is more complicated.
Mancini, who touched baseball with his courageous story of returning from colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy after missing the 2020 season, is not only the Orioles’ most popular player, but he’s the one with the most tenure and one of their best.
The winner of three American League Comeback Player of the Year awards last season, Mancini didn’t have his best stats, but he was able to play in 147 games, the same number he played in 2017 when he finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. His 21 home runs were lower than in his first three complete seasons, but his .255 average and .758 OPS and 71 RBIs were higher than his 2018 numbers.
In the first half of the 2021 season, Mancini hit 16 home runs and drove in 55 runs. After his thrilling second-place finish to the New York Mets’ Pete Alonso in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, Mancini hit only five homers and drove in 16 runs in 61 second-half games.
Considering all that he went through in 2020, those numbers are laudable. And, with a full season to rest and train for 2022, they’re likely to be better.
When the lockout ends, the Orioles must agree to a 2022 contract with Mancini or go to arbitration. They also can try to trade him before spring training begins, but that seems unlikely.
Moving him would be another public relations blow for a franchise that could use positive news. If Mancini has a strong first half, he could become a valuable trade piece. By then, fans could get used to the reality that Mancini might not be a forever Oriole.
It would be wise, though, to keep a mature veteran who could mentor the prospects expected to join the club in the next few years. Without Mancini, there’s no one around who’s witnessed a playoff push. He made his debut in September 2016 when the Orioles were fighting for a wild-card spot.
The Orioles have Ryan Mountcastle to play first and serve as the designated hitter. Catcher Adley Rutschman, who’s expected to join the team this season, also can play first and DH.
But there’s no one with Mancini’s baseball and his life experience, a value that’s not measured in statistics. The hope here is that the lockout has given Oriole officials the time and space to realize how important Mancini is to the team.
Heartening recovery: In October, David Hess, who pitched for the Orioles from 2018-2020, was diagnosed with a cancerous germ cell tumor in his chest. Hess tweeted that the tumor was pressing against his heart and lungs.
After several months of chemotherapy, Hess, who pitched for the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays in 2021, tweeted some excellent news on Friday:
“Got the news today that I’ve been ‘cured’ and cleared for all activity! There’s a spot that we’re watching but expect to clear in a few weeks. I can’t thank everyone enough for the prayers, support, and love through this. Time to get back to work and on a mound hopefully soon.”