If you’re a big Trey Mancini fan – and really, who isn’t – it’s entirely normal to feel both seduced and abandoned.
Trey was everything the Orioles could have asked for during his nine years with the organization, and he was a driving force in this year’s surprising turnaround. To say he was an inspiration to his teammates and his fans is an understatement. To say he was a true leader is unnecessary because it is so obvious.
To say he should have been untouchable at the trade deadline, however, is another matter.
The Orioles are in the advanced stages of a rebuilding project that should make this the last midseason selloff for a long time. The fact that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias stuck to his long-range program instead of trying to bag a long-shot wild-card berth should come as a surprise to no one who has listened to any of his recent media conferences.
He added a couple more pitching prospects who may or may not develop into valuable major league assets and knew that it wasn’t going to make him the most popular guy in town.
Do you have to like it?
Of course not. The club has played well enough to allow the fans to finally dream of an October surprise, so a lot of them are feeling like the Orange Carpet has been pulled out from under them right when they were starting to believe again. But let’s be real.
The Orioles are an overachieving .500 team that needs to beat out several so-far underachieving wild-card hopefuls to get into the postseason. That still remains in the realm of remote possibility if the fresh-faced, no-name pitching staff continues to perform way above expectations, but – with Mancini or not –the young hitters still have some growing up to do to outlast some of the big boys in the American League East.
Elias knows something that disappointed fans don’t want to admit. Mancini was no longer a good fit for the Orioles and the Orioles were no longer a good fit for Mancini, regardless of his salary and time left under club control.
In their attempt to reconfigure the ballpark to be less hitter friendly, the O’s made it particularly inhospitable to Mancini, whose power numbers decreased this season. He made some adjustments and remained one of the team’s most productive bats, but he figures to feel a lot more at home at the more conventionally configured Minute Maid Park.
So it wasn’t that he grew out of Oriole Park. Oriole Park grew out of him. The decision to raise the height of the left-field wall and move it back 30 feet got into his head early on and left him with the lowest slugging percentage (.404) of his career. And he was reminded of that every time he hit a ball to the warning track in that direction and trotted back to the dugout instead of around the bases.
In Houston, the left-center field fence is 362 feet from home plate, compared to 398 at Camden Yards. Even Yankees behemoth Aaron Judge, who could hit a baseball out of Arizona’s great meteor crater, complained about the new dimensions at Camden Yards.
Don’t know if it was Elias’s intention to give Mancini the ultimate soft landing, but everything about the deal works for him. He goes from a team that is dreaming about the playoffs to a Houston Astros club is very comfortably in first place in the American League West and is a legitimate World Series contender. And, of course, it’s also the team that is the model for what former Astros exec Elias is trying to accomplish here in Baltimore.
It’s a win-win for Mancini, who will almost certainly be playing in the postseason this year and will be in a position to plot his own destiny this coming winter. Although Elias did not rule out re-signing him and Mancini insisted throughout this process that he wanted to remain in Baltimore, I’m guessing he won’t be interested in coming back after his long fly balls to left start landing in the stands.
So, wish him well and root for him from afar while the Orioles continue to add to their “elite talent pipeline” and try to go wild this year without him.