After what was certainly the hardest year of his life, Trey Mancini has come back to the Orioles and looks like the guy we saw in 2019. During that season, Trey was one of the best 30 or so offensive players in the sport by nearly every metric. The idea that he could even play in 2021 was far from everyone’s mind this time last year. We were hoping that he would survive and continue to live his life, much less if he could continue to play the game.
Instead, not only did he kick cancer’s ass, he has come back and is currently leading the majors in RBIs. He is top 30 in wRC+ and top 50 in many main offensive categories and considering his slow start, its impressive how quickly he has risen up the rankings. He is currently on pace to be a similar offensive player in 2021 as he was in 2019.
The question is, will he be an Oriole for the entire 2021 season? And if he is, will he be one for 2022? This is going to be a very tough call for Orioles GM Mike Elias to make. Elias has shown himself to be pretty cold blooded, which is a trait I think you have to have to be a successful GM. Trey has an amazing story but is it one that will matter to Elias at the end of the day?
Trey is set to become a free agent after the 2022 season. He figures to make somewhere in the $8-10 million range in his final year of arbitration in 2022. That is a number that shouldn’t scare off the Orioles, but we have certainly seen them trade away guys making less money. Elias continues to talk about adding inventory and trading Mancini could help with that.
You also have the added aspect of where Mancini plays. He is a DH/1st base guy and the team has those types of players in reserve. Despite his slow start, Ryan Mountcastle (whose ceiling is probably what Mancini already is but he’s younger, cheaper and has more speed on the bases) looks like the guy they will lean on to be the first baseman for a while. The team has plenty of options at DH and the corner outfield positions as well. Of course, none of those guys are as good as Mancini now and the team figures to want to start being a contender soon, so keeping Mancini could obviously help with that.
Next up, the questions of how much Trey would be worth to other teams and whether or not he is worth more to the Orioles than they can get back. The latter is a very real question to ask. I think it’s very possible that the deals are not good enough to move Mancini at the upcoming trade deadline. Teams could definitely want to see Mancini play more, to make sure the treatments from last year (and the lost season) don’t catch up to him in the second half. They also perhaps want to give things more time to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back. It should go without saying that it’s terrible to think that way but the cold reality here is that it is a business and teams could definitely be wary of trading too much with that potential hanging over their heads.
Elias has traded a lot of players since he came here but none of them have been the fan favorite Mancini is. None of them have his story. That makes this decision tougher for Elias. And, you also have the decision of, if you don’t trade him, what do you do then?
The Orioles don’t figure to be contenders in 2022 but I do believe they can be a .500-ish team (with or w/o Trey) and they can contend for a WC (or more) in 2023. It is fair to say that they are in better position to do that with Trey because so many of the other alternatives are unknowns, especially because of their injury histories. Of course, you can also say that about Mancini. A team trading for him takes the risk that the cancer doesn’t come back, but the Birds also take the same risk if they decide to keep him.
It is also fair to say that the team can contend without Mancini and that perhaps what they get in return ends up being more valuable than Trey himself. Plus, for him to be here after 2022, they’d have to extend him. Putting aside the cancer issue, do you really want to extend him? He turns 30 before next season starts. He doesn’t provide a lot of value on the bases or in the field. How much is that player worth? Do you want to get into a multi-year deal with a player who will start that deal on the wrong side of 30 and doesn’t provide a lot of value outside of what he does at the plate? In 2019, that value was worth an fWAR of just under 4, so in that case, the answer to that question is “yes.”
But will he have another year like that and if he does, how frequent will it be as he gets into his early 30s?
Elias is likely staring at his two most difficult decisions as a GM in a few months: does he trade Mancini and/or John Means? In the past, the answer to those questions was a yes. He has not hesitated to do what he feels is best for the long term future of the club. But now that the contending window is about to open (hopefully), those questions become harder to answer.
Couple that with how Trey is viewed by the fans and what he has gone through and this is a call that will be incredibly tough to make. The natives are already getting a bit restless as the team flounders here in late May. Despite plenty of positive signs down on the farm, Birdland is ready to see the rebuild start to show at least a few returns at the MLB level. With that not being the case here so far in 2021, trading away a fan favorite like Mancini could lead to even further fan revolt.
As with anything, it will depend on what Elias can get back in trade but you almost wonder if there is a trade out there that is enough for him to pull the trigger.