Anybody else having a sense of déjà vu?
I’ve written this article before. I wrote about it back in December of 2014 when Nick Markakis signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. At the time, I convinced myself that not re-signing Markakis was a responsible move by the Orioles, who balked at the idea of giving a 31-year-old corner outfielder with neck issues (that ultimately led to surgery) a fourth year. I ended up with egg on my face as Markakis proved to be a reliable, everyday player on some good Braves teams, even earning his lone All-Star nod and Silver Slugger while also collecting his third Gold Glove in 2018.
That just also so happened to be the same day that Nelson Cruz signed a four-year, $57 million deal with Seattle, spurning the Orioles’ offer of three years that had a higher average annual value, but no guaranteed fourth year. Oh, that almighty fourth year. In the span of a day, that fourth year took away all the goodwill the Orioles had gained during a tremendous 2014 season that saw them win the AL East and advance to the American League Championship Series.
Seven years later, we find ourselves in a similar predicament, at least on the surface. Trey Mancini, the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year after returning from a stage three colorectal cancer diagnosis, filed for an $8 million contract on Tuesday, and the Orioles filed at $7.35 million. Orioles fans had a collective conniption. How could the Orioles do this to their favorite player; a hometown hero? Never mind that every team operates this way. This is Trey Freaking Mancini!
Two days later, Dan Connolly, of The Athletic threw a Grayson Rodriguez-sized gas can on that fire when he said that Mancini might not even make it out of Sarasota, let alone the 2022 season, as a Baltimore Oriole. Yes, the lovable Notre Dame product and de facto face of the franchise is firmly on the trading block and likely nearing the end of his Orioles tenure.
Orioles fans are taking this personally, and with good reason. The Orioles currently have the lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball at just over $30 million and they are squabbling over $650K with Mancini, a player who is an even better person than he is a ball player (and he’s a damn good ball player). Why can’t they afford to pay arguably their best player what he asked for?
*Before we continue, let me just say that I love Trey Mancini and am not rooting for him to be traded*
Therein lies the problem. Trey Mancini is not the Orioles’ best player. Or their second. Or their third. And folks, brace yourselves, he’s probably not their fourth either. 2019 Trey Mancini most certainly was, but that version didn’t walk through the clubhouse doors in 2021. And I get it, that’s not really fair considering what Trey went through. You’re right.
Let’s look at the facts. Mancini was a 0.8 win player in 2021. Not an eight win player. A 0.8 win player. His .255/.326/.432 slash line was the second-lowest of his career, as was his .758 OPS. His 21 HRs were the lowest mark of his career for a full season.
On May 31st, through 52 games, Mancini was among the league-leaders with 42 RBI and a respectable 11 HRs while slashing .278/.353/.516 /.869. That’s 2019 Trey Mancini. But from June 1st on? Those numbers dropped to .243/.312/.387/.698 with just 10 HR, 29 RBI, and 98 Ks in 95 games. And again, I get it. Mancini had a bloodwork scare in June, and then was taxed from the Home Run Derby in July, all while playing in his first season coming off of chemotherapy. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Let’s take it one step further. Mancini is asking for $8 million in 2022. Four position players in 2021 made $8 million. Kole Calhoun, Ian Desmond, Eddie Rosario, and Travis d’Arnaud. Yes, I know about inflation from year-to-year, but this is more of a measuring stick than an exact science.
For this exercise, I went back to 2019 because it was the last full season played in MLB before these players’ $8 million 2021 contract season. The 162 game average of those four players was a slash line of .257/.314/.504/.818 with 30 HR and 98 RBI. Trey Mancini was very close, eerily close really, in batting average and OBP, but the slugging and production numbers don’t compare. The fact is, Mancini did not perform like an $8 million man in 2021. And this is the kind of thing Mancini is likely to hear when his case hits the arbitration court later this summer.
Of course, the sub-standard numbers by Mancini in 2021 are not enough to cancel out what he means in that clubhouse and in the community. Yet, as Connolly pointed out, the all-around good guy will likely be traded this season. But why? The answer is simple.
Trey Mancini, the player, is no longer a fit in this organization and he only stands to block a player who is younger, better, and cheaper. I can already hear your blood boiling and feel your anger. As I’ve said a couple of times in this article, I get it. I totally understand your stance. But hear me out.
In 2023, who would you rather see playing right field, number five overall pick Colton Cowser, or Mancini? Who would you rather see playing first base, franchise rookie HR leader Ryan Mountcastle, or Trey? Who would you rather see in left field, defensive stud and power bat Austin Hays, or Trey Mancini? And who would you rather see DHing, 2021 Orioles Co-Minor League Player of the Year Kyle Stowers, or Mancini?
If you’re being honest with yourself, and I would like to think that you would be, the answer to absolutely zero of those questions should be “Trey Mancini.” And all of this is before I even mention that keeping Mancini on the roster all but guarantees that Adley Rutschman only ever catches, meaning significantly fewer games for the former number one overall pick and anointed “Savior of the Franchise.”
This sucks, guys. I know it sucks. I’m already ducking and running for cover as I hit send on the email that sends this article to my editor. Like I said, I love Trey Mancini. I’d rather he prove he’s the Trey of old and earn an extension so that he can see this rebuild through, but it doesn’t seem as if that possibility is on the table. And this could all be a moot point if Mancini comes back this season and is the player he was three years ago. There’s room for that player on every Major League roster.
The fact is, one way or another, Mancini is leaving Baltimore. Whether it happens before, during, or after another lost season is irrelevant. Wouldn’t you rather get something, anything for him now than nothing later?
Unfortunately, I just don’t think the Orioles will give him the chance to prove he’s 2019 Mancini over a full season – and honestly, as much as this fan base has been hurting the last six years, they’re not wrong.