Image credit: Trey Mancini (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO — The Orioles successfully developed a homegrown hitter who has become a staple of their lineup.
He is 27 years old. The Orioles, at the beginning of a long rebuild, are many years away from contention.
And so lies the dilemma: Do the Orioles keep their homegrown success story to build around? Or do they trade him for more future assets?
That’s the conundrum Trey Mancini presents. The slugging corner outfielder is playing better than ever. He has become more important to the O’s than ever. And, simultaneously, he’s become more desirable for other teams than ever.
“I know it’s what I’m supposed to say, but it’s the God’s honest truth: I want to be in Baltimore,” Mancini said following the Orioles’ 8-5 win over the Padres on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before the trade deadline. “I want to be here through the rebuild and hopefully be here when we’re competitive and winning the division again. I think that would be really rewarding.”
Mancini, an eighth-round pick in 2013 out of Notre Dame, got his first taste of the majors in 2016 as a September callup. He memorably homered in his first career game and was placed on the Orioles playoff roster for their wild-card game against the Blue Jays.
Now, he finds himself a veteran bright spot for the Orioles in an otherwise dismal season. After going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs on Tuesday, he is batting .282 with 24 home runs, 55 RBIs and an .878 OPS. He ranks in the top 10 in the American League in slugging percentage, total bases, home runs and extra-base hits.
Since the start of 2017—Mancini’s rookie season—only 25 players have hit at least .270 with 70 home runs. Mancini is one of them.
As such, he’s become a hot name in the trade deadline rumor mill.
“He’s just a really good player,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I just love his makeup. I think he plays the game the right way. He competes every pitch offensively and defensively.
“He’s a winner. He plays banged up. He just does everything you could ask for a player to do. He gets huge hits for us … He just does a lot of really good things to help your club and he’s a winning player.”
It’s a dilemma rebuilding teams face often. Keep the young, affordable player producing for them? Or move him for future help under the belief a competitive window may not be open in the player’s prime.
The most famous recent example is the Astros and Jose Altuve, who made his first All-Star Game as the Astros averaged 105 losses a year in his first three seasons (2011-13). With the expectation the Astros wouldn’t be competitive for some time, there were plenty of trade rumors surrounding the diminutive second baseman.
The Astros instead committed to Altuve with an extension after the 2013 season. It turned out to be the wise move, as he became the anchor of a club that blossomed from cellar dweller to World Series champion.
Altuve’s circumstances were different than Mancini’s. Altuve was in his early 20s at the time while Mancini is about to move into his late 20s. Altuve was a middle infielder—much harder to find—while Mancini is a corner outfielder/first baseman.
But the dilemma remains the same. Keep your one promising player throughout the rebuild? Or move him?
Another consideration, in Mancini’s case, is his value beyond just his on-field contributions. As young players around him come up and go through the ups and downs of the major leagues for the first time, Mancini has proven his worth as both a stabilizing presence on the field and a guiding one off of it.
“He’s a force on the field obviously, but he’s a great teammate and a really good friend,” rookie shortstop Richie Martin said. “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate. He’s always got your back. He’s one of those guys that is rooting for you and when you do well he’s the first one, him and (Hanser) Alberto, to come and greet you. That means a lot to me. He’s a force on the field and off the field.”
If Tuesday was Mancini’s final game as an Oriole, it was a good one. He opened with a double in the first inning, giving him an extra-base hit for the fifth time in seven games. He recorded an assist from right field in the second inning, throwing out Luis Urias trying to stretch a single into a double. In the eighth inning he delivered with a two-run single to provide valuable insurance and stretch the Orioles lead from 6-5 to 8-5.
With Mancini playing a central role, the Orioles finished July with a 12-12 record, the franchise’s first non-losing month since August 2017.
It’s a small uptick that Mancini got to be a part of. He hopes, as many in the Orioles clubhouse do, that he’ll be around for many more.
“That’s what you want, especially when you’re this early in the rebuild you want a trend up as the year goes on,” he said. We got off to kind of a rough start…but since the very end of June and into July I’m really proud of how we played.
“I’d love to go back (to the postseason) and experience that again. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that here again one day.”