A year ago, it was a lot easier to be an Orioles fan looking ahead to next year. Even facing the probability that players like Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis could depart in free agency, that wasn't so bad. The team had just won the division handily in 2014, with nearly everyone else returning from the team that made it to the American League Championship Series. That was a lot of fun.
Things aren't so fun right now. You hardly need me to remind you that the O's stumbled at times in 2015 and that they were lucky to find their way to an 81-81 record at season's end. They face three potential key free agent departures in Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis and Darren O'Day. This time, O's fans can't be as confident about the players who remain for next year. After all, the starting rotation other than Chen was a big mess, and he's the only one who won't be coming back.
Just how bad are things? A couple of tweets from ESPN's Jerry Crasnick very succinctly explain just how bad:
#Orioles are serious about Trey Mancini as a 1B option if they don't re-sign Chris Davis. Notre Dame product logged .981 OPS in AA.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 23, 2015
Also, #Orioles have some interest in bringing back OF Gerardo Parra. But probably on a two-year deal, tops.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 23, 2015
What a combination of thoughts back-to-back. First, the idea that a guy who was drafted in the eighth round two years ago could represent the adequate replacement if Davis leaves. Second, the idea that the Orioles might spend money to bring back the guy who just batted .237/.268/.357 for them. That is probably not going to sell a lot of season tickets for next year, nor pack the Baltimore Convention Center for FanFest on December 12.
That's not to say that there's not some level of sense in those two thoughts. No one, least of all the Orioles, is going to expect Mancini to show up and hit 45+ home runs like Davis just did. They might entertain the idea that he could perform well enough to get by, allowing them to use the $20+ million in annual salary they would have spent on Davis on improving other aspects of the team.
They might be right about that. Mancini took a nice leap forward in 2015, which is how he ended up at Double-A to begin with. Mancini's .868 OPS at Frederick got him a promotion after two months and he hit even better at Bowie, as Crasnick notes. His 2015 performance was not expected, so who can say where he might go from here?
Or at least that's what the optimist would say. Another ESPNer, Keith Law, recently wrote that he had Mancini pegged as a AAAA player - good enough to do well at Triple-A but not good enough to do well in the big leagues. For an Orioles example from this past season, think Chris Parmelee. The two problems with Mancini: "Bad swing and a lack of athleticism."
As for Parra, he's surely better than what he showed in his short Orioles tenure. This is especially true if you view him as a platoon bat. In the 2015 season, Parra batted .303/.336/.473 against right-handed pitchers. That's a good number, although it's also very batting average-dependent, and with a .340 BABIP it's higher than his career norms so even that may have been luck-fueled.
Still, if you minimize his exposure to lefties (.658 OPS in 2015) he starts looking better, especially if his struggles as an Oriole drop him into their price range. Parra is surely not THE answer, but he could be AN answer, if you squint hard enough.
Does any of that make you feel better about those tweets? Probably not. If things like that are what the Orioles have to hang their hat on this offseason, the 2016 season won't be a fun one to imagine. Either move or both could potentially work out, but neither has "great success" or even "adequate" as the likeliest outcome.