The Orioles have several roster problems to fix in 2019 and beyond. One is how to reconcile the Trey Mancini, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo logjam. First base is the only defensive position that should be played by each of those three players. Unfortunately, Camden Yards and other MLB stadiums have only one first base.
Of those players, Trey Mancini is of most value to the Orioles. At 26 years old and with only two full seasons under his belt (and one season removed from a Rookie of the Year-caliber campaign), he has a chance to be a major piece of the next competitive Orioles club. Being a complete rebuilding year, all focus on should be what that next competitive team will look like. Preferential treatment should be given to him ahead of Davis and Trumbo. As such, Mancini should move to his natural position of first base in 2019.
Mancini should be commended for learning to play the outfield on the fly during 2017’s spring training. He did not play one inning of outfield in the minors and transitioned as well as could be expected. While he seemingly makes the routine plays, advanced metrics show that he simply doesn’t belong in a major league outfield. According to Fangraphs, he has cost the Orioles 13 runs with his outfield defense over the past two seasons. His UZR is -13.4 during that time. Baseball Reference agrees, rating him as a -3.3 dWAR player during that stretch. What is most disheartening is that all of those metrics rate Mancini as substantially worse in 2018 than 2017.
To be clear, Trey Mancini won’t be mistaken for a Gold Glover at first base. In 687 career innings at first base, Fangraphs also grades him negatively in defensive runs saved and UZR. But he is more run neutral at his natural position (-1.6 UZR). It is clear in watching Mancini that his body type and athleticism fits better at first base.
Playing his natural position would most likely make Mancini more comfortable and positively impact his offensive game. That has been the case thus far in his young career. He has slashed .274/.317/.484 while playing first base as opposed to .258/.316/.414 in left field.
Moving Trey Mancini to first base would require moving Chris Davis off of the position. Davis has played some solid defense over the years. Fangraphs rated him positively in defensive runs saved and UZR from 2014-2016 and he was a Gold Glove Award finalist in 2016. Regularly watching games has given me an appreciation of how good he is at scooping throws out of the dirt and saving his teammates errors. But his URZ was -0.9 and -1.8 in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Baseball Reference graded his dWAR at -2.3 over the past two seasons. While the scrutiny has been on Crush’s putrid offensive performance, his defense is suffering as well.
Where should Davis play if moved off of first base? He is not a viable defensive option at third base or outfield. That leaves designated hitter. Interestingly, Davis has been quite effective as a DH throughout his career. In 468 plate appearances, he is hitting .269/.350/.492. All of those numbers are better than the ones he’s posted while serving as a first baseman. Getting Davis back to form is best for all parties. Perhaps letting him focus 100% of his attention on hitting would help. It is worth a try, because there are still four years left on that mega-deal he signed.
If Mancini and Davis occupy first base and designated hitter, where to put Mark Trumbo? It is still unknown if he will be ready for Opening Day thanks to the knee injury he suffered last year. When he returns, he should definitely not be the everyday right fielder on a defense that needs improvement. He has cost his teams a total of 36 runs defensively over his nine seasons playing outfield. The Orioles have a number of intriguing outfield prospects ready for the majors throughout the 2019 season. This includes Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, Austin Hays, and possibly Yusniel Diaz. They could also sign a solid defensive outfielder to a one-year deal, which would tighten up the defense and provide a potential mid-season trade chip when a prospect may be ready for the show. So making Trumbo the full-time right fielder is not a viable option.
Trumbo carries the least value of the three players mentioned here. His contract expires at the end of 2019 and is in no way a part of the Orioles’ future plans. (And he doesn’t even like celebratory pies!) The front office and whoever the manager will be should not place emphasis on getting Trumbo playing time. 2019 will not be measured by wins and losses, but by how young players who will be a part of the next good Orioles team perform and progress. Trumbo should not block one of those players.
Once he’s healthy, the Orioles should rotate Trumbo in at first-base, DH, and right field on more of a part-time basis. The only reason he should see the field is to show other clubs he’s healthy, and Mike Elias should trade him at the first chance he gets. Trey Mancini is young and controllable, and the Orioles are stuck with Chris Davis’ contract. Mark Trumbo isn’t a part of the future plans and his contract expires at the end of this year. Valuable playing time should be given to younger players who are part of that future.
And those young players may even enjoy fun, camaraderie-building activities such as celebratory pies to the face.