Trey Mancini is not a superstar. He is not a player that every team in the league is clamoring to get. And he is unlikely to be the guy that too many little kids outside of the Baltimore area pretend to be in the backyard. But Mancini is the best hitter on this current Orioles team, and he just turned in the best season of his big league career, which could help to make him one of the more valuable sluggers available on the trade market this winter.
Mancini’s first month of 2019 was white hot. Between March and April, he hit .355/.405/.618 with six home runs and 11 doubles. For those first few weeks, Mancini was, legitimately, one of the best hitters in the league. Perhaps expecting MVP consideration was a bit much, but the thought of Mancini earning his first career all-star selection was plausible, if not probable.
Then the Notre Dame product’s performance took a nosedive in May. He slumped to a .240/.286/.462 line, walking just six times all month. But like a phoenix, he rose from the ashes to post a .345/.418/.655 line in the first 15 games of June.
That is how the season went for Mancini. He followed June with poor performances in July and August before finishing strong and posting a 1.049 OPS in September.
When it was all said and done, Mancini posted career highs in on-base percentage (.364), slugging percentage (.535), home runs (35), doubles (38), walks (63), bWAR (3.3), fWAR (3.6) and wRC+ (132) among other things. He was at or near the top of the leader-board for the 2019 Orioles in many of those same categories as well. It was a “career year” for the 27-year-old.
The numbers weren’t fluky either. His .326 BABIP is only slightly better than his career (.320). And he earned it by finishing in the 72nd percentile in exit velocity and in the 74th percentile in hard hit percentage. Mancini hits the ball hard (90.3 mph on average), making it tough for fielder’s to make a play. Juiced ball or not, those are nice numbers for the former eighth-round pick.
As good as Mancini was at the plate, much of his value got wiped away by how the Orioles deployed him in the field. He spent 718.2 innings in the outfield (673.2 in left, 45 in right) this season. where he posted -8 defensive runs saved and a -6.0 UZR.
Mancini is a player that fails both the eye test and the analytics test as an outfielder. He puts in all of the effort you could ever want from a player, but his physical limitations make him a liability in the field.
On the positive side, O’s manager Brandon Hyde also gave Mancini his most time ever at first base (449.1 innings), his natural position. In his chances there, Mancini had -1 defensive runs saved and +1.9 UZR. Now we are talking! Those aren’t Gold Glove numbers by any stretch, but they will get the job done. Especially if Mancini can hit the way he did in 2019, which aligns him favorably with other first basemen in the league.
The Orioles immediate future at first base is unclear. The team has three candidates for the position: Mancini, Chris Davis and Renato Nunez. If they are trying to put together the absolute best team, the decision here is easy. But we know it’s not that simple, which could force Mancini to the outfield once again.
There remains the possibility that Mancini could be traded over the winter. His name was floated around last July, but no solid rumors ever seemed to materialize. It has been a similar situation so far this off-season. O’s GM Mike Elias went so far as to say “we expect him to stay here” regarding Mancini during a broadcast on 105.7 The Fan last week.
If Mancini were to be dealt, the Orioles would be right to ask for a hefty return. The slugger has three full seasons of team control remaining, and he is coming off of a season where he demonstrated just how good he can be at the plate. There is no immediate pressure to trade him, so opposing team’s would need to make substantial offers. The likelihood of that happening, though, seems remote. Mancini has a skill set that does not age particularly well, and he is only going to get more expensive as he begins his arbitration-eligibility.
Should Mancini stay in Baltimore, as Elias has said he will, he will probably continue to do exactly what he has done so far in his career. He will play a bit in the outfield, a bit at first base and DH a few times a year while making goofy faces. If the team moves on from Davis, that could move Mancini to first base full-time, at least until Ryan Mountcastle is promoted from Triple-A Norfolk.