They were the rumors at the start of last year, they were the rumors at the trade deadline, so it makes sense that they’re the rumors in the offseason.
Who’s staying? Who’s leaving? Could Jonathan Villar be out the door? How about Mychal Givens? Or Trey Mancini?
It’s fair. During a rebuild, these are the questions that need to be asked. And if a team is serious about committing to the reconstruction, there are some tough moves that have to be made.
Except when it comes to Mancini. Because for all the tempting offers Mike Elias will get — and he’ll get them — the answer should be a quick, and decisive, “no.”
I know, this isn’t in the spirit of a rebuild, especially when the team is coming off of a 54-108 record. The team should be treated like a store closing sale: Everything must go! Want Villar? Want Givens? Want Hunter Harvey? John Means? The Oriole Bird? Give us some prospects and let’s make a deal!
You only have to look at Mancini’s 2019 performance to see why he might end up on the trading block. Mancini now has three big league seasons under his belt, the most recent of which was successful enough, with a .291/.364/.535 batting line, that you can imagine him as at least a solid performer for another few seasons.
Elias addressed Mancini’s status with the team during a recent interview with 105.7 FM The Fan, and while he didn’t hide the fact that Villar is very much on the table after a strong season, he balked at the idea of Mancini being shopped around as well, saying, “I hope that he’s here. We love having him. I think he’s perfect for what we’re trying to do, the type of player and person we want. He’s great for this town.”
That’s wonderful, wonderful news.
It’s easy to see the pros for dealing Mancini. His value spiked after his excellent season at the plate, and that success will mean a considerable leap from his $575,500 salary once he goes through arbitration this offseason.
Any rebuilding team balks at the notion of a player becoming a financial and resource drain on its watch, and the team is going to have to start shelling out the cash. This has driven a lot of the talk of why the Orioles might trade Villar, though Villar is projected for a $10.4 million salary. Mancini, as a first year eligible, is projected for less, at $5.7 million.
But the cons to moving on from Mancini far outweigh the pros.
For one, Mancini is no longer a “good, but not great” presence in the lineup. He’s a legitimate heart-of-the-order bat. His power took a step forward in the 2019 season as he bashed a career-high 35 home runs, and his .364 OBP shows that he can bring some value to the offense even if he’s not hitting home runs.
Detractors might point to his pedestrian 2018 season as reason for concern that Mancini may not duplicate that 2019 performance. One reason to continue to believe in Mancini is the way that he utilizes all fields, having picked up 139 of his 175 hits either up the middle or going the opposite way. This isn’t Chris Davis. There’s no shift waiting to completely negate Mancini’s swing.
Rebuilding teams should always look to spin what players they can into prospects. There should also be a limit to that. At some point, you need to have a piece or two stay to give the lineup some continuity, and to give the players and the fans some tangible proof that something is growing and that the restart button isn’t always being hit. Mancini still has three seasons to go before becoming a free agent. Trading a player with that much time left would hurt.
It’s not out of the question that Mancini could still be a contributor to the next good Orioles team. He’ll be 30 in the 2022 season. If he continues as a dependable performer who never inspires other teams to put together eye-opening packages of prospects, that’s not a bad thing for the Orioles. Depending on which prospects develop and what positions they’re playing, they might even want him for a couple of his free agent years beyond that.
If a contending team is desperate enough for a power bat to get foolish with high-ranked prospects, that’s a different deal. The point here is that the goal shouldn’t be to move Mancini for the best offer, regardless of how good that offer is. The offer needs to be good on its own. Since Mancini is still here, we know that so far they haven’t been good enough.
Hopefully he isn’t alone as a home-grown success story in the Orioles lineup for long; hopefully Austin Hays can carry forward a successful September into 2020, and then Ryan Mountcastle and Adley Rutschman and maybe Yusniel Diaz are around soon enough, and Mancini isn’t the big bat in the lineup, but one of many.
Until then, he’s the guy. He’s the fearsome presence at the plate. You shouldn’t keep all those guys when you’re looking to build a winner from the ground up, but it does a world of good for a few of them to stick around.