In a perfect world, the Orioles wouldn’t have twice as many losses as wins. They wouldn’t be on pace to break, at the very least, the 1996 Detroit Tigers’ American League home run record of 241 surrendered. With five more home runs allowed last night, these Orioles stand at 205 with 56 games to go. In a perfect world, Chris Davis doesn’t become a statue. He has one.
I was too young for the success of the mid-90’s Orioles to register in my brain, and the time of Buck Showalter was but a sample of what grandpa would call “the good ole days.” If we thought times were tough before, they’re certainly tough now.
But the success of the Orioles minor league system indicates that the supposed smart men now running the franchise are indeed smart. The Orioles have a plan. Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal, and their lieutenants are in the earlier stages of executing said plan. Hopefully there’s a majority that believe, as I do, the Orioles are not only capable of transitioning into the modern game of baseball, but are now in a position to thrive.
And if that plan includes trading Trey Mancini, so be it.
On a related note, it was reported Sunday night by Jon Morosi that discussions are “active” between the Orioles and other teams on the subject of Mancini. Somehow, it always seemed this reality was inevitable.
A potential departure away from Mancini would signal that the Orioles are truly invested in restructuring a pile of rubble. “Boom Boom” is undoubtedly the most popular player on the current roster, and that isn’t just because he’s a second helping of humble pie. The dude can hit.
As a late-blooming 25-year-old rookie, Mancini was good. Then, he dealt with elbow, knee and likely other things we probably don’t know about a season ago. Even still, he was slightly less than a replacement-level hitter as a 26-year-old. Now 27, after putting to rest doubts the big league level would be too much for him, he’s shown that proposition is not a factual one.
In 2017, Mancini, like all successful big league hitters, found success against the fastball, but enough too against breaking balls and offspeed stuff. A season ago, he did not. Though now, he’s doing more damage against non-heaters than he ever has before, especially the offspeed.
As well, his walk numbers have inched up as his strikeout numbers have never been lower, he’s among the top half in exit velocity and hard hit rate, and his expected wOBA is among the top-20 percent. As said before, it would appear that fighting through injuries for 156 games in 2018 impacted his offensive production. Heading into last night’s game, he had a higher wRC+ than both Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor. He’s been one of the few things worth salvaging in the midst of an unsalvageable situation.
Hitting is important. Mancini’s bat has shown it’s worth despite being surrounded by a cast offering little to no help. But the sins of the previous administration will never allow him to reach his peak value, because he’s playing way, way out of position.
Of the 407 major league games Mancini has played, he’s played left for right field in 62 percent of those games. That isn’t his fault, and it’s not as if he hasn’t done everything he can to be a better outfielder. The thing is, playing outfield requires certain tools. Those are tools that Mancini does not have.
In terms of Statcast sprint speed, he’s right around league average, but his jumps off the bat are in the bottom 15 percent, and not having the make-up speed has placed him in the bottom 12 percent in outs above average. I mean, you’ve seen him out there. I’ve seen him out there. It’s an adventure. The occasional leaping grab or sliding catch is a mask for his inability to play positions that ask for elite athleticism.
His defense, as well as his lack of walks, are why despite being one of the top 40 hitters in all of baseball in terms of wRC+, his wins above replacement still remains under two. Unless the Orioles decide to jump overboard off of Chris Davis’s sinking contract, he’ll continue to waste a roster spot at the position Mancini is more suited to flourish. With the Astros, Mike Elias drafted the likes of Jake Marisnick, Tony Kemp, Brett Phillips, Derek Fisher, and even Ramon Laureano. All of these guys, with the exception of Kemp who was later moved to the outfield, have plus-speed and elite athleticism to make the defensive plays they’re supposed to make, and then some. While their bats may not have made the jump to the big league level, there is a defensive consistency that Elias seems to target.
Elias’ first Oriole draft included picks such as Kyle Stowers, Zach Watson and Johnny Rizer, another crop of outfielders who, with the traits described above, are defensive assurances that you hope make the necessary offensive adjustments. Elias has a profile in mind as to what he wants in his outfielders, and Mancini is far from that mold.
Even more, he has competition. Anthony Santander is proving to be a well-rounded outfielder. Austin Hays and Yusniel Diaz could be Orioles as soon as next year. Ryan Mountcastle is another plus-bat without a position, meaning he’s probably going to be a corner outfielder sometime in 2020 as well. DJ Stewart is unlikely to stay in Norfolk forever. If there’s depth anywhere in the Orioles’ organization, it’s in the outfield.
The numbers defining Mancini’s pros and cons are necessary in trying to make sense as to why the Orioles may decide to move him. A brief look at the rest of the league would suggest that playoff contenders, including the Giants, Indians, or even the Athletics, could use a big bat at first base or as a DH. Would one of these three teams, or another franchise, be desperate enough to appease what is likely a modest asking price? Is someone willing to even put him back in the outfield?
I would imagine Elias, if he is at all, is asking for a 45 to 50 future value kind of prospect with a lower level guy sprinkled in there as well, given Mancini will enter his first year of arbitration this winter and he’s shown, at the very least, a little bit of versatility. At a time when the Orioles need to stockpile as many projects as they can handle, Mancini is undoubtedly the player that will help the franchise the most in that regard.
But when you watch a guy on live television 140 times a year, and in Mancini’s case, for three-consecutive years, it’s difficult to cope with the idea that someone else would be receiving a player that has embraced the challenge of being a Baltimore Oriole in 2019 and beyond.
I don’t know Trey Mancini and odds are I probably never will. He once wrote me on Twitter a couple of years ago because I made a comment on a massive sunburn he had. Of course he took the time to explain why he walked up to home plate with a red blotch that encapsulated the entire left side of his neck. And he was honest, poking fun at himself. It wasn’t much, but two years later, you can see how something such as that is but a sliver of his personality, and the caliber of human and competitor Orioles fans have rightfully latched onto.
Do I want the Orioles to be better? Yes. Is Mancini the franchise’s most valuable recourse? Yeah, probably. Do I want Trey Mancini to be a casualty of this process? Definitely not. If there’s anyone that’s earned passage to the Orioles potential smooth sailing of the future, it would be him. But business is business, and Elias’s job is to improve said business.
If Trey Mancini is another uniform by Thursday, that’s OK. It just better be worth it.