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Trey Mancini’s triumphant return in 2021 was baseball’s best story

It was an amazing year for Trey Mancini, who returned to form after missing all of 2020 due to cancer.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles - Game One
Orioles 1B/DH Trey Mancini running the bases against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards on September 11, 2021.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Spring training 2020 was unlike any other for Trey Mancini. That’s when he found out he had Stage 3 colon cancer. Mancini missed the entire 2020 season while undergoing treatment and returned to the field with the Orioles this year.

What a comeback!

Mancini has always been the consummate professional and team player with the Orioles, even growing into a leadership role within the past couple of years. To see him return from such a scary diagnosis is truly inspiring.

Once he got some game action in Sarasota this past spring and got his legs under him, attention turned to the regular season. Which brings up the following question: what was expected of Mancini in 2021?

With his positive outlook and consistent play on the field throughout his career, it wasn’t hard to imagine Mancini returning to his 2019 form in relatively short order. The more realistic expectation was that he would ease into the regular season, maybe getting more frequent off days for the first part of the year, before showing glimpses of the Mancini of old.

The ball club did not limit his playing time early on, although O’s manager Brandon Hyde did rest Mancini more during the dog days of summer and towards the end of the year. Still, Mancini was able to put together a remarkably consistent season.

Posting up on a routine basis, Mancini played in 147 of 162 games, accumulating 556 at-bats along the way. He put up a .255/.326/.432 triple slash line at the plate, along with a .758 OPS and 104 OPS+. While those numbers weren’t career bests, they weren’t far off either. Entering the 2021 season, Mancini was slashing .276/.335/.485 with a .819 OPS and 118 OPS+.

The O’s 1B/DH finished the year tied with Austin Hays for second most RBI on the team with 71. Mancini also had 33 doubles (2nd on the team), one triple, and 21 home runs. It was his lowest home run output since becoming a full-time player in 2017, but 21 homers is still nothing to sneeze at.

In late June, Mancini experienced more adversity. He received some irregular test results that indicated his cancer might be back, but further testing showed that was not the case. Time and time again, he has shown mental toughness and the ability to overcome.

Once midseason rolled around, Mancini was invited to the Home Run Derby for the first time in his career. He even made it to the final round, but lost to the Mets’ Pete Alonso.

Based on his power numbers, Mancini faded as the season wore on. In the first half of 2021, Mancini had 16 home runs and a .460 SLG. In the second half, his SLG dropped to .392 and he only had five home runs.

But the 2021 season was nothing short of a success for Trey Mancini, as he returned to the diamond and showed that he can still play like his old self. He received more recognition at the end of the year when he was selected by his peers as the American League Comeback Player of the Year.

This all leads to the question of Trey Mancini’s future in Baltimore and whether he’ll have a role on the next good Orioles team. That’s a very difficult question to answer. There were trade rumors surrounding Mancini a couple of years ago and again during the 2021 season.

From a positional perspective, Ryan Mountcastle seems destined to be the O’s first baseman of the future. Mancini and Mountcastle shared that position in 2021. At the same time, there’s no shortage of young, cheap corner infield types in the Orioles organization.

On the low budget O’s, Mancini made $4.75 million in 2021. He enters his third year of arbitration eligibility this offseason, and won’t turn 30 until March of next year.

On one hand, it seems unlikely the O’s will continue to raise his salary with the youth movement happening at the big league level. And are they willing to pay what the market rate is for a hitter like Mancini?

But on the other hand, Mancini has been lauded by everyone in the organization for his leadership, talent, and professionalism. So it’s not a stretch to imagine them extending his contract for several more years. He could serve a valuable role on a team full of inexperienced ballplayers.

If the Orioles decide to offer him a contract extension, he could be transitioned to a full time designated hitter and occasional first baseman, while someone like Mountcastle handles the everyday duties at first. Who knows, maybe Mancini would even take some sort of hometown discount to stay in Baltimore for the long haul.

Previous 2021 Orioles player reviews: Valaika/Gutierrez/Mateo, Paul Fry/César Valdez, Watkins/Greene/etc., Ramón Urias, Dean Kremer, Tanner Scott, DJ Stewart, Tyler Wells, Anthony Santander, Cole Sulser, Bruce Zimmermann, Austin Hays, Severino/Wynns, Dillon Tate, Keegan Akin, Ryan Mountcastle, Matt Harvey

Tomorrow: John Means