The wound is still fresh. When the Orioles traded Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros on Monday, the deal may have made all the baseball sense in the world, but it still hurt. Not just because Mancini was a steady top-of-the-lineup bat in an offense that has often struggled to put up runs. Not just because, with the O’s just three games out of a wild-card spot, the deal was a signal that even the front office had given up on the team’s playoff chances this year.
Most of all, the trade stung because over a career in Baltimore spanning parts of six seasons and bridging the last competitive O’s team in 2016 and the start of a new one now, Trey Mancini had become the face of the franchise, a fan favorite endeared to the city of Baltimore because of his relatability, his character and his generosity, and the emotional heart of the clubhouse to boot. How can you put a monetary value on that?
“Baseball is a business, and I understand that,” says every player ever when they’re asked about the buying and selling side of the game. But Ryan Mountcastle—not a heart-on-the-sleeve guy normally—has never looked so shaken as he did on Monday when he told reporters, “A lot of us are pretty upset.” Anthony Santander hugged a signed Mancini jersey after he was gone.
The day of the trade saw a lot of fan fury pour out on social media (here’s a funny one in the genre) but Mike Elias’ own reassuring comments from earlier today (please don’t call it “damage control,” except that it very much is) seem to have helped calm down the fanbase. Or maybe it’s just that, a day or so later, cooler heads prevailed as people took increasingly realistic stock of the Orioles’ needs, and how Mancini fit into them—or didn’t.
To start with the obvious, although Mancini was set to become a free agent in the offseason, the 2022 Orioles were a better team with him on it than without him. However limited Mancini is with the glove (and let’s erase his criminal misuse in RF from our memories now, and be glad he got twice as many starts at DH than at first base in 2022), he added significant value just as a hitter: 2.0 WAR, the seventh-best mark on the team. His 113 OPS+ would be even better without his nemesis, Mt. Walltimore, who made Trey an unluckier power bat in 2022 than any other hitter in baseball.
Turning to Orioles franchise leaderboards, you see one thing very quickly: Trey Mancini was really good at hitting for power. Mancini ranks in the Orioles’/St. Louis Browns’ Top 50 players in several offensive categories, including slugging (19th all-time), OPS (38th), doubles (50th), home runs (24th, tied with Matt Wieters), OPS+ (37th), runs created (47th) and at-bats per home run (21st). (Mancini also comes in 15th in career hit-by-pitches (38), not that anyone is threatening to steal Brady Anderson’s crown (148).)
Seeing those totals gives a faintly sad impression of an unfinished project, with many of Mancini’s top categories being percentile-based, not cumulative. With one more full season, for instance, Mancini might have cracked the O’s Top 50 in WAR, somewhere around Luis Aparicio and B.J. Surhoff. Two more seasons, and he’d have been in Matt Wieters/Chris Davis territory. He was five runs away from cracking the Top 50 in RBIs, so he probably would have made it if he hadn’t always been playing on such shitty teams.
Of course, Mancini is one Oriole whose impact will be greater than the cumulative weight of his statistics. Drafted by the Orioles in the eighth round in 2013, Mancini forever befuddled college and MLB scouts who couldn’t see the athleticism, but his productivity at the dish always made the places who took a chance on him (Notre Dame, the Baltimore Orioles) glad they did. Mancini made his MLB debut in 2016, famously hitting three home runs in his first three games.
After Adam Jones left, Mancini was thrust into a team leadership role, inheriting Jones’ outreach portfolio and outsized role in the community, a role he embraced willingly. Mancini will forever be associated with superfan Mo Gaba, who died in 2020 of multiple metastatic cancers at age 14, and with whom Mancini already had a special relationship even before his own cancer diagnosis. In spring 2020, O’s trainers told Mancini to get medical imaging done when a blood test revealed low iron levels. Their help in discovering a Stage 3 cancerous tumor of the colon led Mancini to say this week that the O’s staff “literally saved [his] life.” After a year of chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins, with no one sure if he’d play again, Mancini returned to MLB in 2021 and earned the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award while also coming in second in the Home Run Derby. All of this is hard to put into numbers.
After the trade on Monday, some person on Twitter said that the move proves that the Dan Duquette Orioles and the Mike Elias Orioles are polar opposites: in the Dan Duquette era, Mancini would probably have been signed to a 7-year, $161 million deal and been made an Oriole for life. Elias & Co., instead, took the opportunity to ship him to a place that needed offensive production at 1B in exchange for pitching depth. It all makes sense. But while Elias & Co. have undoubtedly done a bang-up job in rebuilding this team from the ground up (above all, its ability to scout, draft, and coach), there’s an argument to be made on the other side, that Trey Mancini is a player for whom many of us would have been OK with an exception, where the team let the heart take the lead in roster building, and not the head.