On the Departure of Trey Mancini
At 4:23pm ET this afternoon. Dan Connolly dropped it. He dropped it on all of us. He didn’t set it down gently. He didn’t fire a warning shot for what was about to come. He just… dropped it.
This wasn’t a surprise to anybody, the possibility of reading that tweet sometime before August 2nd had been discussed ad nauseum for months and, well, it was August 1st.
At the beginning of the year, the anticipated trade of Mancini was something I thought I would take in stride. I’m not trying to seem callous. It’s just that the decision seemed much simpler for what, by all accounts (including my own), would be a last-place team, far out of contention. But, the 2022 Orioles have refused to conform to any preseason projections. As of this writing, they are 3.0 games behind the third AL Wild Card spot, a .500 ballclub. Due to their preseason underdog status, seemingly impossible consistency with late-inning heroics, hilariously improbable double-digit winning streak, and unique brand of “just barely enough at the right time, how did that work?” baseball, this team just embodies Orioles Magic. The team meshes well together. They ooze chemistry. That’s the type of team that makes a fanbase fall in love.
Plus. I mean. The home run chain. Not only do they ball, they accessorize.
But, that’s the type of team you don’t want to tinker with. The team is outperforming expectations, so any changes to the personality makeup can erase any immaterial gains the team has made by coming together this way. Pulling the longest-tenured member of the team, much less one with Mancini’s backstory, is the simplest way to say that this front office is not concerned with all of that.
Through Mancini’s Spring 2020 diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer, subsequent 2021 return, runner-up finish in the Home Run Derby, and indignant refusal to go on the IL in September, Baltimore got to know one of its heroes. Trey displayed grace in the face of horrific circumstances. He reached out to others with similar diagnoses and continues to keep in touch with them. He was present and engaged with the fanbase. He played in 147 games after missing the entire 2020 season, never relenting, never giving up on a last place club.
All of this, as the Orioles endured one of the most horrific three-season (discounting the abbreviated 2020) stretches in MLB history at the beginning of the current rebuild. Therein lies one of the most heartbreaking parts of this… Mancini was infallibly loyal. This was his place. He wanted to be here for every part of it, including what came after.
Needless to say, this one hurts.
All that said, Mike Elias was not hired because of his overly sentimental approach to team-building. It would be disingenuous to talk about the concept of trading Trey purely from the sentimental sense. Trey was an emotional leader of this team, and as discussed, it feels like there is some unquantifiable chemistry aspect working in the Orioles’ favor this year. But, with him on the team, Fangraphs projected the Orioles to have just a 5.5% chance at the playoffs. Without him, and with the addition of Kyle Stowers, those odds drop to 4.8%. According to them, this trade only has a 1-in-140 chance of altering whether the Orioles make the playoffs or not.
(Disclaimer: I’m aware Yusniel Diaz got the call, this is just a thought experiment from the article.)
Mancini has performed reasonably well this year, with a .268/.347/.404 triple-slash, about 14% better than league average by measure of OPS+. However, looking a bit closer, his .751 OPS is just north of league average for a 1B, and significantly south of the league average for a DH (.746 and .851, respectively). He’s on a 2.1fWAR/3.5bWAR pace over 162 games. For context, everyday players in MLB typically average 2-3 WAR. In other words, Trey is an everyday guy. He isn’t a superstar though, and his production can be replaced.
The Orioles also have a bit of a positional logjam. The roster works as it stood before the trade. But, some of the ripest fruits of the Orioles rebuild are waiting for their turn in AAA. The aforementioned Stowers and Diaz are both corner OFs. With the outfield having been the most consistently productive position group this year, opportunities there are limited (barring a still possible trade of Anthony Santander). A rotation of corner OFs through those spots and the DH slot is the simplest way to get everybody the necessary playing time. Removing availability of the DH slot (and corner OF slots to a lesser extent) constrains Mancini to 1B, where one of the Orioles brightest young stars, slugger Ryan Mountcastle, has made his home.
Adley Rutschman is coming into his own at the major league level, notching his 20th double today in just 56 games. If the team wants to keep his bat in the lineup, while not pushing a rookie to squat for 9 innings every day, even more ABs are needed from the DH role.
In that way, trading the player most defensively limited, who’s serving primarily in the DH role you most need opened, makes a lot of sense.
Mancini’s contract status, under contract this year with a mutual option for next, also contributes to the calculus here. Given the low impact to playoff odds, and the understanding that keeping him through the end of this year meant losing the opportunity to recoup any value in a trade, the argument to keep Mancini then boiled down to the value of sentimentality. Put simply, is the engagement with and appeasement of your fanbase worth more than the value you would get back in a trade? (Part of that value comes in the form of playing time available to your more refined prospects.)
As said before, Mancini’s a sub-par DH and a league average 1B, and only under contract for two more months. There was understandably some doubt as to whether we would get anything meaningful in return, which colors the question above in an interesting light. I started doubting the significance of any return and thus started questioning the previously “easy” decision to trade Trey- sentimentality can equate to ticket sales, jersey sales, promotions, etc., down this stretch, so there is some quantifiable benefit to having him around as well. Obviously, only Elias really knew what the return for Mancini would be like, as only he was fielding calls.
In return, the Orioles got two legitimately interesting prospects. Both are starting pitchers, sit in the mid-90s with at least one plus secondary offering. I won’t bother you with scouting reports because I’ll just be regurgitating other sources. But, here are links to MLB Pipeline’s scouting for each: Seth Johnson/Chayce McDermott. According to Pipeline, the Orioles have added their #8 and #12 prospects. Two top 15 prospects to what some believe is the best farm system in baseball is more than significant.
After having sat for a number of hours, and having written this blog post, I think that Elias made the right call here. A bit of a cliche at this point, “the next good Orioles’ team” remained the focus for the front office. Opening ABs for those expected to be contributors took priority, and some intriguing arms were added to the farm system. There is clearly a plan in place in the Eutaw St Warehouse, and the days of extending and overpaying Chris Davis because the Angelos family said so are clearly gone. This front office will continue to make the logical move to build this team into contenders. Hopefully, this is just another sacrifice we will have endured when the O’s are World Series champs in 2025.
On behalf of The Warehouse Pod, thanks to Trey for his dedication to the city, to the fans, to the team. His story will continue to inspire us, and he will continue to be loved. Never thought I’d say it, but I’ll be cheering for the Astros in October.
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