After the 2021 baseball season got underway, Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini was one of the happiest guys walking the planet.
The 29-year-old is healthy after having the world literally shaken beneath his feet last March when he was told surgery was required to remove a cancerous tumor in his colon. That surgery was followed by a six-month chemotherapy treatment plan that has hopefully put him back on a normal life trajectory. Good health can never be assumed, but fingers crossed, he can put colon cancer in his rearview mirror for good.
I’ll bet after what Mancini went through in the past year-plus, he doesn’t see the career path he is on as a problem. He will earn $4.75 million in 2021, bringing his career earnings to more than $8 million. If healthy, he’ll earn at least three to four times the amount he has made to date during the next six to seven seasons.
How do most observers see Mancini’s career inevitably evolving? In 2021, Mancini proves he is healthy enough to post big-time numbers — 35 home runs, 110 RBIs and a .285 or better batting average — and those numbers get Mancini traded to a team aiming to better its chances at a pennant and World Series. And as this eventually plays out, that team pays Mancini $60-70 million on a five- or six-year contract.
And what do the Orioles get for Mancini? Probably two or three young kids with high upsides and plenty of tools. In other words, the Orioles make yet another calculated gamble that when this designed omelet of a rebuild has all the right ingredients on the field, the team can seriously contend for a World Series or two. Just as important as winning a championship would be giving long-suffering O’s fans seven to 10 years of sustained relevance.
For the long-term good and survival of the franchise, that type of run will be necessary to create a new fan base that can support the team in the fashion that will be necessary to compete once again on the business side of the sport.
It’s not the fault of general manager Mike Elias or Trey Mancini that the reality is what it is. Despite a great run by Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, and former manager Buck Showalter that proved success was possible in Baltimore, a softness was exposed in the support of the team, so as soon as the going got tough, it became all too easy to stay away from Camden Yards.
Throw in a pandemic and what you have is a team that really hasn’t sold an awful lot of tickets since early in 2018. Look, I have never looked at the Orioles’ books and I doubt I’ll ever get the chance, but I know that times are tough.
But at some point in all this rebuilding, the general manager will have to stop spinning plates and put a product on the field that fans can really want to back.
That’s where the team’s conundrum with Mancini comes in. Not only is Mancini a terrific baseball player, he is an even better person. Trust me, I have been around all the great players and guys who have come through our town, and I can tell you that Mancini is a Brooks Robinson type of person. And taking nothing away from anyone, you can count those types of people on the fingers of one hand throughout the history of a franchise.
As the 2021 season was nearing its start, we saw negotiations between clubs and their stars turn in various ways. Shortstop Francisco Lindor signed a 10-year, $341 million deal with the New York Mets, the net result of Lindor’s ability and a new billionaire owner, Steve Cohen, wanting to prove he is looser with the cash than the Wilpon family was.
Another shortstop, Carlos Correa, reportedly turned down a five-year, $125 million offer from the Houston Astros, while first baseman Anthony Rizzo reportedly turned down a lowball five-year, $70 million offer from the Chicago Cubs.
At the lower end of the extension food chain, the Los Angeles Angels locked up one of their under-the-radar players, second baseman David Fletcher, for five years and $26 million with two club options. The contract allows the Angels to buy out as many as three seasons of free agency.
So, what in the world does all this extension talk have to do with Mancini while the Orioles are on their rebuilding mission?
Well, in an early March piece by The Athletic’s Dan Connolly about Mancini’s recovery from colon cancer, Mancini alluded to some remorse he had during his cancer saga about turning down a six-year, $23 million offer that Duquette had made after the 2017 season.
That started my mind turning and churning about if it really made sense for the Orioles to trade Mancini as part of a better-days-ahead scenario.
I am not saying Mancini is in the Fletcher range, and he is most certainly not in the Lindor class. However, I think Mancini would listen intently to something that would guarantee a significant financial reward for services.
What would that number look like? Mancini is making $4.75 million this season, and a good season would surely take him up to the $10 million range in his final year of arbitration. A good year in 2022 would put him in a solid position in free agency.
But what if everything doesn’t go perfectly? Another injury, another health scare or his career just doesn’t progress? Suddenly, a four-year contract that guarantees him $42-44 million and includes a couple of club options might sound pretty good to Mancini.
In his waning days running the team he purchased back in 1993, Peter Angelos pushed an awful lot of money out onto the table. Those missteps can’t be taken lightly, as the club has had to tear it down to try to build back better.
But at some point, the measure of a man like Trey Mancini goes beyond the dollars and cents. It’s my opinion that letting him walk or trading him without at least seriously broaching the subject of what it would cost for him to stay would be a miscalculation for a team that desperately needs to reconnect with its fan base.
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