SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles announced Saturday night that they have avoided arbitration with Trey Mancini, signing their longest-tenured player to a deal for the upcoming season that includes a mutual option for 2023.
Mancini, 30, is scheduled to reach free agency at the end of the 2022 season, but the contract presents an opportunity for the first baseman-outfielder to remain in Baltimore for at least one more season if both he and the club exercise the option. Mancini will be paid $7.5 million in 2022, with a $250,000 buyout on the $10 million mutual option, according to a source with direct knowledge of the agreement.
The Most Valuable Oriole in 2019, Mancini missed all of the 2020 season undergoing chemotherapy treatment for stage 3 colon cancer. He returned in 2021 to play in nearly 150 games, finishing as the runner-up in the Home Run Derby during All-Star week in Denver.
Mancini and the Orioles did not agree to a contract for the 2022 season before last week’s arbitration salary exchange deadline and were expected to have his salary for this season determined by a hearing. Mancini reportedly suggested his salary be $8 million, while the Orioles countered at $7.375 million. The deal’s $7.75 million guarantee is closer to Mancini’s requested figure than the Orioles’.
As was expected based on the exchanged figures, Mancini will be the highest-paid Oriole in 2022. His looming free agency made him a likely trade candidate this season, especially with the Orioles once again not expected to contend. The mutual option does not necessarily change that potential, but it could possibly improve Baltimore’s return in a hypothetical trade; a team acquiring Mancini would be able to retain control of him in 2023 by exercising the option, as long as he does the same. In this scenario, that team — not the Orioles — would also be responsible for paying the $250,000 buyout if either side declines.
Mancini has often been mentioned as a player the Orioles might trade throughout the organization’s rebuild, which is about to enter its fourth full season. In 2019, he was Baltimore’s top offensive player, narrowly missing an All-Star selection and finishing the year as one of only four majors leaguers with 35 home runs, 35 doubles and an OPS of at least .899.
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He was excited to build on that campaign in 2020, but he spent much of the spring feeling sluggish. A routine blood exam during a team physical showed he had low iron levels, which were eventually traced to a malignant tumor in his colon. Mancini underwent surgery to remove it on March 12, the same day the coronavirus pandemic canceled the remainder of spring training and delayed the 2020 season.
When baseball returned, it did so without Mancini. He was amid a six-month chemotherapy program, during which his weight consistently fluctuated and he at times he doubted whether he would survive, let alone play baseball again. As he trained that offseason for a return, he still experienced lingering effects from the treatments, including the occasional loss of feeling in his feet. Had the neuropathy occurred in his hands, a side effect that is in some cases permanent, a comeback would have been nearly impossible.
But Mancini rejoined the Orioles for spring training in 2021. Before his first exhibition at-bat, fans at Ed Smith Stadium gave him a standing ovation, doing so again when he promptly singled. He started the 2021 season slowly but had a strong May, at one point leading the majors in RBIs. In late July, as the season’s trade deadline approached, Mancini had 19 home runs with a .827 OPS.
He hit only two home runs the rest of the year, the mental, emotional and physical hangover of what he dealt with in 2020 catching up to him. Despite the slow finish, he ended the year regarded as an above-average major league hitter by OPS+. He entered spring training last month with a new batting stance — wider to add stability — and a tweaked swing. Camp has also brought a return to an old position.
A first baseman growing up and during his climb to the majors after Baltimore drafted him in 2013′s eighth round, Mancini played in the corner outfield for much of his first four seasons, with the Orioles having veterans Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo playing his natural position. He spent 2021 splitting first base and designated hitter with rookie slugger Ryan Mountcastle, and with the Orioles hoping to create some lineup flexibility — and possibly further boost Mancini’s trade value — he has returned to the outfield throughout the spring.
With Mancini avoiding arbitration, left-handed pitcher John Means is the Orioles’ lone player without a deal in place for 2022. Baltimore’s season-opening starter, Means reportedly filed at $3.1 million, compared to the team’s $2.7 million valuation. Mancini’s deal is a first for the Orioles under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias in that it goes against the “file-and-trial” method the club has employed during the rebuild, where the sides stop negotiating after the salary exchange deadline.
But it avoids the Orioles having to go to an arbitration hearing against one of their clubhouse leaders and a player who was among the best stories in baseball last year. It could also prove to keep Mancini in Baltimore longer than once expected.