With the MLB draft complete, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias on Tuesday addressed what will be the next significant piece of business for the rebuilding club — the July 31 trade deadline, and specifically how someone like Trey Mancini fits into his possible trade plans.
So much of the Orioles' hopes for veterans on short-term contracts who could be moved at the deadline for future pieces — the way Manny Machado, Zack Britton and Brad Brach were last year — haven’t panned out, with Alex Cobb (hip surgery) out for the season and Mark Trumbo (knee) still yet to play. Only right-hander Andrew Cashner has given a fair showcase of his talents.
But when it comes to Mancini, who still has three years of club control after this year — albeit in the salary arbitration system at a higher cost than the league minimum — and has the full might of the team's marketing forces behind his All-Star candidacy, perhaps no player will be a better indicator of how long Elias believes this whole process of building a contender will take than him.
"I don't know if it's even arguable — he's the best player on our team right now," Elias said. "[Eight-ninety] OPS, sure-fire All-Star in my eyes, great in the clubhouse, home runs, hitting for average — you name it. We're not looking to part with Trey. That said, as I've said all along, we're open to anything.
"We do have our sights set on the future a little bit, and if we do make the determination that if we end up making some kind of trade transaction with him or any player and we feel that what we're getting back is better for the organization than what we're giving up, then we're going to listen on it. But he's an integral part of this team, and I hope he's around for a while."
Mancini's .299 batting average with 13 home runs has paced the Orioles offense through ups and downs all season. Should he be chosen as the team's All-Star, the 27-year-old Mancini would have an even better case come arbitration next offseason, when he and the Orioles will try and figure out a fair salary for him.
The type of power production Mancini provides is typically well-rewarded in that process, so if the Orioles truly feel they're years away from being the perennial playoff contender that Elias has promised, even a modest raise in salary might be too much for a team looking to cut costs.
While certainly not to anyone's liking who followed the team, the Houston Astros went through a similar stage in their rebuild that Elias is trying to replicate here, paring down their payroll to begin the 2013 season to $27 million — below what Cobb and first baseman Chris Davis will make this season combined.
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If the Orioles aren't going to be actively trying to build a major league winner with their 25-man roster while rebuilding, that's cover to cut costs.
Trading Mancini would be a blow to a fan base without much to latch onto, and the alternative — a contract extension — isn't exactly something Elias seemed like he was against, even if it's not likely.
"It's certainly a thought that's crossed my mind," Elias said. "Again, that would be something that I think would take both parties to be mutually beneficial, but who wouldn't want a player like him around for the long haul?"
That will make for an interesting seven weeks until the July 31 trade deadline. The Orioles began their business last summer under executive vice president Dan Duquette with the Machado trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the All-Star break, but no matter when Elias begins, he made clear that just because the Orioles don't have the highest present-day ambition level doesn't mean they'll be giving players away for the sake of it.
Cashner is the lone active player on a one-year deal who could be involved in trade conversations based on his major league performance this year, while other possible trade targets who are further along in the club-control schedule and closer to free agency include right-hander Dylan Bundy and top reliever Mychal Givens.
"We've got guys that are attractive, and people ask about them all the time — some more than others," Elias said. "Again, we really haven't entered the full throes of trade season and I expect those conversations to pick up in frequency and maybe even intensity as we get into July, but there are good players here. They're good, and we want to keep them here, especially if they're under control for a while.
“It's going to take two to tango, so to speak."