Two years ago, as he put together an All-Star-caliber first half for a team rocketing toward 100 losses at the same pace it was allowing home runs, Trey Mancini was adamant that he wanted to be part of the next winning Orioles team, not a trade piece used to help create it.
He said Wednesday that “most definitely” remains the case in 2021, a year in which he is making another strong case to be an All-Star after missing all of the 2020 campaign undergoing chemotherapy treatments for stage 3 colon cancer.
“I feel like we’ve got a lot of guys coming up who have a good idea what they’re doing,” Mancini said. “Up here, we can, I think, start doing a little bit better job of obviously putting wins on the board, but we’re in a lot of close games. We’ve got to find ways to start winning them now, and the more we start playing together and the more some of these other guys come up, I think that’ll start happening.”
The Orioles’ top crop of prospects is at Double-A Bowie, and it’s possible the trifecta of Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are all in Baltimore by this time next year. But despite Mancini’s wishes, it remains uncertain whether he’ll be in the Camden Yards clubhouse to greet them.
By virtue of being one of the few players with several productive seasons on a bad Orioles team, Mancini again finds himself facing trade rumors. He’s batting .265/.343/.478 — right in line with his career performance — with a team-high 14 home runs, and although he’s strictly played first base or designated hitter during his return season, his history of playing the outfield could expand the list of interested contenders. He’s under team control through next season, adding to his value.
After hitting his 100th career home run as part of a pair of them Sunday, Mancini noted that there were times last year he thought he would never reach that benchmark, forever stuck on 86. His performance in the middle of Baltimore’s lineup up to what’s nearly the season’s midpoint provides the veil that little has changed for him since 2019.
“I’m basically treating like I would any other year, so overall, I’m pretty pleased,” he said. “I think I’ve been good, could be better in some areas, but I’m a pretty tough evaluator of myself. And I think there’s a few areas I can still work on, but overall, I’m happy with how my body’s been feeling and everything like that.
“Again, I feel lucky to be playing right now.”
The idea of seeing Mancini honored as American League Comeback Player of the Year for another team is likely an unpleasant one for most Orioles fans, though they would still surely celebrate him. But some national recognition could come his way as soon as next month.
As of the latest All-Star fan voting update, Mancini ranks sixth among first baseman, outside the top three required to make it to the next phase. Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins is in position to advance among outfielders, and he appears to be the likeliest candidate if the 23-51 Orioles receive only one All-Star bid as is typical of most teams losing at the level they have. In 2019, a need to fill spots on the pitching side led to left-hander John Means’ inclusion over Mancini in a case where both were deserving.
Mancini recognizes the depth at first base and DH this year will again make it challenging for him to make the team as a reserve, but he would consider any opportunity to participate in the festivities in Denver — including in the Home Run Derby — an honor.
“It would mean a lot,” Mancini said. “Any other year, I think I’d maybe have a better shot at the game, but AL first base and DH, it’s a pretty incredible group of guys, so I’m not really expecting too much there in that regard. But to be in the conversation is great and especially after last year, it definitely means a lot.”
Any involvement would provide an opportunity for the sport to recognize one of its best stories. Mancini has savored how opposing fan bases and players have treated him since spring training began, applauding and cheering him in his return.
“It’s meant the world,” he said. “It’s been so strange in ways, you know, how nice a lot of the away fans have been to me, and all the opposing players have been just so great. And it really means a lot that I get all the outreach and support that I do. It’s June and it’s still happening, so it really means a lot to me.”