ARLINGTON, Texas — Trey Mancini stood at a locker at Globe Life Field, one that belonged to him only briefly before he had to leave it behind. The words came easily, but the emotions did not.
The Orioles’ longest-tenured player was in a daze, trying to process that he would soon no longer hold that title.
On Monday afternoon, the Orioles’ rebuild faced its toughest move yet, with Baltimore trading Mancini, a player who endeared himself to the fan base with his personality and perseverance while facing cancer, to the Houston Astros for a pair of prospects as part of a three-team deal also involving the Tampa Bay Rays.
The deal comes a day before the MLB trade deadline and with the Orioles only three games out of a wild-card spot, beginning a three-game series against the Texas Rangers at 51-51 after a 16-9 July that featured a 10-game winning streak. Mancini was on the field before Monday’s series opener giving hugs to Orioles teammates and staff.
“To be a part of things changing for the better this year, and see the organization go in a way that I’ve been waiting for it to for a long time, has been incredible,” Mancini said in the Orioles’ visiting clubhouse. “I always said I wanted to see the rebuild through, and I feel like, in a lot of ways, I have. I think things are only gonna get better here. And besides when I’m playing against them, I’m always going to be rooting for these guys in here.
“A huge part of me is always going to be an Oriole, and a huge part of my heart is always going to be in Baltimore with the fans there. There’s not enough words for me to describe what the organization means to me.”
Mancini will quickly get the opportunity to face his old team. The Orioles visit Houston for a series Aug. 26 to 28, with the Astros coming to Baltimore Sept. 22 to 25.
In return for Mancini, the Orioles are receiving 23-year-old pitching prospects from both the Astros and Rays — right-hander Chayce McDermott, Houston’s sixth-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, and right-hander Seth Johnson, who ranked as Tampa Bay’s No. 9 prospect.
McDermott has a 5.50 ERA in 10 starts and 19 total appearances for High-A Asheville. He was the 132nd overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Johnson, who was selected with the 40th overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, has started nine games this season for High-A Bowling Green and has a 3.00 ERA. He is expected to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in the near future.
“I think we bolstered our pitching depth as an organization, but this is certainly a very difficult call to make,” said Mike Elias, the Orioles executive vice president and general manager. “But I think it’s one that characterizes our optimism for the future — those next several years. We want to continue building towards that, with the high bar we have to climb, and I’m looking forward to what we can discuss with Trey Mancini as a free agent.”
Mancini made his major league debut late in the 2016 season and was in the final guaranteed year of his contract with the team, having agreed to a deal with a mutual option for the 2023 season during spring training to avoid arbitration. But he has always said he didn’t expect both sides to pick up the option, likely leaving his status as a trade candidate unchanged.
On Thursday, in what proved to be his last home game at Camden Yards, Mancini hit an inside-the-park home run in his final at-bat, with Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Josh Lowe losing the ball in the sun and allowing Mancini to make it all the way around the bases to precede a lengthy standing ovation.
He was on the phone with his fiancee, Sara Perlman, before Monday’s game after an early batting practice session when manager Brandon Hyde called him into his office to inform him of the trade.
“When you say goodbye to a friend or someone you’re close with, that sucks,” an emotional Hyde said. “But this is part of the game and this is something that we know. One day we’re going to be three games up in the division, and things change.”
It was an emotional sentiment shared by many of Hyde’s players.
Asked what Mancini has meant to him and the Orioles, outfielder Anthony Santander reached into his locker and grabbed a signed Mancini jersey out, giving it a hug.
“I know a lot of us are pretty upset,” first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said.
This summer marked Mancini’s third in Baltimore facing trade rumors, having stayed with the Orioles past the deadlines of 2019 and 2021. He missed the 2020 season while undergoing treatment for stage 3 colon cancer.
Coming off a 35-homer campaign in 2019, Mancini arrived at spring training hoping to build on it, but routinely felt sluggish during the exhibition period. A routine blood test during his team physical revealed lower iron levels, with further exams discovering a tumor in his colon. Mancini underwent surgery to remove it the same day the coronavirus pandemic canceled the rest of spring training.
He said that experience made his goodbyes with head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and the rest of Baltimore’s training staff among his most difficult Monday.
“These are guys who I credit with saving my life two years ago,” Mancini said. “If things had progressed much further with the aggressiveness of the cancer, and since I didn’t have that many symptoms — if they didn’t catch that blood test, I wouldn’t be here. I really wouldn’t. ... They saved my life.”
When baseball resumed in July, it did so without Mancini, who underwent 12 rounds of biweekly chemotherapy treatments that caused his weight to fluctuate. He returned in 2021 as one of the best stories in the sport and a source of joy and inspiration on an Orioles team that finished with the American League’s worst record, recognized by both his peers and the league as the game’s comeback player of the year.
During the year, he consistently answered questions and spoke publicly about his medical experience, hoping to raise awareness even as his struggles to be the player he was before weighed on him. He was largely a productive player, finishing as runner-up in the Home Run Derby in an experience he hoped would show viewers what could be achieved after a cancer diagnosis.
With a home run on the one-year anniversary of the death of Mo Gaba — a teenage superfan whose positivity during his lifelong cancer battle inspired how Mancini tried to approach the disease — Mancini had 19 homers for the year and an .827 on-base plus slugging percentage as last year’s deadline approached. But a quiet two months ended his season, the emotional and physical weights of what he endured catching up to him.
In the offseason, Mancini gave himself the space to process the experience and brought an improved mindset into the 2022 season, which from the onset appeared certain to be his last in Baltimore.
After the Orioles were unable to agree to terms with Mancini on a deal for 2022, the sides exchanged salary figures, with Mancini’s new contract eventually rendering those moot. The $10 million option in the contract came with a $250,000 buyout, bringing the guaranteed amount of the contract closer to Mancini’s requested figure than the team’s. But the Astros will pay that buyout if either they or Mancini don’t pick up the option.
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“He’s a guy that I look up to, that a lot of guys look up to,” said rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, who now assumes Mancini’s mantle as face of the franchise. “When you talk about a guy who’s a leader, who’s a team guy, that’s him. He’s the gold standard.”
The future-focused move costs an Orioles team fighting for a playoff spot in the present its longest-tenured player, one who has hit in the top four spots of Hyde’s lineup in all but one of his starts this year. Mancini is hitting .268 with a .751 on-base plus slugging percentage and 10 home runs, though he likely would have more if not for the introduction of Camden Yards’ deeper and taller left field wall. Mancini has hit seven fewer home runs than would be expected based on his quality of contact, according to Baseball Savant, by far the largest deficit in the majors.
With Houston, Mancini will no longer play home games at a park designed to take home runs away from batters like him, instead one that could allow him to spike that figure heading into potential free agency. He also might get his first extended opportunity to play his natural position of first base.
Mancini arrived in Baltimore at a time sluggers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo occupied the first base and designated hitter spots, forcing him to learn corner outfield largely on the fly. When he returned in 2021, he only played first base when on the field but spent much of the season’s closing stretch as Baltimore’s DH.
With Mancini’s exit, Santander, another trade candidate, is the Oriole with the most major league experience in Baltimore. Left-handed pitcher John Means, a 2014 draftee, stands as the player with the most time in the organization.
“I’m still just kind of taking it all in,” Mancini said. “I’m not wanting to leave these guys quite yet in the locker room. I’m having a hard time getting in the shower, putting my stuff on and leaving. Because I know I won’t be back in the locker room with them.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Andy Kostka contributed to this article.
A previous version of this article had the incorrect final home series for the Orioles. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.