Orioles Prioritize Head Over Heart, Trade Trey Mancini to Astros

Trey Mancini
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros shook up their first base situation on Monday, acquiring 1B/DH Trey Mancini from the Orioles as part of a three-way trade that also included the Rays. Mancini, the longest-tenured player on Baltimore’s roster, was having a solid, if not spectacular, season, hitting .268/.347/.404 with 10 homers and 1.2 WAR in 92 games, with most of his playing time this season split between first base and designated hitter and an occasional appearance in a corner outfield role. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, though there is a $10 million mutual option. To land Mancini, the Astros sent outfielder Jose Siri to the Rays and pitcher Chayce McDermott to the O’s, with Tampa shipping pitcher Seth Johnson to Baltimore and Jayden Murray to Houston.

To look at this trade more easily, let’s separate it into three different transactions.

The Baltimore Orioles acquire pitchers Seth Johnson and Chayce McDermott for 1B/DH Trey Mancini

From a PR standpoint, there will likely be some sharp elbows thrown at the Orioles locally. Baltimore is having its first even marginally playoff-relevant season in a long while, and Mancini has been with the team through the entire process. As its veteran rebuild survivor, he played a similar role that Freddie Freeman did for the Braves while they went through their own painful renovations. His battle with colon cancer, diagnosed on his 28th birthday, and subsequent grand return after surgery and six months of chemotherapy only served to make him more beloved in town.

Basically, the on-field case for keeping Mancini and letting him walk at the end of the season involved a very “now” outlook for the team. It does make the Orioles a bit weaker over the next two months, but it’s only a major loss if you look at the consequences in a very binary fashion, in that Baltimore is in the wild card race with Mancini and out of it without him. Once you move past that, the calculus for whether a trade like this is a good idea comes out very differently.

First, here are the current ZiPS projections for the AL East, with Mancini on the team. This includes the Frankie Montas trade to the Yankees, which is slightly beneficial to the Orioles. Why? The Orioles were never catching the Yankees and only have a single three-game set remaining with them; the latter still has 25 games remaining against the Rays, Blue Jays, and Red Sox, six games against the Mariners, and four against the Twins.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Yankees 102 60 .630 97.6% 2.4% 100.0% 12.4%
Toronto Blue Jays 91 71 11 .562 2.3% 91.5% 93.9% 6.2%
Tampa Bay Rays 84 78 18 .519 0.1% 48.7% 48.8% 1.2%
Boston Red Sox 82 80 20 .506 0.0% 24.3% 24.3% 0.8%
Baltimore Orioles 78 84 24 .481 0.0% 5.5% 5.5% 0.1%

Baltimore always had an uphill struggle; while some parts of the team have come around, the rotation remains very thin, from top to bottom. With Mancini, ZiPS projects the Orioles with a 5.5% chance of making the playoffs.

When I compared Mancini to Freeman, it was in a philosophical sense only, as he is a league-average player rather than among the best in the league at his position. If we use Kyle Stowers as his replacement, that costs the O’s, on average, a third of a win relative to Mancini, per ZiPS. That reduces the team’s projected playoff probability by about 0.7 percentage points, to 4.8%. By ZiPS’ reckoning, the Mancini/Stowers swap only has approximately a 1-in-140 chance of changing the team’s playoff status one way or the other at season’s end.

But what if the Orioles are even better than ZiPS thinks? ZiPS projected their roster strength as .455 before the trade, but what happens if I instead tell it that this is actually a .500 team? The trade still only changes the eventual playoff outcome once in 45 opportunities.

What the Orioles got in return is what makes this trade compelling for me. Johnson was the No. 58 prospect in the ZiPS Top 100 prior to the season, and both ZiPS and my colleague Eric Longehagen ranked him as Tampa’s second-best pitching prospect. Obviously, he’s a lot riskier given that he’s having Tommy John surgery, but he still represents real talent who could make an impact on the major league roster at some point, not a 27-year-old middle reliever in A-ball. And while Johnson will have to be added to the 40-man roster while he’s injured, I think he’s worth losing a spot. Baltimore also needs pitching depth in the minors, and McDermott, whom Eric recently valued as a 40 FV prospect, has real upside if his command issues can be ironed out.

The Orioles got legitimate prospects for two months of an average hitter. To me, that’s worth modifying the 2022 playoff dream slightly.

The Houston Astros acquire 1B/DH Trey Mancini and P Jayden Murray for P Chayce McDermott and OF Jose Siri

Houston’s playoff status is a sure thing, so this move is about having a stronger roster for the postseason. Yuli Gurriel has repeatedly defied both projections and Father Time during his run in Houston, but it looks like his fortunes have finally changed for the worse. With him only hitting .243/.293/.392 this season, first base was arguably the Astros’ biggest hole, and they fill it with a legitimate starter. Mancini could see time at DH and in the outfield to rest other players, but the team is mostly set at the corners and at DH, so he’ll likely play at first the majority of the time.

By replacing Gurriel’s at-bats, ZiPS sees the Astros as the only team in baseball with a roster strength over a .600 winning percentage. Houston has other players who can replace Siri’s playing time in center, and Murray is closer to competing in the majors than McDermott is.

The Tampa Bay Rays acquire OF Jose Siri for P Seth Johnson and P Jayden Murray

The Orioles have good outfield depth, so Siri isn’t an ideal fit for the team; by including the Rays in the three-way trade, the O’s instead get two pitchers for Mancini. Tampa isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart, naturally, but the season-ending injury to Kevin Kiermaier has tested the team’s depth in center. Brett Phillips has been the main recipient of playing time, but he’s struggled offensively this season, hitting a pitcher-esque .147/.225/.250. Siri provides a good glove — he’s at +6 OAA runs in CF in only 353.2 innings in the majors — and while he’s not been exciting with the bat so far with the parent club, he had a breakout season in the minors in 2021, offering some hope of a better triple-slash line. The Rays are betting that Siri will be a short-term upgrade on the just-DFAed Phillips, a bet I think will pay off. There’s even a chance that Siri will prove to be a worthy successor to Kiermaier.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Must be nice for the Rays that they are so overloaded with prospects and 40 man additions that they can trade a promising pitching prospect for an outfielder who can’t hit and probably never will.

But it’s not so nice for them that said outfielder is actually an upgrade for them. What an absolute nightmarish run of injuries.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Lowe should be better than Siri. Between that strikeout rate and balls bouncing off his head (from Mancini, coincidentally) I think they needed another option to play.

Sandy Kazmir
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Which is the promising pitching prospect? The guy that won’t pitch next year or the 25 year old with one appearance in AAA? Perhaps, the term “prospect” is wielded too loosely by those seeking to impose their agenda?

1 year ago
Reply to  Sandy Kazmir

The guy that won’t pitch next year and was a Top 100 prospect by ZiPs and for Eric in the preseason. That one.

Last edited 1 year ago by sadtrombone
Sandy Kazmir
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Great, when he gets back he’ll be pushing 26 with 27 innings above low-A. Seems like a project better developed by a team favoring tomorrow over today rather than an eye on both.