The Orioles’ rebuild faced its toughest move yet Monday, with Baltimore trading Trey 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, sources with knowledge of the agreement confirmed to The Baltimore Sun.
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.
“A huge part of me is always gonna be an Oriole,” a dazed Mancini said in the Orioles’ clubhouse, “and a huge part of my heart is always going to be in Baltimore with the fans there.”
In return for Mancini, the Tampa Bay Rays and Astros are each sending a 23-year-old pitching prospect to Baltimore — right-hander Seth Johnson, who ranked as Tampa Bay’s ninth-best prospect, according to Baseball America, and right-hander Chayce McDermott, Houston’s sixth-ranked prospect.
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 with a 1.26 WHIP. However, he won’t be seen in Baltimore anytime soon, as Johnson will undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery soon, which will hold him out for the foreseeable future.
McDermott has a 5.50 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP in 10 starts and 19 total appearances for High-A Asheville. He was the 132nd overall pick in the 2021 draft.
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.
“I hope I get to stick around and still be a part of this team,” Mancini said afterward. “But I understand how the business works and I don’t really have a say in it. I’m just gonna go out there every day and keep playing for this team and the name across my chest because I love the city and the team and all of these guys in here. It’s just been such a fun year.”
This summer marked Mancini’s third in Baltimore facing trade rumors, having stayed with the Orioles (51-51) 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 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.
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 the best story 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 for the year and an .827 OPS 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.
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 manager Brandon Hyde’s lineup in all but one of his starts this year. Mancini is hitting .268 with a .751 OPS and 10 home runs, though he would likely 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. 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, outfielder Anthony 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.
The Athletic first reported the trade.
Baltimore Sun reporter Andy Kostka contributed to this report. This story will be updated.