ARLINGTON, Texas - Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias knew that trading Trey Mancini would be an unpopular move. A beloved player and leader inside the clubhouse. Someone fans adore. The face of the franchise. A class act and an ideal role model.
Part of a team that’s been a surprise contender, just three games out of the last wild card spot heading into tonight’s series opener against the Rangers.
But Elias stuck to business, and he couldn’t pass up the two pitching prospects who came to the Orioles in a three-team transaction.
Elias acquired right-hander Seth Johnson from the Rays and Chayce McDermott from the Astros. Houston also gets right-hander Jayden Murray from the Rays, who obtained outfielder José Siri from Houston.
Johnson will undergo Tommy John surgery, making him a longer-term investment for the Orioles. Both pitchers are coming from the high Single-A level.
“There are a lot of considerations that go into making trades, especially this time of the year,” Elias said in a Zoom call with the media. “I think the bottom line is this is an organization for which we feel a championship window is opening, and we have an opportunity to seek players at this point in time that may contribute to that window and pursuit of multiple playoff appearances over the next several years here in Baltimore. And part of the reason our division is so difficult is the teams that are in our division have done such a spectacular job over the last decade of balancing present, future, interim, long-term considerations with their moves, and it’s important for us to do the same thing.
“I think when a player is a free agent in nine weeks, you have to consider opportunities to bring in high-upside talent that has the potential to contribute many years down the road, and that’s what we see with these two pitchers. Seth Johnson, in particular, from the Rays. We view him and the industry has viewed him at times as a top 100 talent, and unfortunately he’s undergoing an injury right now, and I think that’s what made him available. And Chayce McDermott is performing very well as a fourth-round pick of the Astros.
“I think we bolstered our pitching depth as an organization. But this is certainly a very difficult move to make, but I think it’s one that characterizes our optimism for the future, these next several years. We want to continue building toward that with the high bar that we have to climb, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can discuss with Trey Mancini as a free agent.”
Mancini’s mutual option for 2023 won’t be exercised, allowing him to enter the market for the first time. Elias certainly left the door open for a possible return.
In the meantime, the trade hit the clubhouse hard. Manager Brandon Hyde spoke about the difficult conversation he had with Mancini in his office. A high-energy team is feeling pretty low today.
“Since the end of 2018, there have been a lot of very difficult decisions that have enabled us to make progress, and to continue to make progress toward the competition and rivalries we have with the Blue Jays, the Rays, the Red Sox and the Yankees, and difficult decisions are going to continue to be part of that,” Elias said.
“I think I’ve said all along that the organization is going to have to do business in a manner that is more balancing of the present and the future than perhaps it had in the past. This is the nature of the competition that we’re in with these other teams and the rest of the league, and we have a tremendous amount of reinforcements, I believe, on the way that will continue to come up and help this team. And also, we’ve got another 24 hours or so before this trade deadline is expired.
“I am tremendously proud of and pleased with what our players and coaches have done so far this year. I’m looking forward to what they’re continuing to do. But ultimately, it’s my job to maintain the health of the organization. There are tradeoffs in that. In anything that we do, there are pros and cons, and I believe that having made this trade, the overall organization is stronger, and we’re going to be in a position to see what free agency brings us both for Trey and for us.”
Elias said he’s having a “full spectrum of conversations” regarding other trades, with the deadline arriving Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“Things are moving very fast around the industry,” he said. “I can’t prognosticate anything right now, other than we’re listening and working on all types of possibilities.”
The wild card race won’t factor into it. Otherwise, Mancini would be staying.
“I think the .500 record that we have, the winning last couple of months that we have, the momentum that we have, has made this a much more difficult decision and a much more complicated trade deadline than it would have been, or any of the past ones have been,” Elias said. “But ultimately, I have to tether my decisions to our outlook and the probabilities for this year. We have a shot at a wild card right now, but it is not a probability that we are going to win a wild card. We have all different ways of looking at that. And moves that we can make that can strengthen our chances for next season and the season beyond and the one beyond that are something that we have to continue to consider despite the tremendous progress that our players have made this year, and our coaches have made. And so ultimately, that’s why we did it.
“We’re getting two upside pitching prospects back. I think Seth Johnson, getting him healthy, projects as a mid-rotation starter, and he has since the draft. And this is something that, you don’t get opportunities like this if they’re not difficult, and ultimately we decided to make this trade, but it certainly is a bittersweet moment and it’s very emotional for me personally, and all of us saying goodbye to Trey for the next couple of months.
“I love the guy. I am so happy that he’s going to a team that is going to treat him well. It’s going to be a fun city and ballpark and lineups to play in. And I think is going to give him a chance to win a World Series. And we’ll see where it goes after that.”
Seeing Mancini go was tough on his teammates.
“It sucks,” said Ryan Mountcastle, who no longer shares first base with Mancini. “He was a great friend, great teammate, great person. I’m going to miss him and I’m wishing him the best, and hopefully, he enjoys it up there.
“He’s a focal point of our lineup. He’s in the top of the lineup every day and he’s doing a great job. It’s going to be a little bit of a blow, but hopefully, we pick it up, and, yeah, it just sucks.”
“We all know what Trey means to us,” said closer Jorge López. “He’s a guy whose been through a lot, and since the first day I didn’t know what it was or what (he had) going on. I really got close to him. … From the bottom of my heart, he is something I feel is close to what I have been. Not only me but my son (Mikael). It was a really special moment where, unfortunately … we have to reflect on how the business goes.
“We just lost one of the best, greatest teammates and one of the best players. I feel so happy for him because he will have great time this year. … He will be an inspiration. Health is first, always. … We just give him a big hug and now we need to face him next week. The game is going like that. It’s crazy, but it’s something you’ve got to know the game. But, like I said, a lot of emotions. We’ve got a really good friend now, but he’s going be on the other team. He will be good.”
Hyde said it wasn’t easy sitting down with Mancini and informing him of the trade. Someone he considers a good friend. Someone he relied on for more than run production.
“I think that Trey has been such an important part of our lives since I’ve been here,” Hyde said. “A big part of Baltimore and a big part of this community. It’s hard to see someone like him go. A close friend to so many people here, so, yeah, it wasn’t fun. Like you think it wouldn’t be. But I’m happy for him and the opportunity he’s going to have. But it’s hard to say goodbye.
“When you say goodbye to a friend or someone you’re close with, that sucks, but this is part of the game. This is something that we know. One day we’re going to be three games up in the division, and things change. But it’s obviously still sinking in that he’s not going to be here, even though we knew there’s always a possibility of people not being here. You take it the best you possibly can. You move on. You go from there. You wish Trey the best.
“Hope he goes off in Houston, except when he plays us twice. We’ll be watching him. So, hopefully, we’re going to play well on our end and we’ll be rooting for him as well.
Note: The Orioles didn’t sign third-round selection Nolan McLean, a right-hander from Oklahoma State. They’ll receive a compensation pick.