Should O’s look to buy out some of Mancini’s free agent years?

Long before he beat cancer, the Orioles’ Trey Mancini had beaten the odds in a more traditional baseball sense. He was the kid that wanted to go a big school in Florida, but they didn’t want him, so he crafted a great career at Notre Dame. He was the kid that was a bit overlooked as an eighth-round draft pick. He was the kid that never was ranked in anyone’s top 100 prospects list.

But he would become the man that blossomed with a breakout big league season in 2019 and has become the face of the Orioles franchise. He was a beloved fan favorite even before his health scare.

There are many reasons for the Orioles to want to keep Mancini as an Oriole for a long time. But is that going to happen?

For the last couple of years, Mancini has had to answer questions about possibly being traded when the trade deadline came around. He has said repeatedly in every possible way that he loves being an Oriole and wants that to continue. listed his projected 2022 salary through arbitration at $7.9 million. Mancini can become a free agent at the end of the 2022 season.

So the time comes to ponder - sign him or trade him?

But there could also be this option - sign him and keep open the option to trade him later. Later could be during the 2022 season or the winter after or the next year or the next year. Just because a team would lock up a player for some number of his free agent years doesn’t mean they can’t later trade the same player. And while we often see deadline trades of players on expiring contracts, we also see teams with interest in players that are signed for a season or two beyond a free agent year. And those deals can bring more back to the team trading that player that is not a pending free agent.

Thumbnail image for Mancini-w-Bat-Bag-ST-sidebar.jpgPlease take none of this to mean I endorse a trade of Mancini. I don’t. But if the Orioles could work out a way to sign Mancini and buy out a free agent year, or several of them, perhaps in return they get the right to trade him at any time and avoid any no-trade clauses. It would just be a way for the team to keep all future options open.

Options that allow them to make adjustments later, whether later is 2022, 2023 or 2024, for instance. An adjustment they make when they find out which of their young hitters currently on the farm keep hitting in the majors. When their future lineup truly begins to come into focus. When they hopefully have some surplus of hitters that they fill other holes by trading some of them, whether they be young guys just starting out or a more veteran player like Mancini.

Last March, the Kansas City Royals locked up the face of their franchise. They signed catcher Salvador Pérez to a four-year deal for $82 million with a club option for fifth year at $13.5 million. Perez was an All-Star catcher several seasons for the Royals, but going into 2021, his career highs were 27 and 80 in homers and RBIs, respectively. Then he went out this year and rewarded them for the new contract by hitting 48 homers with 121 RBIs. Perez was 30 at the time he signed his new deal. Mancini turns 30 next March.

A similar deal for Mancini - and I’m very much just guessing here - might not be in the O’s comfort zone right now. That would mean signing Mancini and committing those dollars through his age-33 season with a four-year deal.

Then again, maybe it would be. Or maybe a lesser deal for two or three years is something worth looking at by the club and player this winter.

Mancini could be the exact guy to lead a group of young Orioles toward a better future. But looking at this from the team’s standpoint, having the ability to sign him to a longer deal while hanging onto the ability to make a deal later might provide the contract flexibility that makes a deal now more possible.

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