Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines indispensable as, “absolutely necessary,” listing one of its synonyms as essential.
So, when Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com named Trey Mancini as the Orioles’ most indispensable player going into 2019, I had to pause. Is Trey Mancini the most essential player on the roster of the 2019 Orioles? I thought. That can’t be. Still, Castrovince did offer a very solid explanation for this choice:
“Somebody had to fill Adam Jones’ vacant locker at the Orioles’ Spring Training complex, and the 26-year-old Mancini was the guy. Mancini is a solid player who finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2017. But his status as one of the elder statesman on this roster is, ultimately, an indictment of the roster. That’s just where we are with the Orioles right now.”
Castrovince is right here in a myriad of ways. Yes, it is true Mancini was given Jones’ old locker, perhaps as a symbol of the Orioles’ desire for him to be their leader in 2019. He even continued Jones’ tradition of ordering Popeyes chicken for the clubhouse after the first Spring Training game. And, yes, Mancini is indeed one of the older statesman on this roster, going by both years of major league experience and time with the Orioles. And, yes, Mancini being the Orioles’ most essential player does speak to state of the overall organization.
As Ben Hansford at Camden Chat wrote last month, “The Orioles want Trey Mancini to be their leader.” But then he considered whether that is really fair and necessary to him. Here’s what Hansford had to say:
“In a sense, it is almost not fair to Mancini. A life-long first baseman, he [is] still learning how to play left field. It goes without saying that learning a position at the highest level is not easy and takes a lot of work. He will also need to focus on getting his offensive game back to where it was in 2017. His 2018 numbers fell across the board and he registered 1.6 fewer oWAR. On top of all that, he will now be expected to be a mentor and leader, which may not even be something that comes naturally to his personality.”
I don’t disagree with any of Castrovince’s (or Hansford’s) points in regards to Mancini, but I still wonder whether Mancini is the most essential player to the 2019 Orioles.
Leadership is undeniably important, and if Mancini is able to successfully mentor younger players, that will help the Orioles in both the short- and long-term. Of course, that is clearly essential to a rebuilding organization, one that does not need to prioritize wins now in hopes that they can develop players for wins later.
The issue is, though, the chief priority for every baseball team — at any level — is to win games. Yes, not every player on Castrovince’s list is each team’s best player; that would be too simple of a definition for “indispensable.” But, with the exception of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (who did not appear at the major league level), every player not named Trey Mancini on Castrovince’s list posted a positive fWAR in 2018. Those players are clearly essential to this chief priority of winning games. It’s still hard to say whether Mancini will be essential to that cause for the Orioles in 2019.
Last season, Mancini hit just .242/.299/.416 (93 wRC+) with 24 home runs and 58 RBIs, playing generally poor defense to go alongside his below-average bat. As alluded to in the previous paragraph, Mancini posted a -0.2 fWAR. He was better in 2017, though, with a .293/.338/.488 line that resulted in a 118 wRC+ and a +1.7 fWAR. If Mancini can recapture some of those 2017 hits in 2019, then, yes, he could be a positive contributor on the field.
The projection systems all think that Mancini is indeed due for some positive regression. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts system, for one, sees Mancini hitting for a .259/.314/.447 line in 2019, good for an above-league-average 105 wRC+. This positive offensive output contributes to what this system sees as a +1.1 fWAR in 2019.
But if we were to truly evaluate “most essential” as the player who is projected to be the best player on the Orioles, that title would no longer belong to Mancini. Instead, it would go to Dylan Bundy, the Orioles’ former first round pick and up-and-down major league starter, or Alex Cobb, who was brought in as a free agent last offseason. Both are projected to produce 1.7 fWAR in 2019.
If we then look at our three options — Bundy, Cobb and Mancini — and ask ourselves, which of these three players is most important for both the Orioles’ short- and long-term goals? I think Bundy is our answer. At just 26 years old, he’s still young enough to make the necessary strides for sustained success, while also potentially being a long-term solution in the Orioles’ plans.
Yes, both Bundy and Cobb are free agents at the end of the 2021 season, but Bundy provides much more potential upside. This is key because even if the Orioles don’t have Bundy headlining their future contending rotation, he could still be valuable to their ultimate plans. If he somehow figures out how to reach his one-time enormous potential, Bundy, at a minimum, could be used as trade bait in order to acquire prospects that furthers the Orioles’ vision. At a maximum, he signs an extension to stay in Baltimore and does end up pitching for the next Orioles’ contender. (In late-2012, Bundy was ranked as the No. 2 propsect in all of baseball, behind just Jurickson Profar and immediately ahead of Manny Machado.)
That’s why, in my mind, Dylan Bundy — not Trey Mancini — is the Orioles’ most indispensable player in 2019. If the Orioles want to achieve both their short and long-term goals, they need this to be the year for Bundy to step up and finally reach his potential as a frontline starter.
(Note: Yes, it is Spring Training, but no, it is not looking good for Bundy so far.)
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.