Trey Mancini met with the media via Zoom on Monday for the first time since officially signing with the Cubs on a two-year deal Friday.
Mancini discussed multiple topics during the roughly 17-minute call, including his free agency, his 2022 season, the lessons he learned from his battle with colon cancer and more. And throughout the call, he made it clear why he felt strongly about signing with the Cubs at this point in his career.
“The Cubs were a team the whole time that we thought would be a great fit for me,” Mancini said. “I have a lot of Midwest roots and went to college nearby [at Notre Dame]. And the team, too. It just seemed like a great fit. A team where I could move around in the different positions I played in my career, whether it be first, outfield, DH. I’m always down for any of them, good to play wherever they want me.
“I thought the team would be a great fit, and with the moves that we’ve made this offseason, it’s a really exciting team to play for moving forward.”
After the introductory chat with Mancini, here are four things to know about the newest Cub:
1. He has a team-first mentality
On Aug. 31, Team Italy manager Mike Piazza announced some of the players who’d committed to play for the national team during the World Baseball Classic. Among them was Mancini.
But Mancini revealed Monday that, after talking with members of the Cubs’ front office, he won’t be playing for Team Italy after all.
“That’s partly my fault, because I knew going into free agency, being on a new team, a lot of times when you’re around a new team and wanting to get to know the guys, it’s important to be there all of spring,” Mancini said. “So, that’s on me for not holding off until I knew what situation I was going into.”
It’s a tough opportunity to pass up considering how few opportunities players get to play in the WBC, but for Mancini, being at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa, Ariz., for all of spring training felt more important. And as far as leadership goes, that’s another example of how bringing in Mancini can benefit this clubhouse.
Playing in the WBC would’ve involved leaving spring training for an extended stretch of time. Mancini understood how that could’ve affected him getting to know his new teammates. He hasn’t played with anyone on the Cubs’ roster in his career, so leaving the team would’ve cost him valuable time with his new group.
“With me going to a new team, we thought it might behoove me to be there the whole time with the team, especially since I’m going to be a kind of more veteran presence in the clubhouse,” Mancini said. “It probably will be better for me to stay there all spring and get to know the guys and be there.”
He’ll also set an example with his willingness to move around the field. While Mancini’s signing will shake up the Cubs’ first-base outlook to begin the year, he can also play the corner outfield spots if need be. So, even though bringing in Eric Hosmer initially made it seem like the Cubs were out on Mancini, he’s more than willing to play wherever the team needs them to.
Mancini could’ve possibly found a place with more guaranteed playing time at a certain position elsewhere. But like a true professional, that didn’t affect his desire to move to the North Side and bring his veteran presence to this clubhouse.
“That’s going to be my role is moving around,” Mancini said. “It’ll probably depend on who’s pitching on the other team. Where I’m playing is going to depend on that, and that’s what [Cubs manager David Ross] told me when I talked to him on the phone. And I told him, ‘I don’t care where I play at all. I just like playing. Wherever you want me, I’m there.'”
2. He brings a different perspective
Almost three years ago, Mancini’s life changed forever. And no, unlike the rest of the world, it wasn’t specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 7, 2020, Mancini left Orioles’ camp to undergo a non-baseball medical procedure. Five days later, the team announced that Mancini underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon. And then, on April 28 of that year, Mancini revealed he had been undergoing chemotherapy to treat stage 3 colon cancer.
Mancini was successful in his fight against cancer (though he did miss all of the 60-game 2020 season), and he now has a different perspective on the game that, at the end of the day, really is just a game.
“Before I went through any of that, baseball slumps were the biggest issue I had ever faced in my life,” Mancini said. “I’m lucky to say that that was the biggest problem that I had, but it puts a lot of things in perspective.”
Despite all of those hurdles, Mancini said the way he approaches the game hasn’t changed. He still has “the same intensity, still really want to do well and contribute and be a huge impact on the team.” He still has “the same exact drive and will to do well as a player.”
Mancini said he finally felt back to his old self early in the 2022 season, when his leg strength got back to where he felt fully healthy physically. And because of that, he’s found the ability to keep that same mental approach to playing the game that he’d had even prior to his diagnosis.
“It does make you realize what a real problem is and what a baseball problem is,” Mancini said of battling cancer. “You can get through any of them.”
3. He’s looking for a bounce-back 2023
Mancini doesn’t deny that he had a rough second half of 2022. Whereas he posted a 116 wRC+ in 401 plate appearances with Baltimore, his 186 post-trade plate appearances with Houston resulted in a 77 wRC+. That then extended into the postseason, when he slashed .048/.125/.048 in eight games during the Astros’ World Series title run.
“I think with everything going to a new place, I handled it all well,” Mancini said. “It was just kind of unfortunately slumped at the wrong time and got into some bad habits at the plate mechanically. … You have to stick through those tough times, and even when you’re not feeling great, you’re playing for something much bigger than yourself.”
Now, he’s looking forward to getting back on track in 2023.
Mancini said new Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly reached out to him Monday morning, and they’ll reconnect in the next couple of days to talk about his offseason work as well as the hitting group’s plans for him.
“I always love talking hitting, hearing different people’s perspectives on hitting,” Mancini said. “It’s one of my favorite things. So, I’m really excited to get to know him and talk to him about all that.”
It’s cliche to talk about baseball players and a change of scenery, but it can often be what helps struggling players regain their form. For Mancini, moving to a different home ballpark may have that desired positive effect.
Mancini said that he’s at his best when he’s “sticking in the center of the field.” His pull rate had stayed mostly level in the mid-30 percents throughout his career, but in 2022, he pulled the ball a career-high 45 percent of the time (per FanGraphs). Unfortunately for him, that came in a season when the left-field wall at Camden Yards being raised and moved further away from home plate. It didn’t tank his numbers, but he still wasn’t a huge fan of the field’s new dimensions.
“I was pulling the ball pretty decently, but that didn’t coincide well with the wall in Baltimore,” Mancini said. “I wasn’t thrilled with the change. … As a right-handed hitter, it kind of crushed me.”
Now, Mancini is moving to a park that may better fit who he wants to be as a hitter. Take a look at the spray charts below (Camden Yards on the left, Wrigley Field on the right), and you can easily see that the dimensions of the Cubs’ ballpark would’ve played better for Mancini last season.
Wrigley Field’s left-field wall is closer to home plate than Camden Yards’, so that would theoretically have led to more hits. But that isn’t necessarily where Mancini wants his offensive rebound to come from.
Again, he pulled the ball at rate far higher in 2022 than in any other season of his career. Mancini said he’s been working to get back to hitting more balls into the gaps and getting away from that tendency to pull the ball. That will continue to be a focus for him moving forward, and he hopes his new home park will help that approach.
“I think Wrigley is very well-suited for that,” Mancini said. “When I’m gap to gap, not trying to pull the ball too much, that’s where I’ve got to live there, and that’s what I’ve really been trying to get back to, especially this offseason. If there’s anything that I was addressing, it’s that. Hitting the ball to right-center with authority. For whatever reason, I wasn’t doing it last year.”
4. He has a priceless Wrigley memory
It wasn’t until last July that Mancini got his first opportunity to play at Wrigley Field, getting the start as the designated hitter in both games of a two-game set between the Orioles and Cubs.
That, however, wasn’t the first time he’s ever gotten to take in a game at the Friendly Confines.
He said that back in the summer of 2004, a 12-year-old Mancini traveled to a couple of games at Wrigley Field with a friend he described as a die-hard Cubs fan. On one occasion, the giveaway for fans was a goatee in honor of then-Cubs starting pitcher Matt Clement’s distinct facial hair.
Here’s a picture of a young Mancini with the giveaway goatee on:
And here are some of Clement rocking the real thing:
As hilarious as it is seeing 12-year-old Mancini with a fake goatee, the feeling of being at Wrigley Field has always stuck with him. He’ll now get the chance to soak in that environment for more than just a few games at a time.
“The place was magical, and I remember that as a kid,” Mancini said. “It’s hard to replicate that feeling. When I was in the AL, I’d always say Fenway has a certain feel about it. And I’d say the same thing about Wrigley. I finally was able to get to play there this past [July]. Just incredible. I mean, what a great place. So excited that it’s my home park now.”