On August 1, the Astros acquired the services of Trey Mancini from the Orioles to help solidify their sometimes streaky lineup. Hitting .268/.347/.404 with 10 home runs with Baltimore, the biggest question about Mancini’s status was which position he would play to get his bat in the lineup. As noted here by MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, Houston stated the former Oriole would be a bench player. Based on his playing time since the trade, it seems that management intends to follow through with this plan.
Including today’s start at DH, Mancini will have appeared in eight of the nine games he could play since the Astros acquired him, hitting three home runs in 19 plate appearances. But he was limited to a pinch hitter role in three of those eight appearances, which doesn’t feel like the best allocation of his abilities. With a 114 wRC+ leading up to the trade deadline, he sure doesn’t have the appearance of a hitter who should primarily be delegated to mostly part-time duty. That is the confounding part of the Astros’ plan to designate him as a bench player, especially with Michael Brantley still out with what the club has termed for now as a right shoulder injury.
I think it is fair to say that Mancini should start on most days, possibly roving around a couple of positions depending on the particular matchup and which pitcher is on the mound. For example, you can probably hide him in left field, especially at Minute Maid Park, when more ground ball-oriented starters like Framber Valdez are on the mound. It is worth remembering that Yordan Alvarez has played in left field sparingly following his on-and-off bout with right-hand soreness, which keeps the slugger as the DH in most games. That said, left field in road ballparks with more fly ball-oriented starters is probably worth avoiding.
First base, however, is another option to consider, especially with Yuli Gurriel continuing to struggle at the plate. What looked like a possible rebound in July (119 wRC+) as the two-hole hitter has given way to a terrible August (-10 wRC+) for the veteran first baseman. His performance with runners on base (57 wRC+) or in scoring position (23 wRC+) has created an unfortunate weakness atop the lineup in recent games. Yes, the standard small sample disclaimer applies to some of this discourse, but it isn’t any less concerning. At a certain point, the Astros have to decide what to do with Gurriel if the results aren’t there. While I know they value his defensive presence, the trade-off in that department is arguably worth it when you’re upgrading to Mancini’s bat.
In any case, the Astros will need to become creative to keep Mancini’s bat in the lineup on most days. Will they? That is the pressing question as the postseason draws near.