Astros’ Will Smith, Trey Mancini Become Free Agents

Left-hander Will Smith and first baseman Trey Mancini were both included on the MLBPA’s latest update of players reaching free agency, indicating that the options on their contracts with the Astros weren’t picked up. In Smith’s case, that means the team declined a $13MM club option in favor of a $1MM buyout. Mancini, meanwhile, had a $10MM mutual option with a $250K buyout. It’s not clear yet whether Mancini or the team declined their end of that arrangement, but the result is the same: Mancini will become a free agent for the first time in his career.

Smith, acquired in a deadline swap that sent veteran righty Jake Odorizzi to the Braves, was a buy-low pickup for the ’Stros that paid dividends down the stretch. Smith, 33, carried a 4.38 ERA, career-worst 12.3% walk rate and a grisly 1.70 HR/9 at the time of the trade but immediately righted the ship in Houston. In 22 innings as an Astro, Smith logged a 3.27 ERA with a 26.7% strikeout rate and a vastly improved 4.4% walk rate.

While Smith didn’t pitch for Houston in the postseason, the benefit to the trade isn’t limited to the regular season. By flipping Odorizzi to the Braves, the Astros dodged a potentially pricey player option. Odorizzi’s workload boosted the value of his 2023 player option to $12.5MM, although a $6.25MM buyout might be hefty enough that he’ll still opt to return to free agency. Regardless, Houston isn’t on the hook for that potential outcome, which is a plus for them given that they already possess at least five big league starters for the 2023 season — Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy — and likely hope to retain Justin Verlander.

As for Mancini, his stint with the ’Stros will be short-lived and go down as something of a disappointment. The longtime Orioles slugger has been one of the game’s feel-good stories over the past two seasons, in the wake of his inspirational return from a Stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis in 2020. He was a productive hitter in his season and a half with Baltimore following that comeback, slashing .260/.334/.421 with 31 home runs, 49 doubles and a pair of triples in 1017 plate appearances.

Mancini was in something of a slump at the time of the trade to Houston, however, and he never managed to hit his way out of that lull. Inconsistent playing time may have played a role, but Mancini’s .176/.258/.364 batting line as an Astro is clearly sub-par. He also fanned at a 26.3% clip in Houston — considerably higher than the roughly 22% clip he’d logged in the two-plus prior seasons. That said, Mancini did mash eight home runs in 186 plate appearances, so he at least provided the ’Stros with some occasional thump, even if the overall results were miles from his career .265/.330/.457 output.

The Astros are still waiting on what will be far and away their most important option decision —  that of Verlander. The 2023 Cy Young favorite has a $25MM player option for the 2023 season that he’s widely expected to decline, though it certainly remains possible that  the two parties explore a reunion at what would figure to be much heavier terms.

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