Trey Mancini already is embracing a versatile role with the Chicago Cubs.
Mancini’s experience at first base, both corner outfield spots and designated hitter gives manager David Ross options for how to use the 30-year-old.
Mancini is the eighth free agent the Cubs signed to a major-league deal since Dec. 14.
“I have never played with any of the other guys that were signed by the Cubs this offseason, but I played against them and have such a high respect for all of them,” Mancini said Monday during his introductory video conference. “That’s a huge step and a huge message that maybe this won’t be a long process, and I think we can get things turned around really quickly.”
The Cubs felt like the right fit for Mancini throughout the free-agent process. He attributed it to his Midwestern ties, having played three seasons at Notre Dame before the Baltimore Orioles picked him in the eighth round of the 2013 draft.
Mancini’s first experience at Wrigley Field came in 2004, when he went to a few games that summer with one of his best friends. He wore a goatee giveaway in honor of then-Cubs pitcher Matt Clement to one game.
The Cubs’ addition of first baseman Eric Hosmer didn’t diminish Mancini’s and the team’s interest in each other. Mancini knows where he plays — or if he is even in the lineup — will depend on the opposing starting pitcher, which Ross conveyed to him during a phone conversation. The left-handed-hitting Hosmer and right-handed-hitting Mancini provide platoon options at first base and DH.
Mancini, who signed a two-year, $14 million deal with an opt-out after 2023 if he reaches 350 plate appearances, also can fill in for Ian Happ or Seiya Suzuki if Ross wants to give either outfielder a day off or get them off their feet as the DH. Mancini is the type of player an improved Cubs roster needs: a consistent hitter with an above-league-average OPS+ who can play multiple positions while providing a strong clubhouse presence.
“I told him: ‘I don’t care where I play at all, I just like playing. Wherever you want me, I’m there,’” Mancini recalled of his talk with Ross.
Ross will have opportunities to see how Mancini matches up best within the lineup during Cactus League games.
It appeared Mancini was going to miss a chunk of spring training because he planned to play in the World Baseball Classic for Team Italy. However, after discussing it with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and the Cubs front office, Mancini will not play in the WBC.
He decided to spend the entire camp with his new team to prepare for the season. The travel would have added to the hectic schedule. Italy is slated for pool play March 8-13 in Taiwan, and if it advances to the quarterfinals, it would play March 15 or 16 in Tokyo.
“We thought it might behoove me to be there the whole time with the team, especially since I’m going to be a more veteran presence in the clubhouse,” Mancini said. “I knew going into free agency, 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 the spring.
“So that’s on me for not holding off (on committing to play in the WBC) until I knew what situation I was going into.”
Mancini is coming off a World Series title with the Houston Astros after the Orioles traded him Aug. 1. He played well initially for his new team, hitting six home runs in his first 18 games, but struggled in September, especially down the stretch when he hit .132/.231/.279 over his final 21 regular-season games.
His slump continued into the postseason in a platoon role. He was 0-for-18 until he singled in the Astros’ World Series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
That was Mancini’s first start of the World Series. He was called on to replace Yuli Gurriel, who suffered a postseason-ending injury the previous game.
“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,” Mancini said. “That’s something I knew even before that, but especially whenever you’re going through it, it’s tough.
“But you have to stay the course because your number is going to be called when you least expected, and that’s what happened. … You’ve got to be ready every time.”
Last year marked the first time Mancini felt fully recovered since beating Stage 3 colon cancer that sidelined him in 2020. His leg strength took the longest to return, and the offseason after the 2021 season helped him get back to normal.
“It definitely took a toll on my strength and my legs, and as the season goes on, it can be reflective of that,” Mancini said. “Your legs are extremely important to hitting and everything you do, so having my legs back under me is pretty important.”
Mancini has reached out to White Sox reliever Liam Hendriks as he undergoes treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I wanted him to know I have some advice, at least on what makes you feel better during chemo and how to get through it a little bit better,” Mancini said.
Mancini considers this a second chance after defeating a high-risk, aggressive cancer that initially muddied his outlook.
“I haven’t changed a lot as a player — it’s all the same intensity,” Mancini said. “I still really want to do well and contribute and be a huge impact on the team.
“But it does make you realize what a real problem is and what a baseball problem is and you can get through any of them. It’s given me a lot of perspective.”