This past season could not have gone much worse for Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah.
After posting a Cy Young finalist-worthy season during his sophomore campaign (2.24 ERA through 31 starts), the 2023 Opening Day starter struggled mightily out of the gate to stay consistent, giving up five earned runs in his first start of the year against the St. Louis Cardinals and followed that up with a seven-inning shutout performance over the Kansas City Royals. By the end of April, the right-hander owned a 4.88 ERA and was struggling with his command, owning a 62% strike rate while walking 20 batters through 31 1/3 innings.
That trend carried on into May and by the middle of June, the Blue Jays had seen enough and sent Manoah down to Dunedin, to go back to the pitching lab at their state-of-the-art player development complex. He returned a month later to make six more starts before being sent down again, although to controversy as he didn’t necessarily report to Buffalo immediately as he underwent some medical tests, which were later revealed to be injections in his shoulder to combat fatigue and soreness. He wouldn’t appear in any games to finish out the season.
Blue Jays and the possibility of trading Alek Manoah
Fast forward to the offseason and a report from Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic has noted that rival executives believe (or know) the Blue Jays are open to moving Alek Manoah this winter in order to address some of the offensive woes the club struggled with this past season. While the narrative makes sense given the “outside-looking-in” perspective of the player/club relationship towards the end of the season, there are numerous reasons why moving Manoah at this time really doesn’t make all that much sense.
For starters, the Blue Jays have an open rotation spot heading into Spring Training and for all intents and purposes, that is Manoah’s role to lose. The Jays will most likely not be bringing back southpaw Hyun Jin-Ryu and unless the front office brings in another external option, Manoah has a leg-up on the rest of the internal candidates, a sentiment that Atkins himself acknowledged earlier this month. Considering the Blue Jays need bats over arms, that seems less than likely this offseason.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 19, 2023
Last season, the Blue Jays starting corps ranked well across the board, authoring a 3.85 ERA (third in the league) while striking out 922 batters (second) and appearing in 894 2/3 innings (fifth), all while including Manoah and his rough outings. The number of innings pitched is also a testament to the other Jays starters, as the remaining four each made 31+ starts on the year while Manoah and Ryu split a majority of the rest. If Manoah was able to find something near his 2022 form this past season, the Jays rotation would no doubt be one of the top cores in the league.
Considering Manoah is just one season removed from a Cy Young worthy campaign, it would be tough to trade away a talented pitcher with four years of contract control remaining just because he had one rough campaign. This especially comes on the heels of what José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi put forth last year, although one could argue their veteran experience compared to Manoah gives them a bit more leeway. Also, one could argue that having such a healthy pitching staff seems to be a bit more of an anomaly compared to the norm, especially with the introduction of the pitch clock and with so many talented arms undergoing Tommy John or other elbow/arm-related surgeries as of late. Removing an additional starter like Manoah doesn’t give the Jays that depth to manage with should the Jays not get as many starts from their rotation than what they were spoiled with last year.
Blue Jays and the current starting depth
If the Jays were to trade away Manoah, the depth behind him within the organization isn’t as deep as one would hope for.
Heading into Spring Training, the likely candidates outside of Manoah for a rotation spot include Mitch White, Bowden Francis, and Wes Parsons. The Jays have top prospect Ricky Tiedemann also likely on the docket, although throwing him into the fire out of Spring Training seems like a risky move considering he dealt with injuries last season and has just one start under his belt at triple-A.
Personally, I see White and Francis more so in the long-man position in the relief corps, especially with how well Francis did out of the bullpen this past year. Considering White will be DFA’d again unless he makes the big league club, I don’t see him beating out Manoah for a rotation spot unless he really struggles this spring and a spot in the bullpen is more likely, which at this time doesn’t seem like a lock over the current options in that area. Parsons is the Jays likely “next in line” candidate to start the year but again, not ahead of Manoah at this time.
Stranger things have happened (Manoah being an exception early in his career) but the Jays don’t need to rush Tiedemann to the big leagues at this time, with a likely summer callup more likely if he continues to deal in triple-A out of the gate. Factor in that Kikuchi is a free agent after next season and Chris Bassitt is free-agent eligible after 2025 and there are rotation spots available for both Manoah and Tiedemann as well in the long run.
Manoah and the trade value
Another aspect of a potential Manoah trade is that his value isn’t necessarily at its highest but it also isn’t at its lowest when it comes to what the Jays would be able to acquire in a trade.
The Blue Jays know what they have in their former first-round pick – a gritty right-hander who bull-rushed his way to the big leagues in a chaotic few years that has seen his fair share of successes and failures in the MLB. Tag on his additional years of contract control, which are worth their weight in gold in this day and age, and the Blue Jays won’t be (or at least should not be) selling cheaply on their former top prospect.
The trade value for Manoah would obviously be higher after his stellar 2022 season but there really isn’t a need to trade him at this time when the Jays can find offense elsewhere (namely the free-agent market). This isn’t similar to when the Jays traded Gabriel Moreno last winter, as the Jays had two other MLB-experienced catchers on the roster compared to the thinner starting depth currently within the farm system, but the potential of a trade not working in the club’s favour is in play if Manoah does indeed find his form from past seasons ago and the Jays run into issues with their starting rotation from either a performance or an injury standpoint this season.
Alek Manoah, Vicious 82mph Slider. 😤
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 29, 2023
The drawback to trading Manoah this winter compared to the trade deadline or next winter is his stock could drop further, a risk that his struggles from 2023 carry over into 2024 and the relationship between club and player deteriorates further. It would be somewhat similar to when the Blue Jays decided to not move Josh Donaldson in the 2017/2018 offseason and gambled for him to play well with the option to later trade him at the deadline, a move that backfired when Donaldson struggled to stay healthy and further dropped his trade stock by mid-summer (yielding only Julian Merryweather in return).
Blue Jays and the Manoah conclusion
In reality, every player can realistically be traded if the right offer presents itself besides the exceptional few superstars around the league, so it is quite possible that Manoah could be moved this winter in the right deal. That being said, there are associated risks with moving a player like Manoah, especially since the Jays have seen both the highs and lows of what he is capable of and a deal could certainly bode in their favour or come back to bite them depending on which version of the right-hander shows up this upcoming spring.
At the end of the day, the Jays don’t necessarily need to trade Manoah and given their starting rotation (and looking into the future) and the controllable years, a deal doesn’t need to be forced by any means. The other side of the coin is, can the Jays leverage losing the right-hander, gamble on a different fifth starter, and the bat they acquire in exchange pushes them over the edge and finally gives the Jays their first playoff win since 2016?
That is the question left to be answered.
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Title: Alek Manoah trade rumours and the risk involved for the Blue Jays
Author: Tyson Shushkewich