The Blue Jays have heard from teams looking to buy low on right-hander Alek Manoah following a disastrous 2023 season throughout the winter, but Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets that the Jays have been telling interested parties they expect Manoah to be in the 2024 rotation and do not plan to move him.
By now, the highs and lows of Manoah’s 2022-23 campaigns are well-documented. The right-hander finished third in American League Cy Young voting as recently as 2022, pitching to a pristine 2.24 earned run average while fanning 22.9% of his opponents against a 6.5% walk rate. He made 31 starts, totaled 196 2/3 innings, and was named to his first All-Star team that year. The 2023 season was the polar opposite; Manoah’s velocity, strikeout rate and walk rate all went in the wrong direction. His home run rate doubled. His opponents’ average exit velocity jumped by two miles per hour, while their hard-hit rate spiked from 31.5% to 44.4%.
Manoah was optioned to the minors multiple times throughout the 2023 season — a notion that would’ve been unthinkable entering the year. The right-hander underwent a slate of medical exams after being optioned for the final time, but no major injury was uncovered. He wound up finishing out the season with a grisly 5.87 ERA in just 87 1/3 frames. Manoah’s final big league start came on Aug. 10.
Throughout the offseason, Manoah’s name has popped up in various trade rumors. That’s plenty understandable, as even if the 2023 season represents a clear rock-bottom for the talented righty, he’s only a year removed from being on the opposite end of that spectrum. Manoah also just turned 26 years old in January, and he’s controllable for another four years before he can become a free agent. Even if the Jays (or a trade partner) never get him back to that peak 2022 form, there’s an appealing middle ground where Manoah could be a strong mid-rotation arm at an affordable rate for several years.
For the Blue Jays, the upside of keeping Manoah has clearly outweighed the temptation to pursue a change of scenery. That’s likely due both to belief in the pitcher himself and the offers and names discussed with other clubs in trade talks. Interested parties were undoubtedly trying to acquire Manoah at something of a discounted rate in light of last year’s struggles. The Jays, presumably, retained a lofty asking price given the affordability, remaining club control and ceiling of the pitcher.
Beyond the general difficulty of lining up on asking price in such a volatile buy-low situation, the Jays simply aren’t teeming with rotation depth. Assuming Manoah is in the starting five to begin the season, he’ll join Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi to round out the group.
It’s a solid quintet but one with its own question marks even beyond Manoah. Berrios’ 2022 season was similar to Manoah’s 2023 campaign; in 32 starts he was tagged for an uncharacteristic 5.23 ERA with the highest home-run rate and lowest strikeout rate of his career. He bounced back in ’23 (3.65 ERA in 189 2/3 innings), but his ’22 struggles are surely still in the back of the Jays’ minds. Meanwhile, Kikuchi is something of a wild card. The 32-year-old lefty is clearly a talented arm but has had a roller-coaster MLB tenure. At his best, he’s looked like a borderline top-of-the-rotation arm, but there have been low points where he’s pitched his way out of a rotation spot entirely. Between Manoah, Berrios and Kikuchi, there’s a volatile, broad-reaching range of potential outcomes.
The depth behind that group is also somewhat lacking. Left-hander Ricky Tiedemann is one of the top pitching prospects in the sport but tossed just 44 innings during the 2023 regular season — only four of which came in Triple-A. He tacked on another 18 innings in the Arizona Fall League, but he’s lacking upper-minors experience and will be on an innings cap to some extent in 2024. Righty Yariel Rodriguez, who agreed to a four-year, $32MM deal might be an eventual rotation option for Toronto, but he didn’t pitch in 2023 outside of a brief showing in the World Baseball Classic, and he was primarily a reliever during his most recent run with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.
The Jays have a trio of other right-handers on the 40-man roster who could conceivably serve as depth: Mitch White, Bowden Francis and Wes Parsons. But White’s roster spot could be in jeopardy this spring after he posted a 5.50 ERA in Triple-A last season and a 7.11 ERA in 12 2/3 MLB frames. He’s out of minor league options, so he’ll need to make the Opening Day club, likely as a long reliever/swingman, or else be designated for assignment. Francis, 28 in April, posted a sparkling 1.73 ERA with Toronto last year but worked exclusively out of the bullpen in the big leagues and made only seven minor league starts. He pitched a total of 66 1/3 innings in ’23. Parsons, 31, joined the Jays on a minor league deal after a two-year run in the KBO and posted a 4.52 ERA in 17 Triple-A starts before being rocked for nine runs in four innings during his lone MLB start.
Given the shaky nature of the team’s depth and the fact that 60 percent of the current MLB rotation has struggled to an ERA north of 5.00 in one of the past two seasons, it’s understandable if the Jays want to retain as much depth as possible. Couple that with what one can imagine have been lackluster offers from teams hoping to secure a bargain acquisition of Manoah, and it becomes all the easier to see why the Jays prefer to hang onto him. Any trade situation is fluid, of course, and it takes all of one phone call or text message with the right player’s name(s) to get earnest trade talks rolling. For now, however, it seems likely to anticipate Manoah will open the season in Toronto and look to reestablish himself as a viable cog in a talented but mercurial rotation.