The Blue Jays aren’t going to give starting pitcher Alek Manoah away – especially since his value is almost certainly the lowest it has been since the team made him a first-round pick in 2019.
But that doesn’t mean the Jays won’t listen to trade offers for the big right-hander after a struggling and fractious season that twice saw Manoah demoted from the big league roster and a resulting disconnect with the front office..
The off-season buzz surrounding Manoah is beginning to heat up with a report that the Jays are “open” to moving the 2022 American League Cy Young finalist if the return is right. That’s a big ‘if’, of course, but The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that rival general managers have told him that the Jays have at least given the indication they would be willing to deal Manoah.
This is the height of rumour season around Major League Baseball, where any and all transactions can drift into he discussion as teams wait for free agent action to pick up. So any talk has to be viewed in the light of that caveat and the fact that agents and those “rival” GMs may have their own agendas to push.
But the discourse around Manoah seems rooted in the fallout between the pitcher and the front office, particularly in how his demotions were received during a 2023 season that went south from the start.
Toronto general manager Ross Atkins acknowledged the difficulties between front office and player during his season-ending press conference back in October.
“Any time a pitcher of his success is optioned, it’s a very difficult thing to stomach and he disagreed with the decision,” Atkins said, acknowledging that there was tension between the two sides. “So that created some frustration.”
It did that, particularly on the second occasion when he was sent down to Buffalo and initially didn’t report to the triple-A team and then never ended up throwing a pitch for the Bisons. Late in the season, the Jays leaked news that Manoah had injections on his shoulder, a procedure Atkins said was initiated by the pitcher and not the team.
Manoah hasn’t said a word publicly, which certainly adds to the intrigue of his status with the team that had elevated him to opening day starter last season only to see him pitch his way off of the roster. He’s been a highly motivated pitcher throughout his career and social media posts have shown a leaner looking Manoah working out this fall.
As Rosenthal notes in his report, any interest the Jays would have in moving Manoah would be in part due to the need to replace position players and add some offence.
With Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield, Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Belt all free agents and a weak market out there to replace them, Atkins has no choice but to explore the trade route to bring in bodies with bats that can help regenerate the team’s lagging offence.
Interestingly, the Jays haven’t been shy about talking up the virtues of Manoah, an attempt to create the impression they expect big things from him in 2024. On one hand, they might believe it – Atkins suggestion that Manoah has a “leg up” on the fifth starter spot. On the other, they may believe they have starting pitching depth – hello, Ricky Tiedemann, the Arizona Fall League’s pitcher of the year – that it’s as good a time as any to pump up Manoah’s trade value.
In his bizarre Thanksgiving weekend press conference, Atkins practically gushed about the prospects of Manoah returning to the form that had his career soaring.
“I’m excited for next year for Alek,” the enthusiastic GM said. “I think he’s extremely motivated. This year just got off to a rough start … we weren’t just able to get him in a position that he was one of our better alternatives for the rotation.
“I’m excited for him for next year and very much looking forward to him being back in our rotation.
“He was been motivated to get back to form. I’ve seen him with his back to the wall in his career when he was an amateur and how he responded to that. I expect him to respond to that in a very powerful way in the course of the off season.”
As far as the speculation goes, for the Jays to move on from Manoah it would take one of two things: An incredible offer or a conclusion that the relationship with the two sides is too fractured to repair.
The last thing the team wants to do is sell on a player that a year ago was viewed as the ace of the staff and a driven dude who still has four more seasons of club control remaining.