Heading into the 2024 season, the Toronto Blue Jays don’t have a dedicated fifth starter to round out the rotation.
It’s a similar situation to last spring when the Jays had Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White battle for the final starting spot. The Japanese southpaw ultimately got the job. White began the year on the IL, but Kikuchi had a strong spring and likely would have won the spot outright regardless.
This year, the Jays’ top four starters will be the same top four from the end of last season: Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos, and Kikuchi. With the departure of Hyun Jin Ryu, the fifth spot is technically up for grabs, although one pitcher has the inside track on the gig.
Can Alek Manoah Rejoin the Rotation?
Alek Manoah, the 2023 Opening Day starter, struggled mightily last season after a stellar 2022 campaign. In his third year in the big leagues, the right-hander posted a 5.87 ERA through 87 1/3 innings. He struggled with his command, giving up 6.08 BB/9 on the season.
To summarize, last season saw the former first-round pick get picked apart on the mound. His four-seam fastball was tagged to the tune of a .316 average, while he struggled to generate swing-and-miss on all of his offerings. Manoah produced a -21 pitching run value (one of the lowest totals in baseball) as opponents posted a .370 wOBA off the 6-foot-6 right-hander. He gave up more barrels, more solid contact, and more flares/burners – that’s every type of contact that tends to lead to positive outcomes for hitters.
Considering Manoah was part of the minor league group that was sidelined for the entire 2020 campaign, there is an argument to be made that he might have run out of gas this past year. It’s possible his arm struggled to keep up with the workload over the past three seasons.
Nonetheless, by early June, the Jays had seen enough and demoted the West Virginia alum to the Florida Complex League. There, he joined the folks in the Dunedin Player Development Complex, who essentially put him back in the pitching lab to try and find his groove again.
The work was short-lived, as Manoah rejoined Toronto roughly a month later. The Florida product continued to struggle through his next six starts before being optioned to Triple-A. Ultimately, he finished the season on the shelf after getting shots in his throwing arm and not reporting to Buffalo.
The Blue Jays Are Holding Onto Manoah
After his various demotions last year, speculation began to grow that the Blue Jays were open to trading ‘Big Puma’ this offseason. However, those rumors were recently squashed by MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.
The idea of holding onto Manoah makes sense, as the Jays do not possess a ton of starting depth outside of top prospect Ricky Tiedemann and newcomer Yariel Rodriguez, who will likely begin the year in the bullpen after not pitching competitively in 2023.
The club would also be selling low on Manoah after his difficult season, especially since he isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2027 campaign. Even if the Jays were planning to trade him eventually, they have plenty of time to help him reestablish his value.
Where Manoah Fits In This Season
Looking ahead, the lack of starters in the Blue Jays system bodes well for Manoah, as he has the inside track on the fifth spot in the rotation heading into the 2024 campaign. Not only does he have the most experience of the group, but considering Tiedemann was limited to just 44 innings during the regular minor league season last year (due to a biceps injury), the organization likely isn’t ready to promote the southpaw right away.
For his part, Manoah has been working hard this offseason, showcasing his workouts and some of his live BP sessions on social media. Overall, he looks to be in good shape heading into the new season. He has proven that when he is firing on all cylinders and able to reel in his command issues, he can utilize his four pitches well to keep hitters off balance and produce groundballs.
Should he enter training camp healthy and produce on-field results early this spring, Manoah will be the favorite for the fifth rotation spot, and he’ll be in a good position to get back on track after struggling last season.