Blue Jays: How Alek Manoah may have changed plans for the rotation

Aug 23, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) delivers against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sportss
Aug 23, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) delivers against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sportss /

Rookie starter Alek Manoah has had a very positive impact on the Blue Jays’ 2021 season, and may affect how the front office works going forward too.

When the 2021 campaign began it looked like the Blue Jays had a shortage of quality depth in their starting rotation. They had plenty of arms that could do the job, but realistically Hyun Jin Ryu was the only one who was viewed as a #2 starter or better. It’s amazing how much has changed since then.

After the emergence of Robbie Ray as a legitimate Cy Young contender this year, and then the acquisition of Jose Berrios ahead of the trade deadline, the Blue Jays now sport a trio of near-aces that would give them a very legitimate playoff rotation. Then there’s Alek Manoah, who has been just as good or even better than the three quality veterans.

Manoah’s emergence on the big league stage has been crucial in giving the Jays a fighting chance to make the playoffs this year, and it’s hard to imagine where they’d be without him. The 23 year old has now made 13 starts and has posted a 3.18 ERA to go along with a 1.10 WHIP over 68 innings pitched. He has also set some records in the process, and on Monday he set a new bar for the most strikeouts by a Blue Jay over his first 13 career starts.

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At this point it’s more than safe to say that Manoah has written his name in ink on the Blue Jays plans for the 2022 season, and that wasn’t a sure thing when this year began. In fact, I think it’s possible that his emergence could give the Jays second thoughts when it comes to one of the major free agent decisions they have to make at the end of the year with Robbie Ray.

An ideal scenario for next year’s rotation would be to return their big four in Ray, Ryu, Berrios, and Manoah, and if they’re lucky, maybe Nate Pearson can actually stay healthy and contribute to the MLB roster. Unfortunately that’ll be easier said than done with Ray hitting the open market, especially as he has a career season at the age of 29 that could see him receiving some very high bids for his services over the winter.

A month ago I would have bet that it was all but a sure thing that the Blue Jays will try to retain Ray, and I’m sure they’ll still make a serious effort to do that. However, as he continues to perform at the top-tier of the American League, it’s possible that his compensation reaches a point that the Jays aren’t comfortable with, especially because they’ll have several other pending free agents over the next few years, including Berrios after the 2022 season. Now that they’ve traded away Austin Martin as part of the package to acquire Berrios, I believe that makes them a more serious contender to try and re-sign Marcus Semien, and they might not be able to do both. I may be wrong about that, but they’ll need to consider the long-term futures of others like Berrios (FA after ’22), Teoscar Hernandez (FA after ’23), and you may even want to think about extensions for the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

Getting back to my original point, what does this have to do with Manoah? I believe that his arrival as a quality starter could push Ross Atkins and his front office team more in Semien’s direction if they have to choose between him and Ray. If Ray were to leave, that would still leave a group that includes Ryu, Berrios, Manoah, hopefully Pearson, and still one more year of contract control for Ross Stripling in Toronto, who has been a more than capable starter in 2021. They would still need some depth, especially with Pearson’s shaky injury history, and ideally another veteran in the mold of someone like Steven Matz, but it’s still not a bad place to start.

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As I already said, the Blue Jays would do very well to try and retain Robbie Ray this winter to give themselves an elite rotation, but if they decide to spend their budget in other areas or even try to extend Berrios instead, Manoah’s fantastic rookie season will be a big reason why.