The Blue Jays may have higher priorities as far as contract extensions go, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they try to lock up Alek Manoah.
Why am I bringing this up at this extremely early stage of the offseason? Well, an old friend in Atlanta locked up an emerging star pitcher who just finished his rookie season, so naturally many of us are wondering if the Blue Jays might try to do the same thing with their young ace in Manoah.
Alex Anthopoulos has made a habit out of signing his emerging young players to long-term deals in Atlanta, and it’s a strategy that’s worked out extremely well for the Braves so far. They inked players like Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, and Michael Harris to team-friendly deals, but they did so by betting on the player early when they didn’t have to just yet. The players have essentially traded a few years of earning potential for the opportunity to secure life-changing money at an early stage of their career, and in a lot of ways I can’t blame them one bit.
Anthopoulos used that strategy again over the weekend when the Braves announced they had signed Spencer Strider to a six-year, 75 million dollar pact. This contract wasn’t quite as team-friendly as some of the other deals I mentioned above, but it could easily fall into the bargain realm for them as long as Strider can stay healthy and perform anywhere close to how he did this season when he went 11-5 with a 2.67 ERA and a 0.995 WHIP across 31 games that included 20 starts. In a sea of impressive stats, the number that really jumped off the page for me was his 202 strikeouts across just 131.2 innings pitched.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but the deal between Strider and the Braves may help guide the Blue Jays and their own emerging ace in Manoah to a long-term deal, if that’s something the two sides will entertain over the winter. In my mind, Strider’s new contract with the Braves is probably going to represent the floor for getting a long-term deal done with Manoah, and I say that for a few reasons. To start with, they both had incredible 2022 campaigns, but Manoah has the benefit of elite production over nearly two full seasons rather than just the one for Strider. That shouldn’t matter a whole, but proving that you’re not a one-year wonder if often still a thing when teams start talking about long-term deals.
The second reason I believe Manoah’s representation will use Strider’s contract as their potential floor price is the health history of the two right-handers. In a lot of ways, the fact that Strider already has a Tommy John surgery behind him had to play a factor into his signing now rather than waiting to get closer to free agency and potentially raising his asking price. This way he has secured generational wealth for his family even if he gets hurt again next season, and it’s hard to blame him for taking a deal now.
As for Manoah, he’s been the definition of a workhorse throughout his professional career, and a clean bill of health has to be a point of pride for his side in any future negotiations. In his young career he’s already become the Blue Jays’ most reliable starter, and this season he took on a pretty huge workload given what he’s done so far in his professional career. He finished with 196.2 innings in the regular season, and another 5.2 frames in the postseason, well surpassing his previous career high he set last year with 129.2.
Of course, the Blue Jays may not be concerned about signing their star right-hander to a long-term contract as this stage, at least as far as their priority list goes. After a disappointing end to their 2022 playoff appearance, the front office is going to be looking for ways to tweak the roster in anticipation of another run in 2023, and that could come in many forms, and many different payroll demands in the short-term. They may also prioritize signing Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, or others ahead of Manoah as well, which would be understandable given the difference in their distance to free agency.
Both Manoah and Strider have/had five years of contract control for their respective teams, and now the latter has added one extra year with his new pact. Even if they might have more immediate roster needs, it’s probably worthwhile if they hope to sign him to more of a team-friendly deal like the ones Atlanta has been handing out with regularity. If six years and 75 million is the floor, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Manoah’s side asked for 90-100 million or more, especially with this new comp to work with.
We’ll see if there’s any appetite from the two sides to look at a deal this offseason, and if so, we can thank good ol’ Alex Anthopoulos for helping to set the market, for better or worse.