With the Yankees having sat out the free agent frenzy that came before the December 1st expiration of the CBA, they may have to scramble to fill out their incomplete roster in the period between the ratification of the new CBA and the start of the 2022 regular season. One area that could certainly use reinforcements is the starting rotation. Outside of Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery, it’s hard to see how New York will cover the remaining innings from a starter standpoint.
Unfortunately, their inactivity in the final week of November means they missed out on the top arms on the market, as Robbie Ray signed with Seattle, Kevin Gausman with Toronto, and Marcus Stroman with the Cubs. That leaves Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Rodón as the best remaining options, and both come with significant injury concerns. Perhaps the Yankees would instead turn to the trade market to fill out their rotation. Should they do so, one of the names most likely to get moved this offseason is Sean Manaea.
2021 Stats: 32 games, 179.1 IP, 3.91 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 3.62 xFIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 3.3 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Entering final year of arbitration eligibility, projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $10.2 million.
Manaea had a career year in 2021, putting up personal bests in innings pitched, strikeouts, FIP, xFIP, and fWAR (I’m excluding 2019 when he only pitched 29.2 innings). He also established himself as one of the better starters in all of baseball. Among qualified starters in 2021, Manaea boasted the 11th-lowest walk rate (5.4 percent) and 16th-best K-BB% (20.3 percent) and xFIP (3.62) while tying with Max Scherzer and Brandon Woodruff for the 22nd-most innings pitched.
The nice thing about Manaea from an evaluation standpoint is that what you see is what you get. With the exception of his 2018 campaign, his BABIP hovers pretty steadily in the .300 range while the deltas between his FIP and xFIP and wOBA and xwOBA amount to rounding errors. All of this is to say, one can feel more confident projecting his performance going forward than pitchers with greater year-to-year variance between their expected and actual outcomes.
Manaea throws three pitches: a sinker that sits between 91 and 96, a changeup, and a curveball. The sinker looked extra lively in 2021, averaging its fastest average velocity (92.1 mph) since 2016 while inducing a career-best 25 percent whiff rate, so it’s no surprise Manaea leaned on the pitch more heavily than ever, throwing it 60 percent of the time.
His changeup and curveball are decent secondary offerings, inducing whiff rates of 31 and 28 percent respectively, with both limiting batters to a sub-.300 xwOBA. The changeup in particular is an intriguing pitch, featuring the third-most vertical movement of any changeup in 2017 and 2018. It has lost some of that depth in recent seasons, and I would be curious to see if Matt Blake and the rest of the Yankees pitching coaches could help him rediscover the dynamics of previous seasons, given their success in 2021 implementing the changeup across the Yankees pitching staff.
If there’s one major knock against Manaea, it’s his injury history. He has twice missed close to a full season to surgery — in 2013 to repair a torn labrum in his hip and in 2019 to correct a shoulder impingement. The shoulder is of particular concern, with the lefty having missed two separate stints prior to the 2019 procedure. That said, he has not landed on the IL since.
You might wonder why the Athletics would consider trading a starter with such promise, but with looming arbitration raises for many top players, a selloff is likely this winter. Factoring in the projected salaries for players like Manaea, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Chris Bassitt, the Oakland payroll could reach $80 million or more, right at the upper limit of their spending trends in recent years. And although Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that a full-scale teardown is possible but unlikely, Oakland GM David Forst’s blunt comments suggest that players will be on their way out.
Some reports indicate that the Athletics will prioritize moving players with only one year of team control remaining — including Manaea and Bassitt — before shopping players with multiple years of control — notably Olson and Chapman. They can likely induce a bidding war for a guy like Olson, while it may be more difficult to find suitors for a player with less team control and a projected eight-figure salary in 2022. Therefore, a team like the Yankees, with their relative lack of attractive trade chips, may have an easier time landing a Manaea than an Olson.
It’s looking more and more like the Yankees and Athletics are ideal trade partners. New York needs starting pitching and Oakland wants to shed payroll. And while there are more enticing trade targets on the A’s’ roster, it may make better sense to pursue one of the starters entering their final year of arbitration eligibility. Manaea’s reduced team control and inflated salary lower the prospect cost of the package heading the other direction, which may be enough to get Brian Cashman to bite.