The Yankees could really use a swingman, someone who can fulfill a variety of roles in the bullpen while also being ready to take the ball as a starter in a specific day and provide four or five quality innings. That guy might very well be Sean Manaea. The left-hander is coming off a solid season with the San Francisco Giants, especially in the second half, and is now looking for a new contract in free agency.
2023 Statistics: 37 games, 117.2 IP, 4.44 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 4.01 xFIP, 25.7 percent K%, 8.4 percent BB%, 1.1 fWAR
2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 28 starts, 151 IP, 4.24 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 22.9 percent K%, 7.9 percent BB%, 2.0 fWAR
Previous Contract: First year of a two-year, $25 million contract with the San Francisco Giants, exercised player opt-out
For starters, Manaea has an acceptable 4.10 career ERA and even though he was at 4.44 in 2023, he got better as the year went on and grew confident on his new sweeper. His 3.90 FIP this past campaign was also solid. Manaea made 10 starts and 27 relief appearances for the Giants in 2023. He had a 4.82 ERA as a starter and a 4.18 mark as a reliever, but the most encouraging split was his 5.49 first half ERA and his 3.43 mark after the break.
There are plenty of things to like about Manaea, even though he is far from an ace. After becoming quite familiar with Driveline, he showed improved velocity this year: his four-seam fastball averaged 93.6 mph, the highest of his career. Its low release makes it difficult for hitters to square it up or hit it, as the pitch had a 23.2 whiff rate (not bad for a heater).
Then, we have the sweeper. He only used it 10.4 percent of the time, but it’s safe to say that number will increase in 2024. It yielded a rock-solid .229 xwOBA and a 35.1 percent whiff rate. As you can see here, he is not afraid of using his sweeper as a put away pitch even against righties:
Besides the four-seamer, a pitch he employs 56.4 percent of the time, he also uses a changeup (16.9 percent) a slider (14.9 percent) and the sweeper. He might show a sinker or cutter from time to time.
It’s impressive how a pitcher can change so much in two years. In 2021, Manaea was a sinkerballer with no four-seamer and no sweeper. But he has understood the importance of adapting to change and being flexible and open-minded in his quest to be successful.
Sean Manaea getting ready for a great off-season with his assessment day the other day pic.twitter.com/zY2dxjkur6— Driveline Baseball (@DrivelineBB) October 13, 2023
Here we are, with the southpaw nearing 32 years old, and the entire league needing pitching. In the particular case of the Yankees, they let Domingo Germán, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas go and traded Michael King: they need arms capable of starting games and Manaea is one of them.
Right now, the Yankees have reigning AL Cy Young award winner Gerrit Cole leading the rotation, and then a series of question marks in Carlos Rodón, Néstor Cortés, and Clarke Schmidt. After that, things are quite uncertain. Even if the Yankees are capable of landing Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they would need an arm or two for depth. It’s fair to say their offseason is not complete.
FanGraphs ranked Manaea as the 44th best available free agent, just ahead of reliever Robert Stephenson. Ben Clemens wrote about his versatility:
“In between stints as a starter at the beginning and end of the year, he spent most of the season making relief appearances anywhere between one and six innings – sometimes as a single-inning guy to build the bridge to closer Camilo Doval, sometimes as the bulk pitcher in one of the many bullpen games that defined this Giants team.”
Evidently, pitchers would prefer to know their exact role and the situation in which they will enter a game. This makes Manaea’s numbers and performances even more impressive.
It’s likely that Manaea can be signed to a two-year contract somewhere between $25 or $30 million, although it will always depend on the market dynamics. If that’s the case, it’s something that the Yankees should be able to do, Yamamoto or not.