As the Milwaukee Brewers enter the offseason, one of their more glaring needs is starting pitching. Most would say it’s safe to assume players like Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto are out of the Brewers price range, so the club will once again need to get creative to address the position.
Over the past season the Brewers somewhat struck gold filling innings with the likes of the now re-signed Colin Rea, Wade Miley, and Julio Teheran, but is this model sustainable? Is there a possibility they could find a pitcher via trade that could be a long term piece as well as a dependable source of production in the starting rotation? A name worth digging into, in my opinion, is Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Brewers offseason trade target: Blue Jays SP Alek Manoah
Manoah was the 11th overall selection in the first round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He quickly flew through their system as a strikeout machine of a top prospect, looking like a franchise cornerstone and their eventual ace.
He debuted in 2021 with 20 starts, a record of 9-2, and an ERA of 3.22. His encore in 2022? Even better as he started 31 games for a 16-7 record and an ERA of 2.24 at just 24 years old, all while playing in the AL East, one of the more difficult divisions to pitch in. With numbers like these, how could a player like this be available?
It comes down to 2023. Manoah's numbers across the board skyrocketed to the point that the Blue Jays sent him all the way down to their rookie league to “figure things out.” His 5.87 ERA and opponent OBP of .385 made it very clear: staying in the MLB rotation was not only hurting the team, but ruining the young pitcher’s confidence.
Many will point to the pitch clock as the main culprit for his struggles. Manoah is a large framed pitcher at 6’6” and 285 pounds. Prior to the pitch clock installation, he was known around the league as one of the slower working pitchers, thus due to his weight many believe being forced to work faster impacted his ability to shape and consistently deliver his pitches.
Without overcomplicating things, the problem is actually quite simple. He stopped throwing strikes. Now this could be mechanical, endurance related, or simply he felt rushed. The jump from 2022 to 2023 in opponent average and OBP went from .202/.268 to .269/.385 can be somewhat explained by throwing strikes. Here is a link to a heat map of Alek Manoah in 2023 (via: Alek Manoah - Heat Maps - Pitch% | FanGraphs Baseball) showing where pitches were in relation to the strike zone.
As you can tell, when Manoah missed the strike zone, it was an obvious ball. The opposite can be said about his strikes, when he threw a strike it was mainly over the heart of the plate. This means hitters were able to sit on strikes, and crush them. Only living out of the strike zone, or in the middle of the plate is no way to pitch major league ball.
The question is whether Manoah can be fixed. If anyone can do it, it's the Brewers as I view their pitching lab as the best in baseball. An offseason for Milwaukee to work on him would do wonders for Manoah. I fully believe his “stuff” is still there.
It's also worth noting in what was a terrible season with the Blue Jays that Manoah had a 8.15 ERA at home, while having better luck on the road with a 4.33 ERA. If acquired and the mix of pitch framing and the pitching lab are successful, Manoah could more than fill the role left vacant by Brandon Woodruff.
When it comes to trades, cost is always the hardest part to determine. Do the Blue Jays still have faith in Manoah or do they just want to cut their losses? Is this a prototypical “change of scenery” player? After the first two seasons of his career, the price for a trade is likely multiple top prospects. In 2023, on the other hand, his value is basically nothing. So where is the middle ground?
If the Blue Jays still value Manoah somewhat highly, the Brewers might have to deal from their outfield depth and offer someone like a Garrett Mitchell. If they don't, but still want to replace him as pitching depth, perhaps some fringe major leaguers like Janson Junk and Ethan Small get the job done.
Brewers fans have seen the wonders that the team's pitching development has worked over the years. That's exactly why a trade for a player like Manoah makes a ton of sense.