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Smash or Pass: Sean Manaea

Is the lefty a decent under-the-radar option?

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Who is he and where does he come from?

He’s a left-handed pitcher with a difficult-to-spell last name and he comes from San Francisco. Prior to joining the Giants, he broke into the majors back in 2016 with Oakland and spent a year with the Padres.

Is he any good?

Across 1,000 major league innings, he has a 4.10 ERA. Not exactly the mark of a superstar, but a solid pitcher nonetheless. That doesn’t tell the full story though. Despite being an 8-year MLB veteran, Manaea is still evolving as a pitcher. With Oakland, he was your standard soft-tossing lefty, throwing sinkers, sliders, and changeups. He still has a similar pitch mix, but he’s no longer soft-tossing.

He spent last off-season at Driveline and came into 2023 with newfound velocity. His fastball was about 3 MPH faster, and returned the highest whiff rate of his career, helping on his way to a career-high strikeout rate. Despite his newfound velocity, the Giants wouldn’t commit to using Manaea as a starter. He ping-ponged between starter, opener, long relief, and normal relief roles all in the span of a few weeks at the start of the season. Eventually, he settled into a bullpen role where he was again used in every way imaginable. Finally, at the end of the season, he moved back to the rotation and rattled off four starts with a 2.25 ERA.

In total, he threw 117 innings with a 4.44 ERA. In a vacuum, it’s not a great season. That doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause. Go ahead and watch his final start of the season against the Padres. Actually, don’t do that. You probably have better things to do with your time. Instead, take a look at the pitch plot from that outing.

That’s a work of art right there. High fastballs, low breakers. Exactly how you draw it up in the game plan. I’m not advocating for signing Manaea based on four starts in 2023, but there may be something there, so it could be an option worth exploring.

Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.

10 Starts, 117.2 IP, 104 H, 42 BB, 128 SO, 4.44 ERA, 95 ERA+

Why would he be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

He’s been a fairly reliable pitcher, throwing at least 140 innings in five of his eight seasons. The only time he suffered a significant injury was back in 2019, and that hasn’t hampered him since. He’s also left-handed, which would bring some balance to the rotation.

On top of that, he’s a strike-thrower and worked with Andrew Bailey in San Francisco. Bailey has emphasized limiting walks and competing in the strike zone. While Manaea isn’t going to dominate hitters over the middle of the plate, he’s not going to hand out a ton of free passes either.

Why would he not be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

You know that weirdo Zach Hample who steals baseballs from children and tries to make the game about himself? Sometimes he hangs out on top of the parking garage behind the monster. Sean Manaea has always called a pitcher-friendly park home (Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco). His ERA on the road is almost a full run higher than at home. On top of that, he struggles to get righties out at times.

So, what does that have to do with the creepy baseball scavenger? Well, between the wall in left field and Manaea’s issues with right-handed hitters, Hample would have plenty of incentive to set up camp on that garage. I, for one, would rather not have to worry about a random man descending on me for a loose baseball as I stroll down Landsdowne during batting practice.

What will he cost?

After the 2023 season, Manaea opted out of his deal. He was set to make $12.5 million in 2024. Interestingly enough, that’s right around the market rate for older starting pitchers this offseason. Kenta Maeda, Luis Severino, and Lance Lynn each signed deals worth around $12.5 million annually. The opt-out doesn’t necessarily mean he’s looking for more money, though. Given how he was used in 2023, it’s not a stretch to think he’s looking for a new situation where he’s guaranteed a chance to pitch as a starter. When he does sign, I’d expect his compensation to align with the other veterans who signed short-term deals. Say two years, $24-26MM, maybe with another opt-out after the first year.

Show me a cool highlight.

Here’s Manaea pitching against the Red Sox. If you like watching the Red Sox swing and miss at fastballs, you’re gonna love this.

Smash or pass?

It’s easy to talk yourself into Manaea based on the end of 2023. He could spend another offseason at Driveline and further improve his stuff. Maybe he dials in the changeup, it becomes a reliable weapon against righties, and Manaea goes on to have the best season of his career. Is that a likely outcome? No. Is it worth taking a chance on him for the back end of your rotation? Maybe.

Overall though, the red flags are a little too red for my liking. He just doesn’t have one skill that jumps out at me as a differentiator. He doesn’t have the best stuff, the best command, or the highest velocity. As I mentioned, there’s still room for improvement, but right now he’s just kind of boring. The possibility of him imploding outside of a pitcher-friendly ballpark seems much more likely than him improving, and for that reason, I’ll pass.