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Cubs free agent target: Sean Manaea

He was once very good. And he’s not old. So... why not?

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Cubs could use a lefthanded starter.

We’ve looked at several in this series: José Quintana, Andrew Heaney, Carlos Rodón.

A bit under the radar, but someone who might be able to contribute to a 2023 rotation, is Sean Manaea.

Manaea was a first-round pick (34th overall) of the Royals in 2013 and eventually traded to the A’s for... our old pal Ben Zobrist, in 2015. Then he got too expensive in Oakland and they shipped him to the Padres before 2022.

Manaea had shoulder surgery and missed most of 2019, and hasn’t been quite the same pitcher since as he was before, though he did have a decent year in Oakland in 2021. He wasn’t nearly as good for the Padres this past season, and wound up in negative bWAR territory (-0.9).

Here’s his pitch selection chart for 2022:

Statcast

Based on that I think we’re looking at a lefthander who tries to induce weak contact — which would work out well at Wrigley Field. Fangraphs lists him in their Top 50 free agents, but doesn’t sound too positive:

Since his return from a torn labrum in late 2019, the big left-hander has been about a league-average pitcher in the aggregate, but he struggled in 2022. Coming off a 3.2 WAR season, Manaea saw his strikeout rate drop, his walk rate rise from 5.4% to 7.5%, and his FIP jump by almost a run. The last impression he left on potential suitors wasn’t much better, as he maintained only tenuous contact with his rotation spot in September and got shelled in his only postseason appearance.

Now, pitchers who are left-handed, can make 30 starts a year, and have any track record of success whatsoever tend to get a lot of rope. See: Steven Matz, who boomed and busted throughout his 20s and still got four years and $44 million from the Cardinals.

Fangraphs estimates Manaea for a two-year deal at about $11-$12 million per year, which is probably too much. I’d still be interested, but not at that money. The Fangraphs note says his K rate dropped and walk rate rose, but per nine innings those numbers are still decent: 8.9 strikeouts per nine, 2.3 walks per nine.

Two years at $8 million each? That might work. For whatever it’s worth, Manaea is a Chicago-area native (Andrean High School in Merrillville, Indiana). What say you?

Poll

Sean Manaea...

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one in the Fangraphs link (two years at $11-12 million each)
    (72 votes)
  • 39%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but for less money
    (200 votes)
  • 45%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (232 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (7 votes)
511 votes total Vote Now