On so many levels, it will be an off-season of reparation for the Blue Jays — one that got off to a bumpy start with an ill-timed, poorly handled long-weekend press conference from general manager Ross Atkins.
What to do about the fractured relationship between the front office and clubhouse, one that has coaches steaming about Atkins’ public hanging of manager John Schneider?
What to do about an offence that can’t score timely runs?
What to do about Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s regression and maddening miscues, like the pickoff at second base, a play that isn’t getting enough attention for the Jays’ elimination?
And right up there with all the messes, how to make things right with the gone-but-shouldn’t-be-forgotten, former Cy Young Award finalist starting pitcher Alek Manoah?
While trying to paint a rosy picture that all will be fine with Manoah next season — just wait and see! — Atkins acknowledged that there were tense times with the big right hander, who was demoted twice during the season.
In both instances — first to the Florida Complex League and later to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons — Manoah delayed reporting.
“Any time a pitcher of his success is optioned, it’s a very difficult thing to stomach and he disagreed with the decision,” Atkins said at his Thanksgiving weekend season-ending address. “So that created some frustration.”
We’ll see how the off-season plays out, but there certainly remains the potential of ill will and distrust to linger. Manoah has yet to speak publicly about his second demotion, an assignment that ended his season.
The 2023 campaign was a disaster from the start, of course, ultimately ending in just 19 starts for just 87.1 innings. In that body of work, Manoah fashioned a 3-9 record with an ERA of 5.97.
It was a mighty tumble from the former first-round draft pick’s breakthrough 2022 campaign, in which he logged 196.2 innings over 31 starts.
Not only were Manoah’s struggles a blow to his own development and a crashing of expectations associated with it, they exposed the Jays’ lack of starting depth. After being reduced to a four-man rotation for a month, Manoah was brought back from his stint at the Dunedin facility and, after one solid start, struggled anew.
How did that work out?
“I wouldn’t say that we nailed that,” Atkins acknowledged about recalling Manoah in early July. “But we believed in him. It’s hard to say what would have occurred differently had we left him down. It was more (a case of) our staff and our team and me, how much we believed in him to be able to make those corrections here.”
That didn’t happen, of course, which led to the second demotion, this time to Buffalo.
And that’s when the troubled season turned bizarre and secretive by a team that’s becoming expert in the art.
Manoah balked at reporting, eventually showed up and then never threw a pitch for the Bisons. Late in the season, it was revealed that he had injections on his shoulder, a procedure Atkins distanced himself and the team from by saying Manoah initiated the procedure on his own.
“It was his decision,” Atkins said. “We supported him. He made the decision on his own to move in that direction There were no structural issues.”
It’s worth nothing that, publicly, Manoah hasn’t said a word since the second send down. He hasn’t responded when we’ve reached out for comment and, depending on what happens in the off-season, he will be among the top stories in what promises to be an eventful spring training around the club next February.
Atkins, meanwhile, paints a cheery picture of mended fences and dismissed any notion of discord by noting that Manoah has not asked for a trade.
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“I’m excited for next year for Alek,” the GM said. “I think he’s extremely motivated. This year just got off to a rough start — we saw some signs of correcting, but we weren’t just able to get him to a position that he was one of our better alternatives for the rotation.
“I’m excited for him for next year and very much looking forward to him being back in our rotation.”
With Hyun-Jin Ryu off to free agency, there certainly will be a spot for Manoah, who has a lengthy off-season to reset, get his shoulder in shape and rediscover what worked so well the previous season.
“He has been motivated to get back to form,” Atkins said. “I’ve seen him with his back to the wall in his career when he was an amateur and how he responded to that. I expect him to respond in a very powerful way in the course of the off season.”
There’s no doubt Manoah will be motivated — that’s how he is wired. But while his work on the mound is the priority, reparation of the relationship with the front office is also on the work docket.