Five Blue Jays Thoughts: An extension for Yusei Kikuchi, don’t overthink the Alek Manoah situation, and more

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Ethan Diamandas
4 days ago
The Blue Jays are on a run! The club has won seven of its last nine games, flashing all the key elements of a capable postseason team in the process. Toronto’s rotation is shoving. Its offence has delivered clutch hits, and the bullpen, while a little shaky, remains strong.
Slowly, the Jays have crawled to a 13-10 record (on pace for 92 wins), putting them 2.5 games back of the Orioles for first place in the AL East. Here are a few thoughts on the latest storylines during this stretch.

An extension for Yusei Kikuchi?

In 16 starts since August 1, 2023, Yusei Kikuchi has generated a 2.6 fWAR, the fifth-best mark among all pitchers during that span. He is, quite simply, cooking. The left-hander’s stuff and confidence are at all-time highs, and he spun his third straight quality start Monday. Kikuchi is one of baseball’s best right now, so should the Blue Jays look to extend him?
It’s complicated. We must preface everything by reminding Jays fans Kikuchi is a Scott Boras client. That comes with its own logistic gymnastics. But before we get to the price, we must consider if there’s a need for Kikuchi’s services. The entire rotation, including Yariel Rodríguez and Alek Manoah, are under contract for 2025. Chris Bassitt is gone in 2026, and Kevin Gausman departs in 2027.
Technically, Toronto doesn’t need Kikuchi, and it certainly doesn’t make sense to sign him to an in-season extension. The Jays’ best play is to wait until the season’s end, assess Kikuchi’s performance (as well as the free agent market), and then take stock of assets. There’s no need to rush. Enjoy Kikuchi now and see if his financial demands are feasible in October.

The best version of Daulton Varsho

Daulton Varsho deserves to be commended for his performance. The Blue Jays would be in trouble without his services over the last two weeks. In his last 12 games, Varsho is slashing .333/.381/.872 with six homers and 13 RBIs. He’s still whiffing a ton (13 Ks during that span), but his power is an oasis of refreshment for this lineup.
The 27-year-old is mashing mistake pitches and driving tons of fly balls to his power alley in right-center field. He’s pulling literally all his hits, but that’s fine. Until opposing pitchers counter with something dramatic, Varsho will have his way.
And, for what it’s worth, the outfielder is leading MLB with 0.7 dWAR through 23 games. Heavy pop and Gold-Glove defence make one hell of a combo.

Don’t overthink the Alek Manoah situation

It seems silly to even debate if Alek Manoah should return to the rotation and bump Rodríguez to the bullpen. That said, I understand the Blue Jays’ strategy right now. From my perspective, the club is hoping the Manoah situation resolves itself.
If Rodríguez falters, that’s great because Manoah can be called up. If Manoah goofs his next Triple-A start, a call-up isn’t justified. Of course, there’s the “good problem,” as manager John Schneider calls it, where both Manoah and Rodríguez succeed, forcing a difficult decision.
In my mind, it makes much more sense to stretch Rodríguez, leave Manoah in Triple-A until there’s a big-league injury, and have Bowden Francis in the bullpen as a swingman. Whatever the Blue Jays decide, I hope Toronto makes the decision based on merit instead of a fear of how Manoah might react to a demotion.
It’s not personal. This is business. This is winning.

Trouble on the farm

Ricky Tiedemann hit the minor-league injured list with an elbow injury and has since undergone an MRI. Now, the Jays No. 1 prospect is meeting with doctors in Toronto to determine the next steps. This, folks, is bad news. In a best-case scenario, Tiedemann shuts things down for a month and builds himself back up, likely as a reliever for the back half of the season. In a doomsday situation, he’s done for the year, having pitched no more than 78.2 innings in a single season since 2022.
Staying healthy is part of your job as a starting pitcher, and Tiedemann has put great efforts into bulking up and improving his durability. This lack of reps, though, will likely cost him a 2024 MLB debut, assuming his injury is serious.
At the same time, the organization’s No. 4 prospect, Brandon Barriera (elbow), is visiting with Dr. Keith Meister. That’s a drag. The 2022 first-round pick pitched in just 20.1 innings last year due to injury and could suffer a similar fate in 2024.
These developments might not mean much for the ’24 club’s fate, but in a few years, these injury shutdowns could loom very large.

The Nate Pearson experience

I want to touch on Pearson because he’s very polarizing within the Blue Jays fanbase. Dominant at his best and unwatchable at his worst, the 27-year-old lost all control in his outing Sunday, walking three batters, hitting another batter, and allowing two runs through 1.1 innings.
Pearson will have days like this. Hell, he’s always had outings where the stuff is flat and either grooved in the zone or four feet off the outside corner. The right-hander’s upside is his weapon. Sometimes, he’ll come out, pump 100 mph, and whiff the side. Other times, he’ll be a scrambled mess on the mound.
I once had a baseball coach tell me that if you do something once, you can do it again. The Blue Jays will roll Pearson out every few games, pray for the best, and make do with whatever he has that day. That’s enough to deserve a role as the last guy in a major-league bullpen.

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