Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Free Agents With Options to Follow

These players have team and player options before they hit the open market (or return to their team), and are potential free agents the Pirates should follow.
Sep 23, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez (21)
Sep 23, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez (21) / Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports
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Sean Manaea

Sean Manaea was a rotation stalwart for the Oakland Athletics from 2016 through 2021. He was then traded to the San Diego Padres in the 2021-2022 off-season as part of the A's firesale, but he struggled with the Friars. Manaea landed a one-year guarantee worth $10 million with a player option worth $12.5 million. At one point, it looked like Manaea would easily be accepting the player option, but a strong second half will make the decision much harder for the veteran southpaw.

Manaea opened the year in the Giants' rotation but pitched horribly through his first 26 innings of the year. He pitched to the tune of a 7.96 ERA, 6.56 FIP, and 1.77 WHIP. While he had a quality 24.8% strikeout rate, he also walked 12.8% of the opponents he faced while having a 2.42 HR/9 rate. Sure, a .338 batting average on balls in play and 22.6% HR/FB ratio was a factor here, but you can't deny the fact he pitched poorly regardless.

After getting bumped to the bullpen, something clicked and Manaea found his groove. Through his final 91.2 innings of the season, the lefty owned a 3.44 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. His strikeout rate remained above average at 25.9%, but his walk rate fell to 7%, while his HR/9 came down to 0.69. ERA estimating stats like xFIP (3.72) and SIERA (3.55) also liked his work during this time. Manaea moved back into the rotation in mid-September with his final 24 innings of the season, yielding a 2.255 ERA, 3.21 FIP, and 0.92 WHIP. While he only struck out 19 batters, he allowed just two free passes and two home runs.

What role Manaea will serve moving forward will be up in the air. He made just three appearances out of the bullpen from 2016 through 2022, but 27 of Manaea's 37 total appearances were out of the pen. Granted, it's not as if the Giants used him as a one-and-done reliever. Even though he made less than 30 appearances out of the pen, Manaea still pitched 71 innings, mostly working as a long relief man and bulk man following the opener.

Manaea might have a hard time securing more than $12.5 million in free agency, but in the event he can't secure that, he'll probably look for more guaranteed money over a multi-year deal. Manaea will turn 32 in February, which may also be a deciding factor in Manaea's decision.

To play Devil's advocate as to why Manaea may opt-in for $12.5 million, while Manaea's mid-May through the end of the season was promising, he may look to try and prove he can handle a rotation spot for a full season, something he hasn't been able to do effectively since 2021. Regardless, given the Pirates' current pitching situation, this will be one player to watch.