With Nathan Eovaldi agreeing to a deal with the Rangers, the top remaining starting pitcher on the free agent market (per MLBTR’s rankings) is Michael Wacha. In fact, Wacha is the only remaining starting pitcher left from the Top 50 free agents.
As things stand, the Orioles are the only known team to have checked in on the 31-year-old, who’s coming off his best season in a while for the Red Sox. Wacha made 23 starts for Boston last season, working to a 3.32 ERA across 127 1/3 innings. That mark did come with a fairly pedestrian 20.2% strikeout rate, and a solid 6% walk rate. Further, his .260 opponent BABIP suggests a bit of good fortune was involved, and sure enough Wacha’s FIP sat at 4.14 for the season. Nonetheless, it was a far more improved showing than in recent times for Wacha.
Between 2020-21, Wacha tossed 158 2/3 innings for the Mets and Rays, working to a 5.39 ERA. Those two seasons came with better strikeout rates, but his HardHit% were comfortably the highest of his career, as were his home run rates.
Wacha was once a highly touted prospect in the Cardinals system. Drafted 19th overall in 2012, Wacha made his big league debut as a 21-year-old in 2013. Over his first three seasons, he’d toss 353 innings of 3.21 ERA ball, and picked up the 2013 NLCS MVP award for his efforts in that series against the Dodgers. He was never a big strikeout pitcher, but kept the ball on the ground enough, limited the walks and induced enough soft contact to be a highly effective starter.
Those three seasons turned out to comfortably be Wacha’s best, and since the 2016 campaign he’s hurled 800 2/3 innings of 4.42 ERA ball. He’s signed one-year deals the past three seasons, but that solid campaign last season could well see him get a modest two-year guarantee this winter. MLBTR predicted a two-year $16MM pact for Wacha and there certainly seems a good chance he matches that at least, particularly given how well starting pitching has done in free agency this winter.
As for who could be interested, the Orioles are not only the only reported team to have checked in (though there have surely been others), but they do make a lot of sense as well. They have been linked to a number of mid-tier starters this winter, and signed Kyle Gibson to a one-year, $10MM pact. Still, the backend of their rotation has a few options but most are light on MLB experience and adding someone like Wacha would provide them with a bit more stability.
The Angels and Padres were both linked to Eovaldi before he signed with the Rangers, so it makes sense to take a look at them as possible fits for the next best option. The Angels have a pretty solid five-man rotation, with Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Anderson at the top, and southpaws Reid Detmers, Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez rounding it out. LA has often worked with a six-man rotation to manage Ohtani’s workload though, and Wacha could fit in nicely as another starting option for them.
The Padres, too, appear to have the foundations of a starting five in place, but like the Angels could do with a sixth option. Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell and Yu Darvish are locked in to the first three spots, with Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo penciled in to fill out the rotation. Reports have suggested San Diego plans to utilize the latter two as starters, but both have typically worked as relievers recently, so adding Wacha could give them some insurance against those two failing to lockdown a starting spot.
A return to Boston could also be an option. They do have Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, James Paxton, Nick Pivetta and Garrett Whitlock lined up to handle the starting duties. Yet Sale and Paxton have had a wretched run of injuries (and the team is reportedly listening to offers on Sale), while Whitlock has fared much better in the bullpen. Youngster Brayan Bello is also an option to join the rotation at some point, so there’s not a clear need to add someone like Wacha, but it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he did wind up back in Boston.
While those three teams all have ambitions to compete in 2023, Wacha could also be a fit on rebuilding teams. Even if it requires a two-year deal to sign him, a rebuilding club could hope that he builds off his solid 2022 campaign and turns himself into a valuable trade chip either at the deadline or next winter. At worst, it’s unlikely it’d be an onerous commitment to sign him and even if he doesn’t pitch himself into a trade chip he could still work as an innings-eater for a rebuilding team with a younger roster.
In that case, perhaps a team like the Reds could be amenable to bringing him in if the price is right. Luis Cessa is the veteran in the Reds’ rotation as things stand, but he’s typically worked as a long reliever. Outside of Cessa, it’s a young rotation for all of uncertainty, and adding a veteran like Wacha could solidify things and take a bit of the pressure off their younger arms.
There’s a fair few other possible fits, and any of the Twins, Royals, Tigers, and White Sox could make some sense. Where do you see Wacha signing this winter?