Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to their respective spring training sites in Arizona and Florida in just a matter of days, yet Michael Wacha remains unsigned despite being the top free agent starting pitcher still on the market.
Wacha, 31, posted a 3.32 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 104 strikeouts to 31 walks in 23 starts (127 1/3 innings pitched) for the Red Sox last season after signing a one-year, $7 million deal with Boston in November 2021.
While those surface-level numbers are certainly respectable, his 4.14 FIP and 20.2 percent strikeout rate are less encouraging. The veteran right-hander also ranked in the 27th percentile of all big-league pitchers in expected batting average (.254), the 13th percentile in expected slugging percentage (.446), the 14th percentile in barrel rate (9.6 percent), and the 12th percentile in whiff rate (20.7 percent), per Baseball Savant.
Though Wacha led all Red Sox pitchers in Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement metric last year (3.3 bWAR), he also missed time with injuries. Left intercostal irritation kept him sidelined from May 5-20 while right shoulder inflammation cost him more than a month (July 5-August 14) of action over the summer.
When the offseason first began in November, the Red Sox entertained the idea of extending Wacha a qualifying offer, which would have tied the righty to draft pick compensation. They elected not to go in that direction and instead issued qualifying offers to Xander Bogaerts and Nathan Eovaldi, who both left the club by signing with the Padres and Rangers in free agency.
Wacha, meanwhile, has not had much of a market to speak of. He has been loosely linked to the Angels, Orioles, and Twins this winter, though Baltimore and Minnesota have recently added starting pitching by acquiring Cole Irvin and Pablo Lopez, respectably, via trade.
Last month, Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported that Wacha was seeking a two-year deal. Bob Nightengale added on by relaying that the CAA Sports client was looking for a contract that would net him $15 million per year, or about $30 million altogether.
That Wacha prefers a multi-year offer is not all that surprising when you consider the fact that he has settled for one-year pacts with the Red Sox, Rays, and Mets in each of the last three offseasons. An additional, guaranteed year of security would be rewarding, but it seems as though teams are hesitant to go that far given Wacha’s recent health history and discouraging peripherals.
Wacha, who turns 32 in July, may have to settle for another one-year deal or a one-year deal with an option attached if he intends on signing with a club before Opening Day. At this point, a reunion with the Red Sox seems unlikely since already Boston has seven starters (Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock, Corey Kluber, James Paxton, Brayan Bello, and Tanner Houck) in its rotation mix heading into camp.
Of course, Wacha’s market could heat up if teams sustain rotation injuries over the course of spring training and find themselves in need of an established replacement leading up to the start of the season.
(Picture of Michael Wacha: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)