Welcome to the first installment of Free Averency, in which our own Avery Hamel takes a look at all of the Sox in-house free agents ahead of the crucial 2022-23 offseason. First up, a journeyman starter who just finished one of the best seasons of his career.
Michael Wacha has been a surprise stronghold in the Red Sox 2022 rotation. After ranking in the bottom 10% of the league in three different statistical categories in 2021, the 31-year-old free agent signed a one-year, $7 million contract with Boston this past offseason. Since then, Wacha has impressed, posting some of the best marks of any Red Sox starting pitcher (with a minimum of 100 IP) in ERA (3.32), HR/9 (1.27), and bWAR (3.4). He was the best and most consistent rotation piece for Boston in a year filled with abnormalities
So with these statistics in mind, what should the Red Sox be considering regarding Wacha’s status after 2022? In order to help figure that out, let’s first take a look at some pitchers across the league with whom Wacha is most comparable (according to Baseball Savant).
Our old friend, Eduardo Rodriguez:
According to the Baseball Savant affinity system, the 2021 version of Eduardo Rodriguez is a .91 similarity match to Wacha. In 2021, Rodriguez ranked in the top 75th percentile in the league in four different statistical categories (Avg. Exit Velocity, HardHit%, xERA/xwOBA, and K%). This isn’t a bad person to be compared to if you’re Wacha, considering Rogriguez signed a five-year, $77 million contract with the Detroit Tigers immediately after 2021. Though Rodriguez is two years younger and had a slightly better xFIP in his 2021 season than Wacha this year, (3.43 versus 3.99), the numbers are still comparable, which is helpful when trying to determine his contract possibilities.
A top rival:
At a .88 affinity rating, Jameson Taillon also compares similarly to Wacha. Last year, he received a one-year, $5.8 million contract from the Yankees going into his 30-year-old season. This season, he’s posted a 3.83 ERA, 3.91 FIP, and 1.5 bWAR, versus last season when he posted a 4.30 ERA, 4.43 FIP, and 2.2 bWAR. In comparison to Taillon, Wacha also has a similar build. Though the Yankees righty does have better peripherals— such as Whiff and Hard Hit %— Wacha has more big league experience and has proven his worth across multiple teams.
The great thing about Wacha is that he can be used in a variety of ways. As seen in his time in Tampa Bay, he is valuable as an opener and would bring value as a #3 rotation piece to any team in the league.
As such, if Wacha were to take a short-term deal, as has been his trend the past three years, an expectant value would fall somewhere around $15-20 million per year (very similar to the contract that Charlie Morton just signed with the Braves).
Although he has posted an inflated ERA over the past few years, Wacha’s stellar performance this year will definitely increase his value on the open market, especially considering the thin field of established, mid-range starters with whom he has to compete. If he is looking for a longer-term deal, something around four years, $55 million might be a request from Wacha. Now, though, the question is would Boston be willing to offer him such a deal?
What should the Red Sox do?
Although Wacha has overperformed for the Red Sox and it would be natural to jump on the prospect of getting a solid piece for cheaper, the smartest route would be to sign him to a two or three-year contract with a mutual option after the first year. Something along the lines of a three-year, $42 million deal with the option.
This way, if the journeyman reverts to his prior hardships (a cumulative 4.58 ERA over the 2019-2021 seasons), Boston would have to initiate an option to keep him with that contract.
All in all, the Red Sox should definitely, and strongly, consider bringing Wacha back for the 2022 season. No matter if he does regress, he is still a valuable piece to have in the rotation, whether his spot continues as a #3 stronghold, or if he needs to move to the back end.
Should The Red Sox Re-Sign Michael Wacha
This poll is closed
Yes, At Whatever The Market Decides
Yes, If They Can Get Him For Less Than Four Years
Nope, Time To Move On