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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Michael Wacha

The changeup artist is an injury risk, but the Yankees need pitchers and his name might come up in internal conversations

San Diego Padres v Chicago White Sox Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Earlier this year, in February, Michael Wacha signed a four-year, $26 million contract with the San Diego Padres. The deal, however, included conditional options from 2024-2026.

The Padres declined their two-year, $32 million option, and Wacha subsequently turned down a three-year, $18.5 million player option, which is why he is back on the market. Considering the season he just had, there is a good chance for a better contract that the one he got from the Friars in February, and the Yankees should be very much open to the possibility of bringing him in — depending on the circumstances and how the pitching market develops.

2023 Statistics: 24 games (all starts), 134.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 22.4 K%, 7.8 BB%, 2.6 fWAR

Previous Contract: Four-year, $26 million, conditional options declined on both sides

With a 3.22 ERA in 134.1 frames, Wacha showed for a second consecutive year that teams can expect solid run-prevention skills but not a lot of innings. Still, there is quite a bit of value in pitchers like that, and the Yankees had just two pitchers who threw even 125 in 2023: Gerrit Cole and Clarke Schmidt.

In 2022, Wacha had a 3.32 ERA in 127.1 innings with the Boston Red Sox, pulling off a comeback after a few years in the wilderness. From 2019-21, he pitched for three different franchises and posted a mediocre 5.11 ERA in 285.1 innings, but really found some consistency in the last couple campaigns and the numbers show it. Not that it means a lot, but he is 25-6 in the last two years, as well.

This recent consistency has a lot to do with increased usage of his changeup. In 2023, it became his most frequently used pitch at 34.5 percent, and it makes all the sense in the world because it had a 35.9-percent whiff rate and a .234 xwOBA against it this year. He has total control of it and likes to throw at any occasion.

Baseball Savant

A 92-mph four-seam fastball, a sinker, a cutter, and a curveball complete his repertoire. The changeup, however, is his bread and butter.

It’s been a long time, but back when Wacha was a rookie, he was MVP of the NL Championship Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, and was also an All-Star in 2015. He’s experienced, composed, has a true out pitch and boasts very good control and command. His career BB/9 is 2.89 with a 7.6-percent BB%, and those marks have sat at 2.40 and 6.4 percent since the start of 2020.

The problem is, as stated, availability. Wacha isn’t the most durable pitcher in the world and has a long history of shoulder issues, among many others.

Since the start of the 2022 campaign, Wacha has visited the injured list with left intercostal irritation and twice with right shoulder inflammation. He suffered hamstring issues in 2021 and, again, shoulder problems in 2020. MLB teams know that signing him represents a risk.

Does Wacha fit in the Yankees’ roster? Any talented pitcher who can consistently start games does, and Wacha certainly qualifies. Of course, the fact he hasn’t surpassed 150 innings since 2017 is far from ideal, but quality teams should have between eight and ten legitimate starting pitching options (this includes free agency signings, homegrown guys, pitchers that came via trades, and prospects) and the Yankees are currently far from that number.

Will they bring in Wacha? As always, it comes down to market dynamics. If the Yankees miss out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto or one of the top starters (Blake Snell? Jordan Montgomery? Shōta Imanaga?), it’s possible they reach out to Wacha’s camp and negotiations could start. He is obviously not the first name on New York’s list, but they could do a lot worse than a pitcher who has a career 3.96 ERA and posted a 2.6-fWAR season in just 134.1 innings this past season.

Update

Just like Seth Lugo the other day, Wacha is now off the board and bound for Kansas City.