The Padres have recently checked in with righty Michael Wacha, reports Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. San Diego has also shown recent interest in veteran southpaw Cole Hamels as part of his comeback effort, according to Acee.
Those hurlers are in very different spots of their careers. Wacha is the best remaining free agent starting pitcher and the only hurler who made MLBTR’s top 50 free agents at the start of the offseason who is still unsigned. The 31-year-old is coming off a solid season for the Red Sox, making good on a $7MM free agent deal to turn in a 3.32 ERA across 23 starts and 127 1/3 innings.
Wacha’s camp apparently entered free agency with a fairly lofty goal on the heels of that showing. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported last month his camp had been seeking around $30MM over two seasons. There hasn’t seemed to be sufficient interest from the market to push prices to that level, and Acee suggests Wacha’s asking price has lowered as the regular season draws nearer.
On the surface, a $15MM average annual value over two years isn’t an outlandish ask for a pitcher who posted such a strong ERA during his platform year. However, there are a handful of other indicators that raise questions about Wacha’s ability to sustain upper mid-rotation production. The 2022 season was the first in four years in which the veteran hurler allowed fewer than four earned runs per nine innings and came on the heels of consecutive campaigns with an ERA above 5.00. Wacha’s peripherals weren’t dramatically different from those of his prior showings.
Last year’s 20.2% strikeout rate was his lowest since 2019, as was his 9.5% swinging strike percentage. Wacha’s average fastball speed was at exactly 93 MPH after sitting at 93.6 MPH and 93.8 MPH, respectively, in 2020-21. His ground-ball rate was up a couple percentage points relative to his past couple years and he demonstrated the above-average control he’s owned throughout his career. Yet the most significant difference in 2022 was that opponents hit only .260 on balls in play after combining for a .324 BABIP between 2020-21.
Of course, there’s room for Wacha’s ERA to regress while still remaining palatable. Thanks largely to his plus strike-throwing, he’s posted a SIERA between 3.99 and 4.07 in each of the last three seasons. He’s a capable back-of-the-rotation starter, making him a reasonable fit for a win-now San Diego team that’s prepared to take some risk in their…