Red Sox still need a starting pitcher after signing Michael Wacha

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 03: Michael Wacha #52 of the Tampa Bay Rays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on October 03, 2021 in New York City. New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 03: Michael Wacha #52 of the Tampa Bay Rays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on October 03, 2021 in New York City. New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox should be in the market for more pitching

The Boston Red Sox increased their rotation depth by signing free-agent Michael Wacha. That’s not enough. Chaim Bloom still needs to scour the pitching market to add another starting pitcher.

Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta are the only pitchers locked into a rotation spot. Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck are candidates to join them, although at least one of them should stay in the bullpen to fill the valuable multi-inning role or handle high-leverage situations. That would leave the Red Sox with only four starting pitchers.

Wacha will have an opportunity to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation but it shouldn’t be handed to him. He showed promising potential early in his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, making an All-Star team in 2015. He’s not that same pitcher anymore, perhaps in part due to shoulder issues that have troubled him in recent years. Wacha hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2017.

The right-hander is in the worst stretch of his career. Over the last three seasons, he’s 7-11 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.562 WHIP in 37 appearances (31 starts). He signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last year but produced a 5.05 ERA.

His Statcast data was particularly concerning, ranking among the bottom-14 qualified major league pitchers in average exit velocity, hard hit percentage and barrel percentages, per Baseball Savant.

If we look hard enough, we can find some positives. The injuries he’s endured haven’t sapped his velocity, as he still averages around 94 mph with his fastball. He’s hardly an elite strikeout pitcher but his 22.9 K% and career-high 11.4 swinging strike percentage are above average. He limits free passes, ranking 22nd in the majors with a 5.9 BB% (minimum 120 innings).

There’s a path to Wacha redeeming himself as a viable major league starter but the Red Sox can’t assume he can be counted on for that role. It’s unclear if they realize that based on what they are paying him.

According to Alex Speier of The Boston Globe, Wacha has agreed to a one-year, $7 million deal. The short commitment is ideal for a pitcher who comes with a fair amount of risk. The salary isn’t going to break the bank but it’s more than expected. It’s the most money Wacha has made in any season and more than doubles what the Rays signed him for last year. His production in Tampa Bay didn’t warrant that much of a pay bump.

"“I think by the time the offseason is over, we will have added pitching of various sorts, including starting pitching,” Bloom stated prior to signing Wacha. “I think that’s something that’s a clear goal of ours.”"

That statement from Bloom implies that he intends to sign multiple pitchers to fill various roles. At least one starting pitcher plus some pieces to solidify the bullpen. Which item on the agenda does Wacha address?

The salary isn’t steep but it’s enough to suggest that the Red Sox view Wacha as more than depth or a long reliever. They signed Matt Andriese for less than $2 million last year to fill the swing-man, long relief role. It was easy to cut bait when he didn’t pan out. At $7 million, Wacha is currently Boston’s fourth-highest paid pitcher. That commitment shows they expect more from him.

Wacha is being paid more than Martin Perez was re-signed for last winter to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. Perez disappointed and was eventually banished to the bullpen but he still had a better season than Wacha. Perez was worth 1.6 WAR over the last two seasons while Wacha owns a -0.9 WAR in that span. Declining the $6 million club option on Perez was viewed as an easy decision but then they turn around and pay more money for a pitcher who has been less productive in recent years?

Taking a flier on a pitcher with his potential makes sense but they are paying Wacha more than teams give to someone for an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot. He’s overpaid if he ends up in a middle relief role and he hasn’t performed well enough in recent years to convince anyone he should be locked into the rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez’s departure in free agency left a void in the middle of the rotation. If Wacha is their replacement for E-Rod, he’s an underwhelming solution. Pivetta is a solid No. 4 but bumping him up to the third spot in the rotation isn’t ideal, nor is counting on Houck or Whitlock to make that leap when they’ve never done it before. Who is going to be the No. 3 starter then?

Certainly not Wacha. He could end up being a fine fifth starter but the Red Sox can’t enter next season with the same rotation they finished with this year, only with Rodriguez swapped out for Wacha. They need another dependable arm for the middle of the rotation.

Bloom did his bargain shopping on Black Friday. Now it’s time to open the checkbook for a pitcher who can make a more significant difference.

Next. Black Friday deals the Red Sox should consider. dark