Yankees Offseason Trade Target: Cardinals Starter Michael Wacha
The St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly been shopping talented-but-broken pitcher Michael Wacha in recent weeks. Should the New York Yankees make a play for the former phenom?
In a recent column, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the St. Louis Cardinals “have floated right-hander Michael Wacha‘s name in trade discussions,” but expresses his skepticism that the starter is worth much because of his recent history of injuries and poor performance. Still, with the New York Yankees exploring all avenues to improve their pitching staff this winter, it’s worth taking a close look at all starting pitchers who might be available via trade, especially those as young and talented as Wacha.
The Cardinals are one of the few clubs in the game who can make a reasonable claim to having “too many” starting pitchers. Yanks Go Yard has previously discussed Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia as a potential trade target after the 30-year-old lefty was crowded out of the St. Louis rotation in September. Wacha is another guy who may not have a starting job in the spring, which is likely why the Cards are at least considering a move.
Wacha has dealt with periodic issues with his right shoulder dating back to 2014, most recently missing over a month in the second half of 2016 with inflammation. It’s not clear how much the injury played a role in the 5.09 ERA Wacha posted over 138 IP this season, although it is worth noting that his peripheral stats were more or less in line with his career norms.
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The 25-year-old saw his strikeout rate dip slightly from the previous season, from 20.1% to 18.8%, while his walk rate and home run rates were more or less unchanged. Wacha did lose a tick off of his fastball this year, averaging 93.2 mph this year, down from 94.2 mph in 2015.
Shoulder problems are a major red flag for a pitcher, so the Yankees would need to do a very thorough exam and spend some time pouring over his medicals, but Wacha is still just 25-years-old and comes with three seasons of team control.
At his best, Wacha is an excellent number two starter who would slot in nicely behind Masahiro Tanaka next year, and maybe James Kaprielian the year after that if all goes well. He’s just one year removed from a three-win season according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR where he pitched to a 3.38 ERA and 3.87 FIP in 181.1 IP.
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St. Louis is reportedly in the market to upgrade their outfield defense and could also use a true leadoff hitter to set the table for their offense. They seem like a great fit for Brett Gardner. The Yankees would need to add quite a bit more given Wacha’s upside, but that’s a place to start. Maybe Gardy plus a guy from the top ten and one from the 15-20 range? Let’s say Gardner, Justus Sheffield, and Tyler Wade.
Honestly, that’s probably not enough for the Cardinals because Wacha is just so good when he’s healthy, but it doesn’t make sense for the Yankees to give up a ton for him either because of the risks involved.