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Pirates Free Agent Face-Off: Michael Wacha vs. Jack Flaherty

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Michael Wacha, Pittsburgh Pirates, MLB offseason

This is one in a series of comparing two Pittsburgh Pirates free agent targets this offseason.

Michael Wacha and Jack Flaherty. Two names the Pittsburgh Pirates are quite familiar with.

Both players had lengthy tenures with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pirates’ fans may best remember Wacha — despite their best efforts to forget — from when he nearly no-hit the Pirates and ended up throwing 7.1 dominant innings in game four of the 2013 NLDS.

Flaherty, meanwhile, has owned the Pirates during his big league career. In 16 appearances/15 starts against Pittsburgh, the right-hander is 9-1 with a dazzling 2.52 ERA.

The Pirates now have the opportunity to sign one in free agency. Or both. Or neither, for that matter.

Regardless of what happens, both players present fairly realistic targets for general manager Ben Cherington to pursue as he looks to add to the rotation this winter. Let’s compare.

RHP Michael Wacha

  • Age on 2024 opening day: 32
  • 2023 stats: 14-4, 3.22 ERA/3.89 FIP, 134.1 innings, 113 hits, 43 walks, 124 strikeouts, 24 appearances/24 starts, 127 ERA+
  • Career stats: 88-54, 3.96 ERA/4.05 FIP, 1,288 innings, 1,251 hits, 413 walks, 1,145 strikeouts, 249 appearances/228 starts, 102 ERA+
  • MLBTR contract prediction: 3 years, $36 million

Wacha is back on the market after a strong 2023 campaign with the San Diego Padres. With the Friars, Wacha recorded the most innings pitched he’s had in a season since 2017 while with the Cardinals.

After watching his career get offtrack from 2019-21, Wacha has rebounded nicely over the last two seasons. Between his 2022 season with the Boston Red Sox and last season in San Diego, Wacha has combined to go a jaw-dropping 25-6 with a 3.27 ERA.

His 4.01 FIP over that same span indicates he is due for some level of regression. Even if that’s the case, Wacha can still be an effective middle-of-the-rotation arm.

The red flag with Wacha that has been apparent is his health. He hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings in a season since 2017. He’s been on the injured list at least once in every season since then.

When he is healthy, Wacha has shown to be effective. It would be a gamble by the Pirates to sign him, but it might be worth it.

RHP Jack Flaherty

  • Age on 2024 opening day: 28
  • 2023 stats: 8-9, 4.99 ERA/4.36 FIP, 144.1 innings, 162 hits, 66 walks, 148 strikeouts, 29 appearances/27 starts, 86 ERA+
  • Career stats: 42-34, 3.75 ERA/4.01 FIP, 667.2 innings, 554 hits, 254 walks, 748 strikeouts, 131 appearances/125 starts, 109 ERA+
  • MLBTR contract prediction: 3 years, $40 million

Though he’s a few years younger, Flaherty is in a somewhat comparable position to Wacha. When healthy, he’s been a very valuable rotation piece.

His best season came in 2019 with St. Louis when he went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA in nearly 200 innings pitched. That year, he finished fourth in the National League Cy Young race.

As with Wacha, though, injuries are a concern. Prior to his 2023 season, the right-hander only pitched 114.1 innings between 2021-22. In the limited time he was on the mound over those two years, he did generate good results with an 11-3 record and a 3.54 ERA.

This past season. Flaherty was in the midst of a nice season with the Cardinals before he was shipped to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline. With Baltimore, Flaherty struggled to the tune of a 6.75 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched.

Parting Thoughts

Both of these options for the Pittsburgh Pirates would require a commitment rarely seen in the team’s history. The largest free agent deal ever handed out was a three-year, $39 million contract with Francisco Liriano during the 2013-14 offseason.

Based off of MLB Trade Rumors’ contract predictions, it would require the Pirates to be in that ballpark to land the services of either pitcher.

Both Wacha and Flaherty come with a considerable level of risk, but if the Pirates want a chance at obtaining an arm with upside, they might have to take on that risk.

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