Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves front office are likely already hard at work weighing their options to improve the team for the 2024 season.
Offensively, there isn't very much for the team to address other than left field. That void could be filled internally or externally. There are some talented outfielders available but Atlanta has considered the option of moving Vaughn Grissom to a corner outfield position as well.
Starting pitching, however, will be a heavy focus this offseason as that was a glaring weak spot depth-wise for Atlanta in the playoffs. Charlie Morton and Max Fried suffered injuries late in the season. Morton missed the NLDS and Fried pitched well considering the blister issue but still didn't look full strength.
Atlanta will want to fix that issue to give themselves a better chance at going deep in the playoffs. Yes, the lack of offense was the main reason Atlanta didn't advance this season, but the lack of pitching depth surely didn't help when it came to reaching Game 3 and beyond.
There are a few suitable starting pitching options out there, but they may want to consider a former Cardinal standout to fulfill their need.
Michael Wacha started his career in St. Louis and was viewed as one of MLB's future stars. Since then, however, he has found himself on multiple teams. The Texas native was drafted in 2012 from Texas A&M which is also the alma mater of Atlanta reliever, A.J. Minter.
After his stint with St. Louis ended, Wacha signed with the Mets in 2020 (6.62 ERA) and then with Tampa in 2021 (5.05 ERA).
Wacha shipped himself to Boston in 2022, pitching to a 3.32 ERA over 127.1 innings. That was his best ERA in a few seasons. The Red Sox chose not to offer him a qualifying offer after that season and he once again found himself on his 4th team in just 4 years.
San Diego took a chance on Wacha as they signed him to a 4-year, $26 million contract that would pay him around $7.5 million in 2023. He ended up pitching very similarly to his previous season in Boston.
He features a 5 pitch mix including a changeup, 4-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, and curveball. That right there shows why he doesn't feature a lot of swing-and-miss. He's much more reliant on movement and getting groundball outs.
His career strikeout percentage sits at 21 versus a career groundball percentage of 43.3 in the ten years he's been in the league. That would work out well for him as the Braves have one of the best defensive infields in all of baseball. But that also means the margin of error for mistakes is very low.
Wacha finished his year in San Diego with a 3.22 ERA over 24 starts with 43 walks and 124 strikeouts. So, his strikeout numbers aren't eye-popping but he is an excellent option based on a combined ERA of 3.27 over the last two seasons.
His FIP sits at 4.00 over that time frame and may likely be a better indicator of what performance teams may be able to get from him.
San Diego ended up turning down their option to bring him back and that would have meant if Wacha agreed to the mutual option, he'd have received just $6.5 million in 2024. So, opting out was the better choice for him.
He will command a contract of around 3 years for $30 million and, based on the last two years, that seems fair. I think it's a good deal for Atlanta, knowing they'd be getting a good middle/end-of-the-rotation arm.
Now, they'll need to consider his health as a main factor. He did miss about a month and a half in August of 2023 with shoulder inflammation. Shoulder injuries take a lot of time to fully heal as the Braves have learned from Kyle Wright so they'll certainly be cautious about that.
When Wacha returned from that injury, he struggled with limiting runs scored. However, it seemed that the velocity was also up a tad after the injury. So, who knows? He seems like a great pick-up and the Braves should at least consider this option.