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San Diego Padres’ unusual deal with Michael Wacha could revolutionize MLB contracts

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Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres’ agreement with veteran starting pitcher Michael Wacha breaks away from many MLB contract norms and could revolutionize certain future deals in the league.

This offseason has been the most expensive in MLB history. Teams around the sport spent over $2 billion on guaranteed contracts dealt out to Aaron Judge, Justin Verlander, Jacob DeGrom, Xander Bogaerts, and many other star players. Yet, that doesn’t mean teams and players can’t find mutually beneficial deals beyond record-breaking sums.

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On Wednesday, the San Diego Padres added a reliable arm to the back end of their starting rotation when they signed Michael Wacha to a multi-year deal. On Thursday, the terms of that deal were revealed and they were different from most contracts baseball fans are used to.

The Athletic’s MLB insider Ken Rosenthal reported that the deal is for four seasons at $26 million, and includes a $3.5 million signing bonus. His base salary will be only $4 million in 2023, however, each of the next two seasons has a club option for both the team and the player. Allowing the San Diego Padres to save money or for Wacha to increase his pay to $16 million in 2024 and 2025.

How Michael Wacha’s deal with San Diego Padres could be a game changer for MLB

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Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Following the deal becoming official, ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan explained why the unique deal between the San Diego Padres and Michael Wacha has non-guaranteed risks but benefits for both sides as well.

“The Padres get the benefit of another lower-[average annual value] deal. Wacha gets protection: If he’s really good, he’ll make $16M a year for two years. If he’s not, he’s guaranteed $18.5M more. And if it’s in between, both sides can turn down the options and Wacha will hit free agency after ’23.”

– Jeff Passan

Obviously, the top-line stars will pass on such a deal, but future free agents below the top tiers could sign similar deals with all sorts of variations that protect both sides. Maybe players get more money upfront, and if they produce they are guaranteed the same or a raise the next season. If a player underperforms, a team will have the option to get out of the deal or at least recoup some of the contracted money and have more salary flexibility to improve the team.

Essentially, it would incentivize players to perform at their best every season and guarantee increased pay after good seasons, but also have a safety net in the player option that becomes a team and fan-friendly deal after a down year.

  • Michael Wacha stats (2022): 11-2 record, 3.32 ERA, 104 Ks, 1.115 WHIP

For contending teams that are not among the biggest spenders, it would allow them to add worthwhile pieces and make a strong push for a title in the short-term and reward players who perform well. Just like the San Diego Padres are doing with Wacha.

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