Another Look At Flaws In The Waiver System

Yesterday, the Athletics claimed outfielder Alex Hassan from the Rangers, marking the fifth time in the past seven months that Hassan has been claimed. Since November, Hassan has been property of the Red Sox, then the Athletics, then the Orioles, then the Athletics again, then the Rangers, and then the Athletics for a third time.

To outside observers, Hassan’s lengthy recent transaction history is merely a curiosity, but as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal wrote in a lengthy piece that we highlighted earlier today, frequent claims and DFAs can be a significant problem for players, both personally and professionally. MacPherson writes that the MLBPA is likely to address the issue in negotiations for the next CBA, and it’s easy to see why the union is concerned. In recent years, players like Hassan, Adam Rosales, Gonzalez Germen and Alex Castellanos have been designated for assignment several times in short periods. While the waiver loop in which Hassan found himself is a minor problem in the grand scheme, it clearly was not a minor problem to him, and it served little purpose for all the teams that claimed and then designated him.

Some employment uncertainty is a necessary and understandable aspect of playing pro baseball, but players on the fringes of 40-man rosters have a particularly difficult time. Unlike players who are frequently moved back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors, players who are frequently designated and claimed often must move from one set of unfamiliar environs to another.

Also, while they’re in DFA limbo, they can’t play. That might not be a big deal for a player who is designated once, but it’s a problem for a player who is repeatedly designated in a short span of time. For example, as I noted in a post on this topic in early 2013, a series of DFAs prevented outfielder Casper Wells from playing in a game in 2013 until late April (April 23, to be exact), even though he was healthy. (Wells got designated for assignment again a week after I wrote that post.) The worst aspect of Wells’ situation was that he was in DFA limbo for a full ten days between when the Mariners designated him March 31 and the Blue Jays claimed him April 10, and another eight between April 14, when the Jays designated him, and April 22, when they finally traded him to the A’s.

One easy fix the MLBPA could consider suggesting, then, is to shorten the maximum DFA limbo period, as an MLBTR reader proposed in the comments to my 2013 piece. The current ten-day wait seems unnecessary and anachronistic. Even waiver periods in fantasy leagues usually only last a day or two. And teams shouldn’t need much time to collect information about a player they’re considering claiming once he’s in DFA limbo, because he’s no longer playing and thus cannot be scouted, except through video.

Unlike Wells, Hassan never had to spend anywhere near the full ten days in limbo. But he still felt behind in his routines, particularly since he bounced around so much since the start of Spring Training. “You’re just behind,” he tells MacPherson. “I’m like, ‘Man, honestly, it’s not my mechanics. It’s not anything like that. I just feel behind.’ The frustrating thing about that is that there’s no real fix for that other than going out and playing and getting the at-bats. … I can’t simulate that.”

This is especially unfortunate for Hassan, since the reason he and players like Wells keep getting designated and claimed is because they’re on the fringes. A series of odd breaks from their routines over the course of a month or two might not sound like an insurmountable obstacle, but for a fringe player, it might make or break his career. Equally problematic, as Hassan points out elsewhere in MacPherson’s article, is the fact that a player in his position must perform well immediately after being claimed, or risk being designated for assignment again.

At its best, the waiver system allows fringe players to find situations for which they’re best suited. A good recent example is that of Stolmy Pimentel, an out-of-options reliever who couldn’t break camp with the Pirates but got claimed by the Rangers, who had greater flexibility in their bullpen than Pittsburgh did. Pimentel has mostly performed well in Texas so far.

At its worst, though, the system is disruptive, and one potential problem is that a team can claim players it has no intention of using on its big-league roster and essentially take a free shot at trying to sneak them through waivers again and use them as minor-league depth. That might have been what the Blue Jays were trying to do with Wells and several other players during that period, and we might be seeing it again with, say, the Dodgers’ recent claims and immediate outrights longtime Reds farmhands Daniel Corcino and Ryan Dennick. The possibility of outrighting Hassan was surely at least part of the reason Hassan got claimed so many times. If it was, the teams who claimed him were behaving rationally, given the rules currently in place. They claimed him and tried to sneak him through waivers; as long as they didn’t mind him occupying a roster spot for a few days or weeks, they didn’t lose anything as a result of having claimed him, and were no worse for wear when their attempts to sneak him through waivers didn’t work.

In my 2013 post, I suggested that a team claiming a player should have keep him on its 40-man roster for 30 days before designating him again. That would have been an improvement over the current system, but upon reflection, it might not have given teams an appropriate amount of flexibility, since injuries can crop up at any time and force teams to change their plans.

An alternate possibility, then, might be to make every player designated for assignment eligible for free agency if he has previously been claimed in a specified time frame — say, the last 60 days. Such a player could also again receive the right to opt for free agency if he’s outrighted as a result of that DFA, even if he’s being outrighted for the first time. That would free the player to sign wherever he liked, as quickly as he liked, and allow him to find the situation and contract that fit him best. It would also disincentivize the practice of claiming a player purely to try to sneak him into the minors.


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Brewers To Hire Craig Counsell

The Brewers will hire Craig Counsell as their next manager, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. The team announced the firing of Ron Roenicke Sunday night and will formally announce their new hire Monday morning.

USATSI_5418894_154513410_lowresCounsell is currently a special assistant to Brewers GM Doug Melvin. He was a finalist for the Rays managerial job this past offseason, but he withdrew his name from consideration in order to stay on with Milwaukee. He has worked with the Brewers front office since retiring as a player and has no managerial experience, although he’s regarded well enough in the industry to have been considered not only for the Rays job, but for the Red Sox’ hitting coach position, for which he interviewed in 2012.

The 44-year-old Counsell spent part of 16 seasons in the Majors as a player, including with the Brewers in 2004 and from 2007 through the end of his career in 2011. He hit .255/.342/.344 while playing mostly second, third and shortstop. Counsell also played key roles in World Series wins for the 1997 Marlins and 2001 Diamondbacks, winning the NLCS MVP award in 2001.

Counsell will inherit a Brewers team that got off to a poor 7-18 start. Melvin has suggested the Brewers could begin trading veteran players in an effort to rebuild, a process Counsell evidently would then oversee.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL Notes: Soria, Pirela, Jimenez

In Joakim Soria, the Tigers have found the top-quality closer they’ve lacked in the past several seasons, James Schmehl of MLive.com writes. Soria has been successful in all ten of his save chances this season while allowing just two runs in 11 2/3 innings. Over the past several years, the Tigers have leaned on the often unreliable Jose Valverde and Joe Nathan, with a strong partial-season performance from Joaquin Benoit in 2013 providing a few months of respite. The Tigers bullpen was a problem last year, and Schmehl notes that much of it is still shaky. But for now, their closer problem seems to be solved. Here’s more from the American League.

  • Jose Pirela‘s terrific hitting on a rehab assignment for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this weekend has the Yankees considering promoting him to the big leagues, Chad Jennings of the Journal News writes. Pirela, who’s returning from a concussion suffered in Spring Training, has had three or more hits in three straight games. Jennings notes that Gregorio Petit currently serves as the Yankees’ righty bench infielder, but that Pirela could provide more offense.
  • Infielder Luis Jimenez, who the Red Sox claimed from the Brewers this weekend, allows Boston to use their other bench players more flexibly, manager John Farrell says (via Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald). “Righthanded utility guy, we like the defense, particularly at third, if that comes into play,” says Farrell. “It gives us some more flexibility with Brock (Holt) and Daniel Nava, and hopefully a chance to get back to 13 position players.” Jimenez rates as a plus defensive third baseman and could prove to be a valuable backup for Pablo Sandoval. Jimenez can also play elsewhere in the infield.


Padres To Promote Austin Hedges

The Padres will promote top catching prospect Austin Hedges, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets. It’s uncertain how much he’ll play with the Padres, however, since their current starting backstop, Derek Norris, is in the midst of a strong season, and first baseman Yonder Alonso and the Padres’ outfielders have all played well too, so there’s nowhere else to move Norris (who has little big-league experience at any position besides catcher anyway). The team does have a brief series in Seattle next week that could allow Hedges to catch while Norris plays DH. Wil Nieves is the Padres’ current backup catcher, and Lin suggests Nieves could be designated for assignment, with Hedges taking over in a backup role.

Hedges is ranked as the No. 23 prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus, No. 50 by MLB.com, and No. 74 by ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider-only). Hedges’ defensive ability wins widespread acclaim from nearly all prospect analysts. MLB.com praises his receiving, arm, and potential game-calling ability, while Law notes that framing pitches should prove to be a strength as well. Hedges wins less praise for his hitting — he batted a weak .225/.268/.321 at Double-A San Antonio last year. He’s off to a much better start in 2015 for Triple-A El Paso this year, however (.343/.413/.552 in 75 plate appearances), and his strong standing among prospect analysts suggests he might be so valuable defensively that he won’t need to hit much.

If Hedges manages to stick in the big leagues, he’ll likely be in line to become eligible for arbitration as a Super Two player following the 2017 season. He could then become a free agent after 2021.


Brewers Fire Ron Roenicke

The Brewers have announced that they’ve fired manager Ron Roenicke. The team says it will announce his replacement at a press conference at 10:30am Monday. The Brewers will not make any further changes to their coaching staff at present, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com tweets.

USATSI_8526874_154513410_lowresThe Brewers posted a solid 342-331 record in four-plus seasons with Roenicke at the helm, and he led the Brewers to an NL Central division championship in 2011. The team also had winning records in 2012 and 2014, although it collapsed badly down the stretch last season. It exercised its 2016 option on Roenicke in Spring Training, and GM Doug Melvin said less than two weeks ago that he and owner Mark Attanasio weren’t even considering firing Roenicke.

The Brewers were off to a dreadful 7-18 start this season, however, that led to plenty of reports and speculation about a major shakeup within the organization. The team began its year with four straight losses and hasn’t gotten back on track, dealing with an injury to star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and subpar performances from a number of key players. The Brewers did, however, win their last two games, perhaps suggesting (as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt tweets) that they had already decided to fire Roenicke before this weekend.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter) and others have already speculated about the possibility that Craig Counsell, who has worked with the Brewers front office since retiring as a player, could be Roenicke’s replacement. There’s also been speculation about former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, although SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets that Gardenhire will not be replacing Roenicke.

This has been a difficult start to the season, something that we certainly didn’t anticipate,” says Melvin. “We appreciate all that Ron has done for our organization, and he has handled his duties with great professionalism and dedication.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Dodgers Acquire Andy Wilkins

The Blue Jays have announced that they’ve traded first baseman Andy Wilkins to the Dodgers for cash considerations. The Jays designated Wilkins for assignment this weekend. The Dodgers also formally announced that they have designated Scott Baker for assignment.

Wilkins, 26, collected 45 plate appearances with the White Sox in 2014, but he’s done most of his damage at the Triple-A level in recent years, hitting .283/.333/.499 in 848 career plate appearances there and hitting 30 home runs in Triple-A Charlotte last year. With Adrian Gonzalez playing first at the big league level, though, it looks likely Wilkins won’t get an extended chance to show what he can do in the Majors unless there’s an injury.


Dodgers Designate Scott Baker For Assignment

9:56pm: The Dodgers have formally announced that they’ve designated Baker for assignment and acquired first baseman Andy Wilkins from the Blue Jays for cash considerations.

7:52pm: The Dodgers will designate veteran righty Scott Baker for assignment, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register tweets. The move will likely clear a roster spot for another reliever, who will be needed after the team used seven relievers in their 13-inning win over the Diamondbacks today. The Dodgers will continue to use Carlos Frias to their rotation, and it seems like they’ll have to add someone else, perhaps an arm from Triple-A, for what would have been Baker’s next start Wednesday against the Brewers.

The Dodgers signed the 33-year-old Baker last month after the Yankees cut him near the end of Spring Training. He made two starts for Los Angeles, allowing seven runs while striking out eight and walking three in 11 innings. In parts of ten seasons in the Majors, Baker has a 4.26 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.


NL Notes: Brewers, Pirates, Rockies

There have been numerous reports about the Brewers trading veteran players and rebuilding. But they aren’t likely to do so this early in the season, if only because it’s hard to find trading partners, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. If the Brewers don’t start trading immediately, though, it doesn’t sound like it will be because of any lack of eagerness on their part. “Very few teams are open to taking on money at this time of year. You get similar answers: ‘We’re still looking at our club right now,'” says GM Doug Melvin. “The frustrating part is you would like to make some moves and do some things. But, early in the year, the only thing you can do is (between) your club and Triple-A.” Here are more notes from the National League.

  • Brewers first baseman Adam Lind could make a good trade target for the Pirates, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets. The Pirates could certainly use more offense, but they already have a left-handed first baseman in Pedro Alvarez, and he’s one of a handful of players on the team not hitting poorly. The Bucs could also move Alvarez to third base and have Josh Harrison go back to a utility role, although that seems unlikely, given Alvarez’s extreme problems with throwing last season.
  • The Rockies have struggled in part because they haven’t been bold enough in their pursuit of starting pitching, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. The team has been reluctant to make big commitments to starting pitchers since their deals with Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle went south, Saunders writes. Of course, one problem is that it’s very difficult to get free agent starting pitchers to play half their games in Coors Field. Instead, Saunders suggests the Rockies could make a bold trade for a top starting pitcher, the way the Royals did with James Shields.

MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:


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Minor Moves: Cody Ross, Jerry Sands

Here are Sunday’s minor moves from around MLB:


AL Notes: Hamilton, Ventura, Graham, Texas, Hassan

The Angels signing of Josh Hamilton has set the franchise back in ways other than financial, opines Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. During the 2012 offseason, the Angels decided to invest their payroll in Hamilton rather than make a serious bid to retain Zack Greinke. The five-year, $125MM contract forced GM Jerry DiPoto to cut corners when building his pitching staff for the 2013 sesaon and eventually he had to deal bats like Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick to acquire young arms (Hector Santiago, Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney) over the next two offseasons. Shaikin posits the Angels’ lineup is a Mike Trout injury away from being devasted.

Elsewhere in the American League:

  • With public criticism mounting against White Sox manager Robin Ventura, first baseman Jose Abreu came to the defense of his skipper, Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune tweets. “If the people want someone to blame, it’s the players, not Robin,” Abreu said.
  • Twins Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham is here to stay, manager Paul Molitor tells reporters, including Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press (on Twitter). “He’s going to be here all year,” the manager said. Graham threw two scoreless innings to close out the Twins’ 13-3 beating of the White Sox this afternoon.
  • The Rangers will have a logjam at first base once Mitch Moreland recovers from his elbow surgery, but they won’t be able to move some of the surplus to the outfield because of the injury history of Moreland and Kyle Blanks, reports Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News. Moreland says there was only one bone chip (a little bigger than the size of a watermelon seed) that needed to be removed from his elbow, tweets FOXSportsSouthwest.com’s Anthony Andro.
  • Indications are the continuing waiver wire saga of outfielder Alex Hassan (who has been claimed five times over the past seven months after being picked up by the A’s yesterday) will prompt the MLBPA to make this an issue during the next round of collective bargaining, according to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. The concern is the procedural movement hampers a prospect’s development, a sentiment echoed by Hassan. “You’re just behind,” Hassan said. “Do I prefer to be claimed by another team and have to break my lease and have to move my family and have to go find another apartment and take another short-term lease and get settled — and have to perform right away, knowing you’re the last guy on the 40-man roster? Or would it be better to stay where you are and get some stability and hopefully play well enough to where you might earn your way back up there? I don’t know the answer to that.

Red Sox Claim Luis Jimenez Off Waivers

The Red Sox have announced they have claimed infielder Luis Jimenez off waivers from the Brewers. Milwaukee had designated Jimenez for assignment yesterday. The Red Sox transferred catcher Ryan Hanigan to the 60-day disabled list to create room on the 40-man roster for Jimenez.

The Brewers cut ties with the 27-year-old after a 1-for-15 start to the season. Jimenez has a reputation as an outstanding defender, but has managed a meager .218/.255/.269 line in 167 plate appearances over three seasons with the Brewers and Angels. Jimenez, who made two starts at third base and has seen time at second base, as well, was claimed off waivers by Milwaukee from the Angels last October after he batted .286/.321/.505 with 21 home runs for Triple-A Salt Lake.

Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters, including CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam (Twitter link), Jimenez was claimed to allow Brock Holt to stay in right field, have a third non-catcher position player on the bench, and Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t eligible to return to Boston yet. Bradley was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket Wednesday and must spend 10 days there, unless recalled as an injury replacement.

Hanigan underwent surgery yesterday to fix a metacarpal fracture in his right hand. The injury was sustained Friday night.

 


Cubs Claim Anthony Varvaro Off Waivers

The Cubs have announced they have claimed right-hander Anthony Varvaro off waivers from the Red Sox. To clear a 40-man roster spot, the Cubs have designated left-hander Joseph Ortiz for assignment.

Varvaro, who was designated for assignment by the Red Sox Wednesday, has appeared in nine games (11 innings) this year allowing five earned runs while striking out eight and walking six.

Ortiz has spent the entire season at Triple-A Iowa making eight relief outings and notably has struck out only one batter in 10 2/3 innings. The Cubs claimed the 24-year-old off waivers from the Rangers last October after he spent most of the season recovering from a January 2014 motorcycle accident. Ortiz made his MLB debut with Texas in 2013 (his only stint in the Majors) posting a 4.23 ERA, 5.4 K/9, and 2.0 BB/9 in 44 2/3 innings (32 games).


White Sox Sign Tyler Colvin

The White Sox have signed outfielder Tyler Colvin to a minor league contact and have assigned him to Triple-A Charlotte, per the Knights’ Twitter feed. In a corresponding move, the White Sox released former 2009 first-round pick Jared Mitchell.

Colvin was in camp with the Marlins before opting out of his minor league deal in April. The 29-year-old outfielder spent 2014 with the Giants slashing .223/.268/.381 in 149 plate appearances before being outrighted in August. Colvin was the Cubs’ first-round choice and the 13th overall selection in the 2006 draft, but has struggled in the Majors batting .239/.287/.446 during his six-year career with the Cubs, Rockies, and Giants.

Mitchell was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft and also has failed to live up to his billing. The 26-year-old outfielder has scuffled at the Triple-A level posting a line of just .205/.328/.327 over the course of four seasons at Charlotte, including a mark of .050/.174/.100 in 46 plate appearances this year.


Cafardo On Hamels, Rays, Red Sox

The Phillies are “waiting with open arms” to find the right trade for at least one of their big-name veteran players, a major league official tells Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.  That list of big names, of course, includes ace Cole Hamels, though Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley could also be moved, Cafardo writes.  Amaro recently told reporters that he’s willing to eat part of Hamels’ contract in a trade if necessary, and that could help bring about a deal for the Phillies.  More from today’s column..

  • Major league sources tell Cafardo that the tampering investigation brought by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg against the Cubs for their hiring of Joe Maddon was reopened when Sternberg objected to the original verdict.  In the end, however, it was found that there was no tampering in the negotiations.
  • Marlins GM Dan Jennings thought he had trade possibilities for catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was designated for assignment last week. He’s currently in the 10-day limbo period in which he could be traded, claimed, or put on waivers.
  • Scouts are still waiting for Red Sox outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig to bust out and it appears Boston is going to play him more to boost his trade value.  Cafardo notes that Craig has historically hit well in the month of May.
  • The Red Sox are trying to create roster versatility by using players at different positions. Shortstop Deven Marrero is the team’s latest experiment after seeing time at second base. One NL scout isn’t so wild about the concept. “He’s a terrific athlete so he’ll do well at the other positions, but this is the type of guy where you know he’s a terrific shortstop so why mess around with that?” said the scout. “He’s got high confidence as a shortstop and now you’re reducing that confidence level by making him play positions he’s not used to.