Yesterday’s biggest development was the number of players reportedly on the waiver wire. The Angels, White Sox, Yankees, Mets and Tigers each put impending free agents on irrevocable waivers.
Those clubs are out of contention. The hope is that another team with a path to the playoffs will take what remains of this year’s contract off their hands. It’s particularly meaningful in the Angels’ case, as shedding enough veterans could allow them to limbo back under the luxury tax threshold after their deadline push fell flat.
No other player known to be on waivers has the upside of Lucas Giolito. The right-hander has had a tough time in Orange County, allowing a 6.89 ERA over six starts. Giolito has been the victim of a home run barrage in Southern California, allowing multiple longballs in three of those appearances. Clearly, the past month hasn’t gone as he or the team had envisioned. Yet we’re only four weeks removed from Giolito and reliever Reynaldo López (also now on waivers) fetching two of the Halos’ top prospects in trade. Now, another team could have him for nothing more than the approximate $1.9MM remaining on his arbitration contract.
Giolito isn’t the only starter out there, but he’s by far the most appealing (at least among the players publicly reported to be on waivers). The Mets made Carlos Carrasco available. He has a 6.80 ERA through 20 starts on the season, though. He hasn’t shown much sign of recent progress, allowing 35 runs and a staggering .404/.450/.654 opponents’ batting line in 29 innings since the All-Star Break. It’s hard to imagine him as an upgrade for a contending pitching staff, particularly since there’s still around $2.6MM remaining on his $14MM salary.
Mike Clevinger would be a clearer roster upgrade than Carrasco. He missed a month and a half midway through the year with biceps inflammation. A return one start before the August 1 deadline wasn’t sufficient to drum up trade interest. Clevinger has turned in a solid enough season, though, pitching to a 3.32 ERA over 97 2/3 innings. While his 20.8% strikeout rate and 9.3% walk percentage are each worse than average, it’d be easy enough for a number of hopeful contenders to find room for Clevinger at the back of their rotation — at least from an on-field perspective.
Complicating matters is the structure of the righty’s contract. Clevinger’s $8MM salary isn’t the issue, as most teams could easily accommodate the roughly $1.5MM still to be paid out. Yet there’s also a $4MM buyout on a $12MM mutual option for next season. Clevinger receives the buyout regardless of which side declines the option and is very likely to return to free agency since mutual options are almost never triggered by both sides. A claiming team would have to take on responsibility for the buyout as well — it’s all or nothing for assuming a player’s contract off waivers — so it’d be a nearly $5.5MM investment for a month (and perhaps a playoff run) of Clevinger’s services.
That’s a tough sell for a team. If there were no option buyout, he’d need to be playing this season on a $30MM salary to have that kind of money remaining on his deal. It’s hard to imagine any team views Clevinger as equivalent to a $30MM pitcher, even for just a few weeks.
While Carrasco and Clevinger seem like borderline waiver claims at best, there’s little doubt someone will add Giolito. Despite his recent struggles, he’d be a clear upgrade for fringe contenders with uncertain rotation outlooks.
A few things to remember before taking a look at the likeliest teams to make a claim. It’ll be a club with playoff aspirations. Giolito would be the best pitcher on the A’s, but there’s no incentive for them to add him when he’ll be a free agent in five weeks. Yet he’s probably not going to wind up with one of the three best teams in the sport. Waiver priority is in inverse order of the MLB standings as of tomorrow morning. The Dodgers, Orioles and/or Braves could place a claim, but it’s very likely someone with a worse record will do so as well and beat them out.
Let’s identify potential fits (in expected waiver priority order):
- Padres (62-72)
This could be a test of how much optimism remains in the San Diego front office. The Padres are 10 games under .500 and eight out of the final NL Wild Card spot. A postseason run is hard to envision at this point. Yet the Friars held Blake Snell and Josh Hader at the deadline and acquired Garrett Cooper, Ji Man Choi, Scott Barlow and Rich Hill. If there’s any hope for 2023 left at Petco Park, a Giolito claim would be the last sign. Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish are on the injured list, leaving Hill and Pedro Avila in the starting five. There’s room for Giolito on the roster. A couple million dollars doesn’t seem much of a deterrent for owner Peter Seidler. The question is simply whether the Padres still think they have a shot.
- Marlins (66-66)
Miami looked into rotation possibilities at the deadline but ultimately brought in just a depth starter in Ryan Weathers. They’ve kept Edward Cabrera in Triple-A for the past month. Johnny Cueto is on the injured list, while it’s unclear if Trevor Rogers will return at all this season. There’s a strong front four in Sandy Alcantara, Jesús Luzardo, Braxton Garrett and rookie Eury Pérez. There’s enough uncertainty with the final rotation spot that Miami could consider a claim.
Notably, the Marlins aren’t guaranteed to remain above the Reds’ in the waiver order. A Marlins win over the Rays paired with a Cincinnati loss in San Francisco would push Miami’s win percentage marginally above that of the Reds.
- Reds (68-66)
The Reds are the first club where it’d be incredibly surprising if they didn’t put in a claim on Giolito. Cincinnati didn’t address their rotation at the deadline despite ranking 27th at the time in rotation ERA. They’ve been no better over the past month, with their starters allowing 5.86 earned runs per nine in 26 games. Hunter Greene returned from the injured list in the intervening weeks but was shelled in his first two starts back. Nick Lodolo — initially expected back from a leg injury at the end of this month — suffered a setback. Even with Graham Ashcraft and Brandon Williamson performing well of late, there’s clear room for more help. The Reds checked in with the White Sox about their rotation before the deadline, presumably at least gauging Chicago’s asking price on Giolito before they sent him to Anaheim.
- Twins (69-65)*
Giolito would be a luxury buy for a Minnesota club that’s on its way to an AL Central title. The rotation is already strong, anchored by Pablo López, Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda and Joe Ryan. The Twins have gotten decent enough work from Dallas Keuchel that they optioned Bailey Ober to Triple-A. Placing a claim would simply be about deepening the pitching staff for the postseason, where skipper Rocco Baldelli could have quicker hooks for everyone aside from López and Gray.
- Red Sox (69-64)
The Red Sox may feel their rotation is strong enough to pass on Giolito. They’re running with a starting five of Chris Sale, James Paxton, Brayan Bello, Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford. That’s a pretty good group, although they’re middle-of-the-pack in ERA and strikeout rate since the All-Star Break. Paxton, Sale and Houck have had injury concerns. Houck and Crawford have spent time in the bullpen this season.
Starting pitching isn’t necessarily a need, but adding any kind of talent could be welcome for a club that has fallen 6.5 games out of the last AL Wild Card spot. Boston has roughly $9MM in payroll space before reaching the base luxury tax threshold, as calculated by Roster Resource. They’d only take on the remaining portion of Giolito’s salary if they claimed him, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
- Diamondbacks (69-64)
If Cincinnati, Boston (and everyone else in front of them) passes on Giolito, the D-Backs figure to step in. They’re quite similar to the Reds. Arizona’s a surprise contender that sought but didn’t find rotation upgrades for the deadline. They also touched base with the Sox on Giolito. There’s still very little depth beyond Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Righty Slade Cecconi has five MLB appearances to his name. Brandon Pfaadt has been knocked around as a rookie. Zach Davies probably shouldn’t be starting for a team with playoff aspirations. Tommy Henry, arguably the club’s third-best starter, seems likely to miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury.
*Note: Boston, Minnesota and Arizona could swap places in waiver priority tonight. When multiple clubs have the same record, priority goes to the team in the same league as the team that put the player on waivers. Within leagues, priority goes to the team that had the worse record in prior seasons. If they all have the same record going into tomorrow, the order would go Minnesota (worse record than the Red Sox in 2021) – Boston – Arizona.
It’s tough to envision scenarios where Giolito gets past the Diamondbacks. At least one of Miami, Cincinnati and Arizona should be motivated enough to make a claim. Contenders like the Cubs, Rays, Orioles and Dodgers may all have interest, but it’d require inexplicable decisions to pass on the part of a few teams in front of them. Perhaps clubs near the back of the waiver order will consider a flier on Clevinger as a fallback, though the aforementioned contract situation makes that far less appealing than getting Giolito would be.