Yesterday saw a flurry of players placed on waivers, with the Angels making six players available to other clubs, while the Yankees, White Sox, Mets and Tigers also got in on the act. What those clubs all have in common is that their chances of competing this year are effectively gone, meaning that impending free agents that aren’t qualifying offer candidates have little use to them at this point. Since the trade deadline passed by a month ago, those clubs have no ability to exchange those players for any kind of younger talent, a player to be named later or even cash considerations. But by placing them on waivers, they could perhaps see another team put in a claim and take on the remainder of the salary commitments. For a claiming team, this is perhaps their best way of upgrading their roster after the deadline. As long as the player is acquired prior to September 1, they would be playoff eligible. That’s why all of this is happening now.
Before digging in, let’s clarify the process. This is different than the revocable kind of waivers that existed under the now-defunct August waiver trade system. These waivers are irrevocable, meaning that the players will be gone if any club puts in a claim. But the players have not been designated for assignment nor released. If they are not claimed, they can simply stay on the roster of their current club. Waiver priority will be in reverse order of the standings at the time of the claim and is not league-specific.
MLBTR is breaking it down by position, with this post focusing on the relievers. Let’s start with an overview of who is in that bucket.
Matt Moore, Angels, LHP: $7.55MM salary, approximately $1.3M remaining
Moore, 34, had his ups and downs as a starter but he recently converted to relief work full-time and has been excellent since then. He had a 1.95 ERA with the Rangers last year and is at 2.30 with the Angels this year, coming into today’s action. In both seasons, he struck out more than 27% of opponents. His ground ball rate has fallen from last year, 43.9% to 34.3%, but he’s cut his walk rate from 12.5% to 7.1%. He has the highest salary of this group but has the best numbers and is the only lefty.
Reynaldo López, Angels, RHP: $3.625M salary, approximately $623K remaining
López, 29, was fairly mediocre as a starter but has been much better since his bullpen move, with a 2.76 ERA last year and 3.86 mark this year. He has bumped his strikeout rate this year from last year’s 24.8% rate to 30.7%, though his walk rate also jumped from 4.3% to 12.1%. He’s been the best of the righties on this list and his salary is about half of Moore’s.
Dominic Leone, Angels, RHP: $1.5MM salary, approximately $258K remaining
Leone, 31, has been fairly inconsistent in his career. He has three seasons with an ERA under 2.57 but also three above 6.32. This year, he’s in between at 4.64 while striking out 24% of opponents and walking 10.9%. He’s not having a dominant season but he had a 1.51 ERA as recently as 2021 and has the lightest salary of anyone on this list.
José Cisnero, Tigers, RHP: $2.2875MM salary, approximately $393K remaining
Cisnero, 34, had an incredible 1.08 ERA last year, though with some unsustainable elements in a .242 BABIP and 88.6% strand rate. This year, the wheel of fortune has spun him around the other way, with a .343 BABIP and 66% strand rate. That’s pushed his ERA to 5.36, a huge jump of more than four runs compared to last year. But his FIP, which takes those luck factors into account, went from 3.67 to 4.38. He has a 25.2% strikeout rate and 9% walk rate this year.
Now that we’ve covered the process and the players available, who makes sense to put in a claim? We can start by crossing out all of the non-contending clubs. They have no need to pick up an impending free agent and his salary as they play out the string on a lost season.
Since the waiver order goes from the bottom of the standings towards the top, the fringe contenders will have a greater chance of a successful claim than teams at the top of the standings. Those teams will have to decide whether they want to add some salary to their books in order to obtain a marginal bullpen upgrade for the final month of the season.
The Padres have been on the edges of the playoff race all year but refused to sell off impending free agents like Blake Snell and Josh Hader and even added players like Garrett Cooper and Rich Hill. But they are still 7.5 games back of a Wild Card spot and their playoff odds are dwindling. The financials are also important as both Roster Resource and Cot’s Baseball Contracts have them between the third and fourth CBT threshold. As a third-time payor, that means they are paying a 95% tax on any cash they take on. Given their place in the standings and their financial ledger, it seems like a long shot they would be involved here.
The Red Sox love to cycle through players at the back of their bullpen, frequently making small trades or minor league signings for depth. But they are now 6.5 games back of a playoff spot with the Blue Jays in between. Speaking of the Jays, they are 3.5 games out of a playoff spot but their bullpen is already quite strong. Their relievers have a collective ERA of 3.48, the fourth-best mark in the majors. Rosters expand in a couple of days but they have Chad Green rehabbing and nearing a return from last year’s Tommy John surgery.
The Marlins are three games back of a playoff spot and will certainly be motivated to gain ground, having not made the playoffs in a full season since 2003. Their bullpen has been shaky of late, especially with deadline acquisition David Robertson posting a 7.20 ERA since coming over from the Mets and getting bumped from the closer’s role. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the club is expected to put in a claim on at least one of the Angels’ relievers, though the typically-frugal club might be hesitant to take on some of the larger salaries listed above.
The Braves are last in the waiver priority list and already have one of the best bullpens in the league, making it less likely they will grab someone from this group. The Mariners have enough bullpen depth that they could flip Paul Sewald prior to the deadline and still thrive. The Phillies already have a strong bullpen and are in the second CBT tier and set to be a second-time payor.
As for the clubs that make good sense, there are plenty, as just about any contender could squeeze in a bullpen upgrade from a pure roster construction point of view. The Rangers, Astros, Cubs, Giants, Reds, Diamondbacks, Twins, Brewers, Orioles, Rays and Dodgers are each in postseason position or close to it, with another reliever being a sensible add.
The Rangers were leading their division for much of the year but have recently slid and are now in a cutthroat battle with the Astros and Mariners, with a few recent bullpen meltdowns part of the problem. They are already over the CBT but they have shown plenty of willingness to be aggressive in recent years. The Astros have a strong bullpen but it’s all right-handed, making Moore in particular a logical fit.
The Cubs love to build their bullpen via minor league deals and waiver claims, meaning they are surely intrigued. But Roster Resource and Cot’s have their CBT figure around $228MM, just a bit under the $233MM base threshold. Assuming those estimates are correct, they still have a bit of wiggle room, though those aren’t official. The Giants are one of the most creative clubs at patching together an improvised staff and could fit any of these guys into their budget if they are intrigued.
The Reds have a dynamic position player mix but a flimsy pitching staff that could use any help it can find. The Diamondbacks have a collective bullpen ERA of 4.71 that places them 25th in the majors. They added Sewald at the deadline but there’s room for further upgrades. The Twins’ bullpen is middle-of-the-pack and they are almost a lock for a playoff spot at this point, giving them incentive to further bolster the staff for October. The Brewers have a decent bullpen but have struggled to find second reliable lefty alongside Hoby Milner, which could perhaps lead to them claiming Moore.
The O’s have had a good relief group overall but it’s been a top-heavy unit headlined by Félix Bautista, who now has an injury of some sort to his UCL. The Rays have dealt with a mountain of injuries this year and aren’t shy about cycling through arms in their bullpen throughout the year. The Dodgers have been similarly bit by the injury bug, though these clubs are towards the back of the waiver line and will have to settle for the arms that the others pass on.