With less than a day to spare, Major League Baseball and the Players’ Union were able to come to terms and sign a new collective bargaining agreement this year, preserving over two decades of continuing labor peace. To the relief of, well, everyone, the All-Star Game will no longer decide home-field advantage in the World Series. Among other changes were included further global expansion of the regular season, a ten-day disabled list, a ban on chewing tobacco, and new financial regulations on teams.
Missing from the changes, however, was any adjustment to the game’s antiquated waiver system, which has existed in its current form, more or less, for over a century. While this might not be optimal for baseball, for Brewers fans this is a blessing greater than the sum of the rest of the CBA combined.
Over the past year, David Stearns has been one of the most active general managers in all of baseball in dumpster diving the waiver wire.
|Team||Claims Since April 1|
|St. Louis||-||San Francisco||-|
|Source: MLB Trade Rumors|
While this hasn’t really paid dividends yet, it’s a good, risk-free strategy to maximize the talent on your 40-man roster. Though Milwaukee left several valuable pieces unprotected for December’s Rule 5 draft, and even lost young pitcher Miguel Diaz to San Diego via the Twins, it’s not as if David Stearns is letting the 40th spot on the roster go to waste. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Fantasy baseball players reading this will need no introduction to the concepts of “stashing” and “streaming.” Neither one is a recent development in the game. “Stashing” refers to keeping a player with upside, but no real value in the present day, buried on your bench. “Streaming” is when you add a player you don’t intend to keep long-term, such as a starting pitcher on the day they start. Power-hitting outfielder Adam Walker is the latest example of Stearns’ shameless streaming strategy.
The Brewers claimed Milwaukee native Walker off of waivers from the Twins on November 18th. For two weeks, he remained on the team’s 40-man roster. Then, on December 2nd, the day after the new CBA failed to fix the waiver system, the Brewers waived Walker to clear out his roster spot. The Baltimore Orioles claimed Walker, ending his Brewers career before it began. But if they hadn’t, Milwaukee would have managed to successfully stash Walker in their minor-league system indefinitely. This is what the Twins tried to do two weeks prior and, somehow, they would have no claim to the player they’ve developed in their minor league system over the past four years.
If you’re marveling at how wildly unfair this system is, well, you’re not alone. But it doesn’t seem that fixing this is a priority for the players’ union at the moment, so the Brewers will continue to use it to their advantage.
Last year, Milwaukee found a small diamond in the rough through waiver trolling. They claimed reliever Jhan Marinez from the Rays in May, and worked out a trade for him after the claim. Marinez threw 58.7 innings for the club, pitching to a .267 True Average, 4.71 DRA, and 52 percent groundball rate. Marinez is a useful bullpen piece, utilizing a sinker and slider as his two primary pitches to induce ground balls and weak contact. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. With Tyler Thornburg exported to Boston, Marinez could even emerge as a dark horse candidate to close for the 2017 Brewers. Originally, he was supposed to be a claim-and-designate candidate, but injuries in the bullpen around that time spared him from the chopping block long enough for him to establish himself. Marinez struck out 15 of 36 batters he faced in the month of May, and at that point it was pretty hard to justify sending him down.
Marinez was never sent down after the Brewers claimed him, but Rob Scahill was a true example of how streaming works. The Pirates designated him for assignment, opening him up to waivers, on July 3rd. Nine days later, the Brewers claimed him and optioned him to Colorado Springs. Later on, Scahill came up to Milwaukee for a late-season trial, where he would post a sterling 1.04 WHIP in 18.3 innings. In Scahill’s case, too, the Brewers managed to pilfer a player from the division rival Pirates at zero cost.
The way the system works, a player whose contract doesn’t have any minor league options remaining must clear waivers in order to be sent down from the Major League club. A club can also waive a player with options remaining, such as Walker. There are no rules governing how long the claiming team must keep a claimed player on the roster, however, and all it costs a team to do this is a reset of their place in the waivers order. If you’re trying to sneak claims right back down to the minors, this doesn’t faze you. You need a player to clear waivers through every other team anyways! And if you’re working under the assumption that waiver claims are basically low-odds lottery tickets that you can get for free, simple logic would follow that you want as many of them as you can.
For what it’s worth, the odds of finding anything more than marginally useful through this system isn’t great. But the Milwaukee farm system is already stocked with more than a few potential stars, meaning waivers is just a way to fill in the cracks free of charge. The 40th man on the 40-man roster is not a future superstar, and it could be argued that the most useful thing you can do with that spot is turn it into a tool with which to generate spare parts that cost nothing.