Are the Blue Jays abusing the waiver system?

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Charlie Wilmoth of MLB Trade Rumors has a very good, thought-provoking article up today looking at how Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has utilized baseball’s waiver system lately. Wilmoth points out that, since mid-March, the Jays have claimed Guillermo Moscoso, Todd Redmond, Alex Burnett, Clint Robinson, Edgar Gonzalez, Mauro Gomez, and Casper Wells. Of the seven, only Gonzalez has seen time at the Major League level with the Jays. Wilmoth also looks back to 2011, when the Pirates claimed Brian Jeroloman, then designated him for assignment three days later. The Jays claimed him two days later, then DFA’d him just the same after two weeks.

Wilmoth really hits the nail on the head here:

None of this qualifies as a tragedy, but it’s still an issue that should be corrected. For one thing, players are subjected to unnecessary periods of waiver limbo, in which they aren’t playing and aren’t sure where they’ll be headed next. Of course, these periods of time are part of being a ballplayer, but they should be limited whenever possible.

Take the case of Casper Wells. Wells isn’t a great player, but he posted 1.2 wins above replacement in 2012. He should be a Major Leaguer. But thanks to the waiver claims process, he has yet to appear in a professional game this season. The Mariners designated him for assignment March 31, and the Jays’ claim didn’t come through until ten days later. Then, five days after that, the Jays dropped Wells from their roster without him having appeared in a game for them, and he hasn’t yet resurfaced. The waiver wire has effectively kept Wells out of professional baseball for the better part of a month.

Wilmoth goes on to suggest that an easy fix would be to require teams keep a claimed player on its 40-man roster for 30 days. Sounds like a common-sense solution that would fix an issue before it becomes widespread. It is interesting that no other teams have utilized the waiver system in the way the Jays have lately.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.