Fixing the Waiver System

On July 31st, in need of a roster spot for newly acquired Alberto Callaspo, the A’s designated Adam Rosales for assignment. Two days later, he was claimed on waivers by the Texas Rangers, as they were scrambling for depth with the uncertainty surrounding Nelson Cruz‘s suspension and appeal situation. After a brief weekend on the Rangers roster, Texas DFA’d Rosales on August 5th, and he was re-claimed on waivers by the A’s on August 8th, since they didn’t want to lose him in the first place. However, they still didn’t really have room for him on their big league roster, and when they needed a roster spot to promote Sonny Gray to pitch on Saturday, they DFA’d Rosales once again. Yesterday, he was re-claimed on waivers by the Rangers.

In two weeks, that’s two stints with the A’s and now two with the Rangers, who aren’t guaranteeing that they’ll keep him around this time either. Both teams like the positional flexibility and depth that Rosales provides, and would like to stash him in Triple-A so that they’ll have him around in case a need arises, but because Rosales is out of options, the only way to get him to Triple-A is to pass him through waivers. And Rosales is just good enough to tempt teams into claiming him so that they can then try and pass him through waivers themselves, while not being quite good enough for teams to commit to carrying him for longer periods of time.

Maybe this doesn’t all seem like a big deal, given that Adam Rosales has been getting paid the entire time, and is still on a big league roster. From that perspective, the system is working just fine, giving a Major League opportunity to a guy on the fringes of the talent pool. However, Rosales is a human being, and the practical implications of the DFA merry-go-round mean that he’s spent the last few weeks separated from his family and his belongings. There has to be a better way than this.

This isn’t the first time the waiver system has come under fire this year. Back in April, Ken Rosenthal noted that opposing GMs were unhappy with the Toronto Blue Jays “claim everyone” approach to waivers, and that the issue of changing the waiver system had come up at the GM meetings and was likely to do so again. Earlier in the season, Casper Wells went on a similar DFA whirlwind, when the Mariners cut him loose before opening day, and he went from Toronto to Oakland to Chicago in a month, getting a grand total of six plate appearances during that time.

While the rule is theoretically in place to provide a big league opportunity to a player who would otherwise find himself in the minors, I doubt Wells and Rosales actually see this kind of ping-pong roster maneuvering as helpful to their careers. It can’t be that hard to come up with a system that both provides opportunity for fringe players like Wells and Rosales without forcing them into long term limbo while GMs play a game of roster chicken just to see if they can pick up some free depth.

After all, teams already have rules in place that deal with similar types of players in other situations. The Rule 5 draft is basically an opportunity for teams to take mediocre prospects from opposing farm systems and give them a shot at the big leagues, with the caveat that they have to stay on the big league roster — or DL, which is why every rule 5 guy in history has “gotten injured” during their rule 5 season — for the entire season. That way, teams actually have to commit to carrying the player for a good chunk of the season, adding in some real cost for the club to weigh against the benefit of adding talent for just a small amount of cash; $50,000, in the case of each rule 5 selection.

In fact, the easiest waiver change might be to just borrow from how rule 5 players are handled. Currently, once a player is selected in the rule 5 draft, he must remain on the selecting team’s roster until or unless they decide that he’s not worth a spot anymore. Once they make that decision, then the player is passed through waivers, where 28 other teams have a chance to make the same commitment to keep him on their big league roster for the rest of the year. If those teams pass, then the original team gets the opportunity to buy back the player for $25,000, and most importantly, the chance to simply assign him back to their minor league system without passing him through waivers again.

Basically, the system is setup to give the player a big league opportunity, but there is no mechanism in place for a team to select a rule 5 player for the sole purpose of stockpiling depth in the minor leagues. They either keep him on their big league roster or give him back. The only team who can send him to the minors is the franchise that originally had him to begin with. With waivers, I can see an argument that the commitment process should be shorter, but it wouldn’t be that hard to put something similar in place.

Perhaps you use a 30 day minimum for waiver claims instead of the whole season. That way, teams can still use waivers to plug holes that arise due to injuries or underperformance, but it would eliminate the ploy of claiming a guy just to try and see if you can get him through waivers yourself. Under this scenario, a claimed player would have some job security, and could ship his stuff to the new city with the knowledge that he’ll be there for at least a few weeks. If a team wanted to borrow a player for less than 30 days, they’d have to offer him back to the original team with the caveat that he could then be sent to the minors.

That’s just one idea, of course. When I broached the idea of changing these rules on Twitter yesterday, several people responded with ideas of their own. A popular one was simply to grant automatic free agency to any player who is DFA’d more than one time in a season. Upon 2nd DFA, he simply would be released from his contract and free to sign with any team of his choosing. This way, the player could then choose whether to take a more secure minor league job with a franchise he’s comfortable with, or perhaps accept a short term major league contract knowing he might get released again in a short time. Either way, the choice would be his.

If granting free agency is too extreme of a measure, another suggestion was to also allow a player to opt-out of the waiver system by simply agreeing to be sent to the minors without passing through waivers, even if they were out of options. In Rosales’ cases, perhaps he’d rather be playing in Sacramento with the knoweldge that the A’s would call him back up when rosters expand in September than spend a few weeks bouncing between the A’s and Rangers, even if it means a month of lower pay in the PCL. This is probably the option most open to corruption, as teams could theoretically entice players into opting out of the waiver system when other teams would happily keep them for extended periods of time, but if the player would rather be in Triple-A in one organization than in the majors in another, there is an argument to be made that such a wish should be given weight, given that the waiver system is designed to be a player-friendly system.

Regardless of the specific changes, it’s probably time to change the waiver system. The current system has too many exploitable flaws that aren’t really good for anyone. Maybe this seems like a minor issue, but for players like Adam Rosales right now, it probably doesn’t feel like a minor issue.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

35 Responses to “Fixing the Waiver System”

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  1. Alec says:

    What about, upon second DFA, you give they player the choice to become a free agent, instead of simply an auto release? That way a player can decide whether its worth it to stick around or not? There may be some subset of guys who would take the paycheck and security to bounce around for a few months, and anyone like Wells/Rosales who could easily find an ML bench spot on the open market in Chicago or something wouldn’t deal with it.

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    • jfree says:

      This solution wouldn’t work as long as MLB has an anti-trust exemption and therefore controls the entirety of professional baseball in the US. Once a player becomes a “free agent”, the only thing that occurs is that they have to continue to sell their services in a cartelized market.

      There’s an easy way to get rid of the problem. Get rid of the anti-trust exemption. MLB owners should not have the ability to control every other baseball league in the US. This is a perfect example of how they do so. Not that anyone should honestly feel sympathy for Rosales or Wells. They are getting paid well — prob a bit better than they would in an actual free market.

      But these are exactly the caliber of player who could be the core of a new league – one that actually intends to win (unlike current AAA whose main goal is to be a poodle) and thus draw fans. And good enough to pull together local media contracts and other revenue streams (cartelized media contracts being another result of the anti-trust exemption).

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  2. Eminor3rd says:

    Blech to August baseball news.

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  3. Bryz says:

    I really don’t have a strong opinion about this whole thing (as Wells and Rosales are just two of the many players that get DFA’d in a season) but my idea would be that a player has a limited number of times he could be waived in a season. Kind of like waivers in August where if you place a guy on waivers, then withdraw him if he’s claimed, and then the next time he’s on waivers and claimed he automatically goes to the claiming team.

    Let’s say Rosales could only be DFA’d twice in a season and the same chain of events happens. The A’s DFA him, the Rangers claim him, and they DFA him as well. Now that both DFAs have been used, do the A’s still claim him, knowing now that Rosales must stay on their active roster for the rest of the season? Or do they let him go and allow him to go to Triple-A as a member of the Rangers organization?

    This is just a quick idea so I haven’t thought out any of the consequences yet. Any flaws with my logic?

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    • Alec says:

      I think this is a simple solution, and you could just add in a player choice in becoming a FA or being placed in limbo, similar to being outrighted.

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      • Bryz says:

        I think the free agency clause could be a good addition too. Definitely becomes a gamble for the player, but it honestly could pay off as well. Plus, the threat of free agency might also prevent a team from attempting to waive that player.

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    • Chris says:

      That would make it easier for a team to do a claim everything. Your team DFA’s a guy. I claim him and then immediately DFA him. And — unless a different club wants to make a big commitment — I get the minor-league depth that I wanted.

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  4. Anon21 says:

    “which is why every rule 5 guy in history has ‘gotten injured’ during their rule 5 season”

    Not Dan Uggla in 2006.

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    • Bryz says:

      It’s hyperbole. Clearly there are plenty of Rule 5 players that weren’t actually on the DL in their rookie season. For example, the Twins’ Ryan Pressly has stuck on the active roster the whole year thus far.

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      • Anon21 says:

        So the point is that if the player is sufficiently good or the organization is sufficiently bad, he doesn’t get stashed on the DL, because he’s not taking playing time away from anyone better.

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    • Monty L Herr says:

      And not Freiman with the Athletics (who managed a walkoff hit in the 19th inning against Rivera and hit a home run today).

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  5. TKDC says:

    How about if you claim someone off waivers, you have to pay them for 2 weeks at MLB salary regardless. If that were the case, Rosales, though he’d be in limbo, would be making a lot of coin. Other than the “human being” aspect, I see nothing wrong with the current system.

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    • TKDC says:

      And to clarify, under my proposal, the Rangers and A’s would both have to pay the 2 weeks salary for each waiver claim, irrespective of other payment obligations to Rosales.

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      • Two weeks is not enough of a disincentive. Already, the A’s and the Rangers are okay with paying the $20K claim fee. Two weeks salary for most players who have this problem isn’t much more than that.

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        • TKDC says:

          But the player gets the money. It’s basically a bonus if you are dropped within 2 weeks. And a week’s salary at the ML minimum is around $15,000 (I think, I’m not positive how many days to divide – I assumed 7/180).

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    • Billy says:

      But the “human being” aspect might be rather important…

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  6. AverageMeansAverageOverTime says:

    I don’t think the waiver rule is broken and needs changing.

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    • Cidron says:

      not from the management aspect, but from the moving around alot players side, it needs a tweak or two.

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      • Tommy says:

        Then the players can raise the issue if they have a problem with it. I don’t see why the system should be changed because you or Dave Cameron feel bad for the players.

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  7. Cliff says:

    So Adam Rosales being on a two-week business trip is the reason we need to change the waiver system? I can see it getting to a point where it’s just silly, but I’m not overly concerned about a guy (professional baseball player) being away from home for a few weeks.

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    • Jay29 says:

      Heh, yeah, good point. Guy is making hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a few 4-to-5-hour flights in August between Oakland and Dallas, plus the possibility of a couple 2-to-3-hour drives to Sacramento and/or Round Rock, TX. Not exactly injustice. Of course it technically hurts his career because he’s not spending that time showing GMs he can play and earn a new contract, but it’s still not a big deal.

      Regardless, I still found it to be an interesting article and a loophole that probably should be closed by the next CBA, even though it’s got to be low on the list of priorities.

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    • fmf says:

      I also wonder if there is really a problem here that demands fixing. Not only does the “2 week business trip” not seem particularly burdensome, I’m not sure how common cases like this there even are. Rosales and Wells – how many others have there been in 2013? Or other years? If it turns out to happen to a guy once or twice a year, it seems more like a fluke than a systematic failure.

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      • jfree says:

        The bigger issue re those players is that they are all one-year contract players. And usually with those sorts of players, they are also old enough to realize that they will never be more than that. If they rock the boat, they can ensure that their baseball career will end because a)the owners are a cartel (from MLB right through to rookie league) and b)the players are a bit marginal at the MLB level.

        How many of those sorts of players would be interested in a 2-3 year contract – even at a lower annual pay – where they are a bigger fish in a smaller city where they can actually start a family? That can’t happen now because AAA teams are merely MLB’s poodle rather than an independent professional baseball league – and there is no free market.

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      • That Guy says:

        Aside from that, we’re talking about at least player (Rosales) who isn’t even a very good AAA player. He has made the mlb minimum to showcase his “skills” as it is and has proven he can’t stick.

        Sure, outright free agency would give him possibly more reasonable choices, but does the system need to change because Rosales isn’t good enough to nail down a 2B/UT role with the A’s, a team that is desperate for 2B?

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        • Ben Hall says:

          He’s a person. He is not a great baseball player, but he’s a hell of a lot better than you. More importantly, as a person, he deserves the ability to not have to be jerked around like this unless that’s what he wants.

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        • Tim says:

          I’m sure there are other industries that are hiring. If this is the worst jerking around a pro baseball player can expect it’s hard to worry about it much.

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    • Jason says:

      I’m not seeing the huge inconvenience here in terms of being away from home. Ballplayers are at the park 6 or 7 days a week and on the road for 10-14 days a couple of times each season no matter if they are an All-Star or in DFA limbo.

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      • jfree says:

        Well — http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/story/2013-08-09/adam-rosales-waivers-texas-rangers-oakland-athletics-toronto

        Apparently he shipped his car and all their stuff to Texas. Before they got there, he was picked up by Oakland again — and they wanted to know if he could fly to Toronto. He had his passport – but another Oakland player had to go to his house in Oakland to pick clothes/etc up. And since that story he’s been DFA’d back to Texas again.

        So his clothes are in Oakland, Texas, Toronto, and on some highway in between Oakland and Texas. His car is in NM – going east today and west tomorrow. He may or may not have have a apt rental now in Texas – but still has the place in Oakland. His wife is in Oakland – though maybe not now. And he’s lucky that both Texas and Oakland are playing home stands for the next week (presuming he gets DFA’ed a couple more times) because otherwise you could probably add “stuff in Baltimore/Seattle/Chicago/etc” to his list of “where’s home”.

        He’s lucky he doesn’t have kids – though I suspect that one-year contract guys never move their kids/family to the new town — which means they are NEVER “home” during the season.

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  8. George says:

    What if teams could “buy” more options? The scale could be based on a combination of the following factors: (a) player’s age; (b) player’s major league service time; (c) player’s minor league service time; (d) amount of player’s service time with a given organization (similar to the “10 and 5 rule).

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    • Cidron says:

      interesting idea. but there would have to be some form of a cap on that as well, otherwise, deep pockets teams would just simply max out their options, whereas teams needing to build from minors due to lower revenue wouldn’t be able to compete there. That is unless its either capped, or give advantages to the smaller market teams (they get more options to buy, vs larger revenue teams).

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    • Baltar says:

      Yes, George, a far more complicated system with unknown consequences is definitely what is needed.

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  9. Terence says:

    Easy fix, just like rule 5 selection, claiming team has $50K fee. $25K goes to the team losing the player, $25K to the player. If Rosales had made an additional $100K in this process for his troubles, we wouldn’t feel near as bad for him.

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    • primi timpano says:

      I like this but I would give the player the greater of $50k or 10% of his salary, each team responsible for half and the amount included in that season’s salary.

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  10. Taylor says:

    One easy fix would be to let the opposite league file claims first (ie., Rosales can be claimed by all 15 NL teams before any AL clubs get a chance). It seems likely that Oakland and Texas are seeking a tiny advantage over one another in this case. Offering Rosales to teams that are not competing with Oakland ad Texas for playoff berths would reduce the incentive to engage in chicanery just to deprive a competitor of depth.

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