If the day ends in “y,” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is likely to claim a player on waivers.
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To some rival executives, Anthopoulos is exploiting the rules to maximum advantage, building depth at minimal cost — the price of a $20,000 claim.
But to other execs, Anthopoulos is violating the spirit of the waiver process, which is intended to create major league opportunities for players who are out of options and get bumped off 40-man rosters.
The rules allow Anthopoulos to claim as many players as he wants. If other teams disagree with his strategy, they can seek to change the system — an idea they discussed at last year’s GMs’ meetings and likely will be discussed this year as well, according to a major league source.
The Jays have claimed 11 players in 2013 and 20 since Oct. 1, 2012, according to STATS LLC. Both figures lead the majors in those respective time periods. Anthopoulos freely admits that part of his motivation is to enhance relations with the team’s new Triple-A Buffalo affiliate by stashing talent with that club — something that is possible if he puts a player back on waivers and the other 29 teams decline to make a claim.
Some clubs are so irritated by such manipulations, they have lobbied for a rule change that would force teams to keep players claimed on waivers for a set period of time, sources say.
However, not all clubs want to lose flexibility, according to one source, and the union almost certainly would oppose restricting player movement. Players who get bumped from 40-man rosters receive major league pay and service time while designated for assignment.
Anthopoulos, in defending his actions, says that he also is trying to protect his major league club — which, according to the GM, set a franchise record last season for days lost on the disabled list. By June, the Jays’ pitching was so thin, the team signed right-hander Shawn Hill out of the independent Atlantic League.
Anthopoulos’ most recent claim, left-hander Aaron Laffey, made 16 starts for the Jays last season and is an upgrade over the pitcher he replaced, right-hander Ramon Ortiz. The Jays had little opportunity to offer a pitcher such as Laffey when he was a minor league free agent last offseason; they had five pitchers under guaranteed contracts, and lefty J.A. Happ as their No. 6.
Anthopoulos also points out that players who go on waivers are not top prospects, but generally the 41st-best players in organizations — players who eventually could depart as minor league free agents, anyway.
“When you take a guy off the roster, there are 40 other players you can take off,” Anthopoulos says. “Obviously it’s a choice — a choice everyone has to make. We’ve lost players on waivers, too.”
Indeed, the Jays are hardly the only team that claims players with the intent of getting them to Triple A. Right-hander Sandy Rosario was claimed last offseason by four different clubs, none of which was the Jays. At one point, he changed teams three times in 11 days. The Giants finally succeeded in sending him to Triple A during spring training.
Such examples are nothing new; they occur virtually every season. One rival executive, who says he has no problem with Anthopoulos’ aggressiveness, says that rival clubs would be angrier with the Jays if they pursued an alternative method of building depth — overpaying for minor league free agents and raising the bar in that market.
And while other rival executives take exception with Anthopoulos’ stated goal of making Triple-A Buffalo strong — “waivers, for players without options, are for major league MAJOR LEAGUE jobs,” one exec says — the Jays are in something of a unique situation.
The story begins at the end of the 2008 season, when the team lost its 30-year affiliation with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. The Chiefs instead went with the Nationals — in part, Anthopoulos says, because the Jays did not provide the affiliate with a winning club.
After that, the Jays had their Triple-A club in Las Vegas, an inconvenient locale because of the distance between Vegas and Toronto. This season, the Jays aligned with Buffalo, a city only about 100 miles away. But their contract with Buffalo is only for two years, and Buffalo officials — after breaking ties with the Mets — made it clear to the Jays that they want to field a winning team, Anthopoulous says.
“It’s nice to have prospects, but the owner said, ‘We’re all about winning.’ And we gave them our word: We would do everything we could to give them as competitive a team as we can,” Anthopoulos says.
The GM then cites first baseman Mauro Gomez, who the Jays claimed from the Red Sox on April 8, then sent to the minors.
“He’s on waivers, and he was the International League MVP last year,” Anthopoulos says. “How can we look at the Bisons ownership and say, ‘We’re going to pass on the MVP?’ And obviously, he had big league time as well.”
The problem, according to one rival GM, is that the waiver process would become chaotic if every team operated like the Jays, with players constantly getting caught in limbo.
It’s not as much of an issue for players who get claimed multiple times during the offseason; they’re at home, and do not need to uproot their families. But once the season begins, multiple claims can hinder players’ careers.
Consider outfielder Casper Wells, who was designated for assignment by the Mariners on March 31, claimed by the Blue Jays on April 10, designated by the Jays on April 15 and traded to the Athletics on April 22. He was in no-man’s land for nearly three weeks, unable to take live batting practice with a club.
Still, this is the system. The waiver pecking order is determined by reverse order of record, yet teams that rank ahead of the Jays — the teams that the system is intended to help — are passing on claims.
Those teams are free to turn more aggressive. Other teams are free to seek rules changes. But under the current structure, Anthopoulos is free to keep claiming away.