Damon episode sheds light on waiver strategy for contenders
I'm not sure if you heard, but the Red Sox put a waiver claim on
Or was it? Sure Damon isn't going to be entering the American League playoff picture, but that sequence of events told us something about the Red Sox's strategy concerning waiver claims and the teams above them in the AL East. Consider this: how much did the Red Sox really want Johnny Damon? This is a team that puts so much stock in defensive metrics that this offseason it concluded (likely correctly) that 26-year-old speedster and human highlight reel
Yes, both Ellsbury and Cameron are out for the year, leaving the Sox scrambling to cover in the outfield, but I'm not convinced the Red Sox see Damon as an outfielder. They remember his weak throwing arm, and his advancing age and declining range (in 2005, his last year with Boston, Damon was 16.8 runs below average in center field according to UZR) -- all part of the reason the Sox didn't pursue him as a free agent both when his contract with them expired and when his deal with the Yankees ran out. Damon is five years older than when he last wore a Red Sox uniform and thus and five years further into his defensive decline. Do you really think the Red Sox, who prioritized defense in the offseason, saw him as a potential asset? It's not as though they had room for him at designated hitter, where the rejuvenated
Throughout the month, teams will place players on waivers. Each team has two days to make a claim on that player. Claims are awarded to the team with the worst record, first in the same league as the team that put the player out there and, if no one claims him, then the opposite league. If every team passes, he has cleared waivers and is available to be traded to any of the other 29 teams. If a team puts in a claim, however, the player's current team can either work out a trade with that team, allow that team to have him without compensation (as the Blue Jays did with
This episode managed to reveal something very important about what we're likely to see in the seven remaining days leading up to the Aug. 31 deadline for teams to add players to their active roster so that they are eligible for postseason play. That is: teams will make moves not only with the goal of improving themselves but with the hopes of preventing their competitors from improving as well.
Before Monday's games, the Red Sox trailed the Rays by 5 1/2 games for the wild card and were running out of time to make up that ground. Following season-ending injuries to
The Rays are in better shape to reach October but they still have holes to fill, notably at designated hitter. But they won't be able to upgrade at DH via the waiver wire because the Red Sox aren't going to let them. If the Red Sox were willing to take on not only Damon's contract and glove but all of the baggage that would have accompanied him back to Boston, they would surely have no qualms at all about claiming the next half-way decent bat that comes down the wire if they think he's a player who could help the Rays. Similarly, if someone comes along -- like a starting pitcher or catcher -- who might benefit the Yankees, who are now tied for first with the Rays and thus also an obstacle Boston must overcome, don't be surprised if the Red Sox put a claim in on him as well.
Since the Red Sox were awarded the Damon claim, we know they had the worst record of any team to claim him. The only AL teams with equal or better records than Boston at the time of the claim were the Twins, Rays and Yankees. The Twins already have a very productive left-handed designated hitter in
If the Rays are able to upgrade at DH, however, it could be the move that finishes Boston's playoff chances, particularly as the Yankees are expecting Berkman,
So with little to lose beyond the less than $2 million left on Damon's contract, a price the wealthy, win-now Red Sox can easily absorb, and plenty of available roster room in the wake of the injuries to half of their lineup, the Red Sox risked being stuck with the defensively challenged Damon for the benefit of keeping him from the Rays. It worked, even if they still haven't solved their own problems. Such is the risk of waiver season.