Infielder Adam Rosales was claimed off waivers by the Rangers on Monday, Aug. 12. He was also claimed off waivers by the Rangers on Aug. 2. In between, he was claimed by the A's, who initially put him on waivers after acquiring infielder Alberto Callaspo at the trading deadline. Oakland lost Rosales to the rival Rangers, claimed him back, then lost him to Texas again. What on earth is happening here? Waiver shenanigans.
Major League Baseball's current waiver rules are designed to give players a chance to land with another organization when they find themselves unwanted by their current one. Specifically, when a team wants to remove a player from its 40-man roster, that player must first be placed on irrevocable waivers, which gives the other 29 teams, in the reverse order of the standings, 10 days in which to claim him for the $20,000 waiver fee. Players who are out of options -- meaning they have been optioned to the minor league in at least three different seasons prior to this one or have at least five years of major league service time -- must also be placed on waivers in order to be optioned to the minor leagues without being removed from the 40-man roster (this doesn't apply to injury rehabilitation assignments).
The trick is that a player claimed on waivers is placed on his new team's major league roster and is again subject to the same rules if his new team wants to option him to the minors (if he is out of options) or outright him off the 40-man roster. That is what happened to Rosales. With Callaspo taking his role on the major league roster, Rosales was designated for assignment by the A's, meaning he was removed from the 40-man roster and placed on waivers. The Rangers claimed him, but before he could play a game for them, they, too, attempted to remove him from the 40-man roster. The A's, thinking that the one team interested in claiming Rosales had lost that interest, thus clearing the way for him to be outrighted to their Triple-A team, claimed him back, then tried again to slip him through waivers, only to have the Rangers claim him again.
Rosales' case is not unprecedented. After the 2011 season, the Pirates and Blue Jays got into a similar waiver war over minor league catcher Brian Jeroloman, whom Toronto dropped from its 40-man roster only to have Pittsburgh claim him on Nov. 18 and designate him for assignment on the 21st. The Blue Jays then claimed him back on the 23rd and designated him for assignment on Dec. 11 after which he successfully passed through waivers and spent the 2012 season in the Blue Jays' organization, making 155 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. Jeroloman has since changed organizations three more times, and actually opened this season back with the Pirates, but has yet to make his major league debut.
Last year, outfielder/firstbaseman Steve Pearce changed teams five times, twice via waivers, and was acquired twice by both the Yankees and Orioles, two other teams battling for a division title at the time. After being in camp with the Twins in March, Pearce was released and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. In June, he exercised an opt-out in his deal and was sold to Baltimore. In July, the Astros claimed him off waivers from the O's. The Yankees bought him back from Houston in August, then, in late September, tried to pass him through waivers, only to have him reclaimed by the Orioles, with whom he remains.
Not be be outdone, Casper Wells has passed through five different organizations already this year, all via waivers. The Blue Jays claimed him from the Mariners in early April, after which he was sold to the A's, then to the White Sox, both transactions coming after Wells had been designated for assignment, effectively making them more expensive waiver claims, all before the end of the month. Last Thursday, he was claimed from the White Sox by the Phillies.
Wells' travels are reminiscent of those of a player during the 2004 season who, after being taken from the Pirates by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in December 2003, was claimed off waivers by the then-Devil Rays in early June, designated for assignment and sold to the Royals in late June, then traded first to the Mets, then back to the Pirates in the same day, July 30. That player grew up to be Jose Bautista.
Bautista brings us back to the Blue Jays, who raised some hackles with their enthusiastic use of the waiver wire last season through early this season. As I wrote for SB Nation in April, over the previous 12 months, the Blue Jays had been involved in roughly a quarter of all major league waiver transactions and had made 20 claims during the previous six months. What the Jays and general manager Alex Anthopoulos were doing, it turns out, was attempting to improve not their major league roster, but the roster of their new Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo in order to preserve their relationship with that conveniently-located affiliate.
As reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal in April, the Blue Jays' waiver fetish led rival executives to discuss altering the system at last year's general managers meetings. No changes were made then, and the Jays have since eased off the waiver wire, claiming only Thad Weber since April. Still, it seems very likely that the waiver system will come under review again this November, with Rosales's odyssey again stoking the fires.
Among the potential changes that could be implemented are rules that would force claiming teams to keep the claimed player on their major league roster for some minimum period, perhaps 30 days, or rules preventing teams from placing multiple claims on the same player within a given period, which would allow a player's original team to claim him back, but only once. I think the former is unnecessary, but would be in favor of the latter, which would make designating a claimed player for assignment a higher-risk proposition for the claiming team and would give the player's original team a chance to keep him in the organization if no other team is willing to give him a roster spot. In Rosales' case, that would mean his journey would have ended back in the A's organization unless a third team claimed him. What do you think?