Waiver claims can make big impact

Waiver claims can make big impact

If you are wondering why we haven't seen more player moves during the past few weeks as team executives got together during postseason play and again at this week's General Managers Meetings, well, you haven't been reading the fine print.

There have been 13 moves in the past month where Major League teams have added players to their 40-man rosters as they prepare for the upcoming Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nev.

If you missed these transactions, it is understandable. They came under the heading of "waiver claims."

This is the time of the year where teams remove players from their 40-man rosters to make room for players whom they believe need to be protected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

It's a matter of making space for younger players who have gained enough time in professional baseball to be eligible for the Draft if they aren't a member of a 40-man roster.

A fan may spot one of the waiver claims under the "Transactions" heading and think it's no big deal, but sometimes it turns out to be a very important move.

In December 2004, the Chicago White Sox claimed a little-known pitcher from the Angels: Bobby Jenks. The hard-throwing right-hander has saved 117 games for the White Sox in four years and has averaged 37 saves during the past three seasons.

In October of that same offseason, the Angels lost another pitcher when Derrick Turnbow was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers. He saved a total of 63 games for the Brewers during the next two seasons.

The Angels have been fortunate to have Francisco Rodriguez closing games for them in record fashion, but the performances of Jenks and Turnbow show the importance of waiver claims.

OK, so what are this year's waiver claims all about? Is there a Jenks or a Turnbow in the group?

No one can say for sure, but you can be assured that teams pay close attention to the waiver wire at this time of the year. Unlike the waivers as the Trade Deadline nears in late July, waivers at this time of the year fall under the heading of "outright waivers" and are irrevocable.

"It's an inexpensive way to acquire a player [because there is a $20,000 claiming price] and you don't have to give up a player in return," says a veteran baseball man who is familiar with waiver transactions. "I think you'll find that virtually all players claimed have low salaries and options remaining."

The team that has been most active related to the waiver wire is the Toronto Blue Jays, claiming a somewhat startling five players and three this week.

The Blue Jays claimed left-handed pitcher Les Walrond from the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday. On Monday, they had claimed shortstop Angel Sanchez from Kansas City and right-handed pitcher Kelvin Jimenez from St. Louis.

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Earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays had claimed two other right-handed pitchers -- Dirk Hayhurst from San Diego and Bryan Bullington from Cleveland.

It's not surprising that nine of the last 13 waiver claims have been pitchers. When you listen to the general managers as they assemble for their meetings, they talk about the need for "pitching, pitching and more pitching."

Even though the Phillies lost Walrond to the Blue Jays, they had the benefit of the contributions of a player claimed on waivers during this year's championship run. In January 2007, general manager Pat Gillick claimed the versatile Greg Dobbs from Seattle and the move proved to be a masterful one.

One of the key members of the Tampa Bay bullpen this year was Grant Balfour, who had been a waiver claim by Milwaukee from Cincinnati in 2006. He was then traded to the Rays in July 2007.

There have been other noteworthy waiver claims, including Gary Matthews Jr. being selected three times -- by Pittsburgh in August 2001, by San Diego in May 2003 and by Atlanta in November 2003.

In a remarkable move in view of these relatively inexpensive claims, Matthews signed a five-year contract for $50 million with the Angels two years ago.

What would have been the most remarkable waiver claim story in the history of the game never came about.

In October 2003, the Boston Red Sox put a player on irrevocable waivers, hoping that another team would take him. The player was due five years and $104 million on his contract. It was part of an eight-year, $160 million deal that included two option years.

That player was there for the taking -- simply make the claim and pay the salary.

The player was not claimed, but he's still very much in the news -- Manny Ramirez.

These waiver deals, or lack of deals, can be more interesting than you might think.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving as Executive Vice-President and general manager. His book-Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue-was published by SportsPublishingLLC This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.