The Truth About Waiver Claims

Among the moves made by the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday, the team made two waiver claims, selecting right handed pitcher Jeremy Hefner off of waivers from the San Diego Padres, and taking catcher Brian Jeroloman off of waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays.  In almost every case of a waiver claim, the reception from the Pirates fan base is apathetic, although that apathy can also lead to anger over the move being made.

Let’s be honest about two things.  First, waiver claims aren’t very exciting.  The players who were claimed were only made available for one reason: they were the 39th or 40th best options on another team’s 40-man roster, and the team needed a spot, presumably for a better player.  When you make a waiver claim, you’re not exactly adding an instant impact player to the team.  But while we’re being honest, let’s face the reality: every team makes waiver claims.  They’re part of the game, and while the players being claimed aren’t strong options right now, there’s a chance that a team could make an adjustment and turn that meaningless waiver claim in to a shrewd move.

The majority of the time this isn’t the case.  More often than not the player was designated for assignment from his former team for a reason.  Take Jeremy Hefner as an example.  Hefner was one of the top prospects in the San Diego system prior to the 2011 season.  He was then passed up by several other pitchers in the system, and struggled in his time in AAA, which led to the Padres removing him from the 40-man roster.  But there are exceptions to every rule, and you can’t find the exception if you avoid waiver claims all together.

When teams make a waiver claim, there is usually a strategy involved.  Usually the strategy revolves around the team seeing something with the player that they feel they can adjust, allowing the player to go from a waiver wire wonder to a major league player.  It’s normally something that we can’t see, because in most cases we first hear of the player when he is claimed.  That leads to thoughts like “If I had to pick a catcher, I’d rather have Eric Fryer than Brian Jeroloman”.  That was my thought after seeing Jeroloman claimed and Fryer designated for assignment later in the day.  But I’ll admit that I’m basing this opinion off of seeing Fryer, and having no knowledge of Jeroloman, other than the scouting reports that were written about him when he was a top prospect in Toronto’s system two years ago.

The Chris Leroux waiver claim is one that worked out.

It’s not totally out of the question that a team can find a player, see a potential adjustment, and make a successful change to transform the player to a major leaguer.  That’s what happened with the Pirates and Chris Leroux last year.  The Pirates claimed Leroux in September 2010.  They kept him on the 40-man roster all off-season, despite his 7.67 ERA in 29.1 innings in the majors at the age of 26.  They held on to him after some early season struggles in AAA, and after a demotion to AA to work on his issues.  But the patience paid off.

The Pirates adjusted Leroux’s arm slot to a three quarters angle.  After some initial struggles, they sent him down to AA to make the transition easier.  After his return to AAA, Leroux was a totally different pitcher.  That showed in the majors when he put up a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings, along with an 8.6 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9 ratio.  Leroux is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League as a starter, working on using all three of his pitches to allow him to continue his improvement.

For every Leroux, there are probably ten Hayden Penn or Justin Thomas type waiver claims that don’t work out.  But all of those waiver claims are worth it if the end result is getting a reliever like Leroux for nothing.  This still doesn’t make waiver claims very exciting, but that’s no reason to avoid an avenue to potentially get free major league talent.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    Is Leroux being stretched out enough to be a possible starter this year?

    • Tim Williams

      No. They’re using him as a starter to force him to use his secondary pitches.

      • Anonymous

        I wouldn’t say no outright. “Maybe” would be more appropriate in that he is proving he has the stamina to go further into games. If he does develop those “secondary” pitches as you mention, then you may have the makings of a fifth or fourth starter.

  • Anonymous

    Is Leroux being stretched out enough to be a starter in Spring Training?

  • Anonymous

    Very good piece.  I agree that generally waiver claims aren’t terribly interesting.  If I were to guess, I would think that there have been a fair number of relievers, who have had some success after being claimed off waivers.

  • Anonymous

    I am not worried about who we get.  It is a crap shot.  Who we may lose is the worry.

  • Lee Young

    Bottom line – Is THEIR 39th and 40th players better than ours? Usually, the answer is Yes! :)

  • Anonymous

    39th and 40th players in a system are not part of the 25 man roster and are not part of the immediate depth, their projects or prospects on any team.

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