First Pitch: Why Do Some Big Name Players Clear Waivers?

Today we learned that several players around the league cleared waivers. First we heard about Justin Morneau, who the Pirates were linked to prior to the deadline. Next, Ken Rosenthal reported five more players who cleared waivers, highlighted by Dan Haren and Erik Bedard.

Rosenthal also noted that those players represented only a fraction of the players who have cleared waivers so far.

Justin Morneau cleared waivers today.

Justin Morneau cleared waivers today.

The news about Morneau raised a lot of questions on Twitter today from Pirates fans. The first baseman has been on a tear this month, hitting six homers in the last two weeks. The Pirates are pretty low on the priority list. As of today, a guy being waived in the AL would have to pass through every American League team, and every National League team except the Braves. So by Morneau clearing waivers, we know that:

1. All of the American League teams passed on making a claim, including the playoff teams. That includes the Orioles, who have been looking for a DH and had interest in Morneau before the deadline. The Rays also had interest.

2. Most of the National League teams passed on claiming him before he got to the Pirates, including all of the guys trying to catch the Pirates. There’s really only four other teams in contention, and they don’t need first basemen. Arizona (Paul Goldschmidt), Cincinnati (Joey Votto), St. Louis (Allen Craig), and the Dodgers (Adrian Gonzalez) are all set, although Morneau could be a bench option for any team.

3. The Pirates and Braves (who have Freddie Freeman) also passed.

So why didn’t the Pirates, or any other team for that matter, make a claim when on the surface it appears that Morneau could have been easily had? We’re not going to know the answer to that, especially with a system where we only learn about a fraction of the players who clear waivers. But we can consider a few realities about the current process.

The Lack of Information

We can learn something from the lack of information surrounding the trade deadline. One thing we rarely see is a big name being let go via waivers for nothing but cash. There are trades every year, but they’re not as common as July trades. As we saw with Alex Rios, the trades are also very low in value. What we could take from the lack of big name players being claimed straight up is that players are either claimed and pulled back, or players clear and we never hear about it, unlike Morneau and company. As for the low trade values…

Buying Help

The trade deadline was 15 days ago. Not much has changed in that time, except Justin Morneau made $1 M in those 15 days and now costs $3.5 M for the remainder of the year. I found $4 in my glove compartment when I was cleaning out my car during this period. So we’ve both got things going on financially.

One argument is that a team claiming Morneau could have had the chance of the Twins just dumping his salary. I can’t see that for two reasons. One is that if the Twins just wanted to dump salary, they could have done that at the deadline, and they would have saved that extra million that Morneau has made since. Two, Morneau has been a franchise player and is now over the hill. His value is much lower than it was during his prime. But can you imagine the Twins, or any team, just giving a player like that away for free? You’re not getting anything that’s going to help you in the long-term for Morneau, and the backlash of a straight salary dump could do more harm than good.

The Money and Prospects Factor

Here is a topic no fan wants to listen to, but every team follows. Money matters. Justin Morneau is making $3.5 M for the final six weeks of the season. That’s over half a million per week. He had that great stretch the last two weeks, but over the long run this year he has pretty much been a Garrett Jones. That would be good, but how much do you pay for that?

I’ve already said how I don’t think the Twins would just salary dump him. They’d want some sort of prospect back as well. That’s where the balance comes in. You’re already paying $3.5 M for Morneau, which is too much for what he brings to the table. But then you’d also have to negotiate the return in prospects. In theory, the better the prospect, the more the Twins kick in. The Pirates seem to be stingier with their prospects than money, as we saw last year in the long A.J. Burnett negotiations. They’ll pay more if it means they’re not giving up talent. But you have to strike a balance with the other team. That’s true for anyone going after any waiver wire guy.

No one wants to hear this. When it comes to discussing finances, people act like Bruce Wayne opening up the checkbook. My dates can’t swim in the fountain? I’m just going to buy this restaurant. Justin Morneau is being paid $2.3 M more than he’s worth? Money is no factor. Take some prospects too.

The Lack of Interest

Let’s be honest. It’s possible the Pirates — or the Orioles, or the Rays — really aren’t interested in Morneau, despite the earlier reports. I don’t think you can just dismiss this possibility based on a pre-deadline report that the Pirates, Orioles, and Rays “expressed interest”.

#FreeAndrewLambo For Two Games?

The Pirates just called up Andrew Lambo after watching him hit 31 homers between Double-A and Triple-A. If Morneau was acquired, he would take over for Jones at first base against right-handers. Jones would take over in right field, with Jose Tabata moving to the bench. And that would push Lambo back to Triple-A after just 1-2 games in the majors.

A lineup with Morneau and Jones looks better than the lineups the Pirates had prior to Lambo. It’s also possible that Lambo doesn’t carry his success over to the majors, in which Morneau would be the better option. But it’s also possible that Lambo could be better than Morneau. That’s the 2013 version of Morneau, not the 2006 version.

Two things are at play here. First is that the Pirates have seen their right fielder struggle all year, and yet they’ve been contenders all year. So it’s not like they can’t compete without that added production. That line has been used since May, and the Pirates remain competitive.

Also, Lambo fits the mold that has led to the success of the Pirates this year. He’s a high beta player, with many possible outcomes. He could totally bust. He could carry over his power and be a 30 HR a year hitter. He could have modest power and be a replacement option for Garrett Jones down the line, with 20-25 homers as a three true outcomes hitter. We don’t really know what Lambo could become, but it’s not a guarantee that he won’t work out.

Giving Lambo a shot isn’t as comfortable as trading for Morneau. But that doesn’t mean Lambo can’t be as good or better. The Pirates have been taking that risk all year. In a lot of cases this year it has paid off big time. They didn’t go for a the guaranteed comfort, and instead took a risk on someone with upside. That strategy has led to Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon as bounce back candidates, Gaby Sanchez crushing lefties, Jordy Mercer as a starting shortstop, Starling Marte as the starting left fielder, Jeff Locke instead of some established fifth starter, and several guys in the bullpen.

It’s possible that Lambo works out like those guys. It’s also possible that he works out like Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Jonathan Sanchez, or some of the other high beta players who found their way out of the starting lineup. The thing is, the Pirates can have the best of both worlds…

A New Deadline

Now that Morneau has cleared waivers, we’re looking at a new trade deadline. The Twins have until August 31st to trade Morneau. They can trade him after that, but he wouldn’t qualify for a team’s post-season roster, and you’d have to think that any team trading for him would want him for the playoffs. So that gives the Twins a little over two weeks to try and get a better offer. It also gives teams the same amount of time to find an alternative for a cheaper price.

The Pirates would have only had two days to try and work out a deal if they would have put in a claim. That can be difficult, especially if Minnesota wanted a guy off the 40-man roster. That player wouldn’t clear waivers or wouldn’t pass to Minnesota in time to make the deal. Morneau’s waiver period would expire by then. Even if another 40-man guy wasn’t involved, there is little risk from the Pirates in letting Morneau pass through waivers. They now have to compete with every other team for him, but we know that no team felt high enough to take him on waivers. So the level of interest is probably the same, and teams are probably waiting to see what other alternatives come on the market.

For the Pirates, their alternative is Lambo. They can give Lambo a little over two weeks to prove what he can do. That might not be a lot of time, but it’s about the only amount of time they have in this situation. If Lambo starts off hot in those two weeks, you don’t need to make a trade for Morneau, or any hitter. If Lambo doesn’t work out, then you know you need to look to the outside for help. The Twins have been waiting for a better deal for Morneau, which is why they decided to hold off and try to trade him in August instead of dealing him before the deadline. So we can assume they’ll be holding him until the last minute to get that deal from a desperate team. Lambo has two weeks to fill that desperate need for the Pirates, which again, isn’t really entirely desperate since they’ve been competing with that need all year.

Again, we’re not going to know exactly why Morneau wasn’t claimed. I think a bigger question is why weren’t pitchers like Haren and Lindstrom claimed when everyone needs pitching? I’m guessing it’s for a lot of the same reasons above. They’re only educated guesses, but the reality here is that if any of these players were huge guaranteed upgrades that you break the prospect and financial bank for, then they would have been traded like Rios, rather than falling through waivers. There’s a reason they cleared waivers. If it’s not one of the above reasons, it’s something else. And we know that every other team in the majors had their own reasons for passing on these guys as well. We’ve pretty much reset to mid-July here. There might be more moves when the deadline approaches, but I’d be surprised if the guys who clear waivers get traded right away, if at all.

Links and Notes

**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 16: What Would the Pirates’ Playoff Rotation Look Like?

**Pirates Roundtable Live — Episode 5. James Santelli hosts, and this week’s guests include:

Prospects

**Prospect Notebook: Clay Holmes Showing Steady Progression This Year.

**Pirates Sign Colombian Pitcher Luis Escobar.

**Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson and Stetson Allie Homer.

**Top Performers: Zack Dodson’s Seven No Hit Innings Lead the System.

**Top Performers: Andrew Lambo Finishes Strong With Indianapolis.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Win Three Games on Tuesday Behind Strong Pitching.

Pirates

**A Detailed Look at Francisco Liriano: The Stopper.

**Justin Morneau Clears Waivers.

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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