It's August 10th 2009 and rumors are beginning to circulate that an AL team has placed a waiver claim on Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios. In this day and age, putting a player on waivers is not unusual. There is simply no downside for the team, as the player can be pulled back if a trade cannot be agreed upon, or dumped on a claiming team. But Rios is a special case.
Rios is just 28 years old and coming off three straight All-Star caliber seasons. He's a five tool player with unique power/speed abilitiy. But he's also struggling mightily, and has a large, controversial contract hanging over his head.Without a doubt, the Blue Jays were not expecting their All-Star center fielder to be claimed.
But the "unclaimable" Rios is in fact claimed by Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox. Now the Jays are faced with a difficult decision. Do they give away a player of Rios' talent, or do they hang onto what is beginning to look like a bad contract?
The Blue Jays decide that Alex Rios isn't worth the money, and literally give him - and his massive contract - to the White Sox. Rios hits just .199 down the stretch. Fast-forward a year to August 10th 2010. Rios is hitting .298 with 17 homers and 24 steals, playing a good defensive center field. The 29 year old is proving well worth the contract and was acquire for... nothing.
The Rios examples illustrates that despite a massive contract and poor performance, a player with some talent and a solid reputation could help a contending team. While most sruggling, expensive ex-stars will not be claimed, the possibly gives teams an incentive to pass these players through waivers, just in case someone is interested. What players will most likely be placed on waivers, but almost certainly not be claimed? Let's take a look.
Why is Vernon Wells on this list? After all, he is having a half decent season, with more homers in 2010 already than in any seasons since 2006. And the Blue Jays are seven games over five hundred.. why would they be selling one of their better players?
But Wells is getting up there in age, and his defense has slipped to the point that he should probably be playing a corner position. Last season he was one of the worst players in all of baseball. The Blue Jays are nearly 10 games out of the playoffs and not closing fast. And then there's his contract.
While you've probably heard a lot of talk about how bad Wells' deal is, the Blue Jays have yet to really feel it. Last season, his base salary was less than $2 million, less than $10 million even if his yearly bonus is included. But the aging, declining, defensively challenged Wells is under contract for four more seasons after this for more than $20 million each year.
Vernon Wells is a solid player that could probably help a few teams in need of another bat. But the thought of any team paying $86 million for Vernon Wells' age 32, 32, 34 and 35 seasons is laughable. The Blue Jays can hope lightening strikes twice, but Wells at this point in his career is not Alex Rios, and his contract is much, much worse.
Remember when Travis Hanfer was one of the most feared hitters in baseball? Seems like a long time ago.
The now 33-year-old Hafner would be having a solid offensive season were he a short stop, but for an aging DH, a sub-.800 OPS will not cut it.
Hafner could contribute. He can still hit righties quite well, and as a pinch hitter and occasional DH, he's got value. But at $26 million over the next two seasons, he's pretty far in the red.
Whether Figgins should be un-claimable is up for debate, but I simply can't see any team placing a claim on this guy, especially considering how quickly Seattle would cut their losses.
Figgins has had a solid, unspectacular career, but coming off a career year in 2009, the Mariners decided to sign him to a massive five year contract. So far, it hasn't worked out.
Figging has hit just .254 this season, slugging just a hair above .300, and while he's still stealing bases, he's lost a step from his prime. Stealing 30 bases is nice, but when you're one of the worst offensive players in the league, it's not going to cut it. Add onto this his abysmal transition to second base and you don't have a player worthy of $26-$35 million dollars over the next few seasons.
The second Mariner on our list, Bradley is the definition of unclaimable. A troubled player who has always received another chance due solely to his raw talent, his performance this season will sour even the most sympathetic of organizations.
Bradley is hitting just .205 this season, with a wOBA 20% bellow league average. He's also a DH who spends most of his free-time destroying the clubhouse of whatever he team he is currently a part of.
The Mariners came out way behind on the Carlos Silva swap. I don't think Bradley gets another chance, especially with $11 million dollars left on his deal for 2011.
Like Milton Bradley, Oliver Perez only has one year left on his deal. Also like Bradley, that deal is expensive and despite his raw talent, this is a guy who has run out of chances.
The .500 Mets have fallen quite a bit behind the pace in the NL East, and while they may still consider themselves contenders, there's always next year. Either way, Perez has been an absolutely disaster for this team.
In 14 games this season, Perez has a 6.70 ERA. That's actually an improvement over the 14 games he pitched for the Mets last season, when he had a 6.82 ERA. In 43 innings this season, Perez has walked 37 batters, striking out 33.
Perez has talent, and after 2011, I expect he'll end up somewhere, competing for a spot and a relatively small salary. But with $12 million on his deal next year, he's simply not worth it.
A solid player for a long time, Carlos Lee is the most un-claimable player in baseball.
Lee isn't that old, but he's on the wrong side of 30. He's not that far away from being a very, very good player, but is perhaps the worst player in baseball at the moment.
So far this season, Lee has hit .248, shown a complete inability, to walk, played some of the worst defense in the league, and hit only 14 home runs, with only 2 stolen bases.
It's sad that it's come to this but Carlos Lee is finished, and with $37 million on his deal over the next two seasons, there is no way anyone would touch this guy with a 10 foot pole.
The Alfonso Soriano deal is not quite the Vernon Wells deal, but it's close.
Early this year, Soriano looked to have the worst contract in baseball, swining at horrible pitch after horrible pitch and showing none of his trademark power and speed. While the speed is gone for good, he still has a good deal of power and, while he's lost a step, he can still play a decent left field.
But Soriano is a 34 year old corner outfielder with only a solid bat, and he's owed $18 million a season over the next four years. He's not a bad player, but he's old, declining, and expensive.
Cub #2, Zambrano isn't yet old, and was once one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Now.. not so much. Unfortunately, he will be paid like a Cy Young contender over the next couple of seasons.
Zambrano's performance this year has been atrocious, as he sports an ERA near six for the struggling clubs. Worse yet for a perspective employer, his off the field and in the clubhouse antics also landed him on the restricted list for over a month.
As much as the Cubs wish this guy would just go away, no one is going to claim Carlos Zambrano. He's not going anywhere.
Another Cub? That team's not in good shape.
The 32 year old Ramirez is another aging superstar, who despite his past success would be nearly impossible for any club to claim.
Ramirez is hitting just .225 this season, with an OBP of just .280. He's also a poor defensive third baseman, and is owed nearly $15 million next season, with a club option for 2012.
Barry Zito is actually having a solid season, and I don't mean to reain on his parade, but it's impossible to make a list like this an not include the Giants #3 starter.
While Zito and his 3.35 ERA have helped the Giants climb to the top of the NL Wild Card standings, his underlying numbers indicate that he can not keep this performance up, and his past failures show how un-worthy he is of the money he is owed over the next three years.
Zito will be paid $18.5 million in 2011, $19 in 2012, and $20 million in 2013. While he's had a solid season, I'm sure the Giants would rather someone else pay his salary going forward, and I doubt there's another team in baseball who would even consider it.