Free Lucas Giolito. And Reynaldo López. And Matt Moore. And…

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Hey there. Are you a major league general manager or president of baseball operations? Do you work in a front office role for a playoff-contending team? Do you wish you had another starter, a good closer, or maybe an outfielder? Well, I’ve got great news for you, my friend. Operators are waiting now for your call: the Los Angeles Angels just yelled “Everything must go!” and threw their roster on the waiver wire like a miffed fantasy owner.

More specifically, the Angels placed Lucas Giolito, Matt Moore, Reynaldo López, Dominic Leone, Hunter Renfroe, and Randal Grichuk on waivers. For the next 47 hours, any team in baseball can place a claim on any or all of their services. It’s an unprecedented maneuver that could inject talent into playoff races across the league, and in an unpredictable fashion. If you’re on the fringes, you’ll get the first bite at the apple, but there are so many players here that even some teams currently in playoff position might end up with someone. If you’re looking for more specifics on the waiver process, Jon Becker wrote a nice explainer here.

Let’s talk about the way this works for the Angels first. Coming into yesterday, we projected them for a competitive balance tax payroll of $234,398,925. The first CBT threshold for this year is $233 million. That means they need to save around $1.5 million to duck under that threshold. The players put on waivers are owed around $6.44 million over the remainder of the year, and a similar amount even when CBT tax calculations are applied. The total tax savings will be slightly less than that, because the Rockies are paying a portion of Grichuk’s salary, but assuming most of these players find takers, the Angels will end up below that threshold.

That’s the clear goal here, along of course with saving a bit of money. You might wonder why getting just a few dollars under an arbitrary threshold matters. After all, the CBT is a 20% tax on the amount by which you exceed that first threshold. That’s a miniscule amount, dwarfed by the savings the Angels will get if other teams pick up their players’ contracts. The tax part of the equation seems like a smoke screen.

But there’s a key consideration here: I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Shohei Ohtani seems likely to leave this offseason. The Angels are going to extend him a qualifying offer on the way out the door, though, and their compensation for that qualifying offer depends on whether or not they exceeded the first tax threshold. If you didn’t pay tax or receive revenue sharing in the previous year, your compensation pick falls just before the start of the third round. If you paid the tax, however, it comes just before the fifth round. That’s a meaningful difference.

From that perspective, this seems like a reasonable decision by the Angels. Let’s not mince words here: They’re cooked in 2023. It’s over for them; all they’re missing is a Vince Carter GIF. They’re 11.5 games out of the Wild Card chase, Mike Trout is hurt, and Ohtani is done as a pitcher this year thanks to a UCL injury. We give them a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs and honestly, that sounds about right to me.

Is this an anti-fan maneuver to save a few bucks at the expense of team legitimacy? I don’t think so. I don’t want to be overly harsh to these players, but nobody’s going out to an Angels game to see Matt Moore. The team tried to make the playoffs, and spent both real money and real prospect capital to do so. Did it work out well? It most definitely did not, and salary dumping after a bad month is sure to irk some people. But this isn’t a team deciding not to be competitive in January before any games have been played. The Angels could have acquired peak Barry Bonds and not seen their playoff odds budge. In fact, I confirmed that fact by having Dan Szymborski add peak Bonds to the current Angels roster, which pushed their playoff odds all the way to 2.9%. I then had him make Ohtani healthy again – if only this were real life – which got them all the way to 7.8%. In other words, this isn’t fixable.

If your competitive sensibilities are instead offended by the unfairness of it all, by the sheer lack of respect for the unwritten rules of the game that putting all these players onto competitive teams outside the trade process entails, that’s a defensible position, but I disagree. This isn’t some pointless exercise done to mess with the game’s legitimacy. The Angels are after a real goal, and teams strategically place pending free agents on waivers all the time. Harrison Bader and Carlos Carrasco are also on waivers right now. The scale of the Angels’ moves might be unprecedented, but the fact that useful players are available on the waiver wire certainly isn’t. Heck, Elvis Andrus was a waiver wire addition who nearly swung a playoff race just last year.

The Angels aren’t messing with their own future competitiveness to save a few bucks. None of these players would have been around next year, and none of them would have drawn a qualifying offer. We’re constantly on front offices for behaving irrationally; this one feels like a down-the-middle value play to me, though I’m not sure I get the point of putting Grichuk specifically on the wire given his small remaining compensation.

Of course, this kind of behavior could get tiresome if taken to the extreme. If every non-contending team cut all their impending free agents every year, the trade deadline might start to feel kind of silly. And the fact that it’s a record-based system, where you can’t bid more if you have greater need for a given player, makes the player movement feel arbitrary. Teams that did nothing at the trade deadline might get bailed out, through no ingenuity of their own.

To that I say: change the rules, then. We’re not looking at a complete mockery of the game here. The Angels aren’t putting MVPs on the waiver wire. They aren’t forfeiting games. Teams intent on securing a first round bye still have plenty of incentive to improve at the deadline so they can enjoy the services of good players longer, and unless this becomes a trend, I’m not sure it changes how fringe playoff teams understand their own deadline incentives much. No one’s going to declare the 2023 World Series trophy a sham if the Reds unexpectedly end up with Reynaldo López in late August. Baseball is full of teams gaming everything they possibly can: service time, arbitration, roster limits, injured list stints, you name it. At least this one puts deserving players into the playoff chase.

Ah, right, the deserving players. Let’s talk about them a little bit. Giolito has been downright atrocious in Anaheim, but he still looks like a nice depth option with upside, and a lot of fringe contenders could use a fifth starter. Moore and López are both better than that, though in more limited roles. Moore profiles as an excellent lefty specialist. López has been great out west and could be a setup man for pretty much any team in baseball. (Leone isn’t quite the caliber of the other two relievers, and I think he might actually pass through waivers, so let’s set him aside.)

We give 16 teams a 10% or higher shot at making the playoffs; by my count, all 16 could use Giolito, Moore and López. Naturally, though, all 16 can’t get them. In fact, none of the 16 might get them, because the Padres have a worse record than all of those teams but still harbor playoff dreams. They’re also in dire need of some pitching. I think that all three pitchers would be meaningful upgrades for them. Luckily, my friendly neighborhood Dan Szymborski was still around from the earlier Bonds shenanigans, so I asked him to run an alternate-universe ZiPS projection where the Padres get all three players and nothing else changes.

Adding those three pitchers nearly doubles San Diego’s playoff odds. Just one problem – it moves them from 5.1% to 9.6%, and from a 79-win median projection to an 80-win one. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s hardly an earth shattering change. No team needs wins more than the Padres right now, and with Yu Darvish on the IL and Robert Suarez facing a suspension for a sticky stuff ejection (he’s appealing), they have a clear need for pitching as well. It simply isn’t enough to move the needle, even if they take advantage of their waiver position and claim all three players. And hey, just in case you want the numbers in table form, Dan has you covered:

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West (8/29)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 99 63 .611 99.9% 0.1% 100.0% 14.6%
San Francisco Giants 85 77 14 .525 0.0% 71.6% 71.7% 4.9%
Arizona Diamondbacks 85 77 14 .525 0.0% 67.6% 67.6% 3.1%
San Diego Padres 79 83 20 .488 0.0% 5.1% 5.1% 0.4%
Colorado Rockies 59 103 40 .364 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West (Alternate Scenario)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 99 63 .611 99.9% 0.1% 100.0% 14.3%
San Francisco Giants 85 77 14 .525 0.0% 70.1% 70.1% 4.7%
Arizona Diamondbacks 85 77 14 .525 0.0% 66.0% 66.0% 3.0%
San Diego Padres 80 82 19 .494 0.0% 9.6% 9.6% 0.8%
Colorado Rockies 59 103 40 .364 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Okay, but those are the Padres. They weren’t likely to make the playoffs either way; throwing a few random guys on the squad is hardly going to change that. Throwing the aforementioned Barry Bonds on the squad might not change that, in fact. Let’s go way up the chain and try to find the most impactful roster change imaginable. One team in baseball is both locked in a tight playoff race and desperately in need of some undeserved pitching help: the Baltimore Orioles.

Are the trio of Angels likely to make it to Baltimore in the waiver claim system? I think not. As I mentioned, there are a lot of playoff hopefuls, and most of them could use pitching. But if we’re talking about potentially season-altering waiver claims, I can’t imagine a more monumental one from among our options here. More specifically, per ZiPS, it would move the Orioles from a 72.7% chance of winning the AL East to an 84.5% chance, which would move their odds of winning the World Series from 7.5% to 10.9%:

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East (8/29)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Baltimore Orioles 99 63 .611 72.7% 27.3% 99.9% 7.5%
Tampa Bay Rays 96 66 3 .593 27.1% 72.1% 99.2% 5.1%
Toronto Blue Jays 89 73 10 .549 0.3% 50.1% 50.4% 3.0%
Boston Red Sox 84 78 15 .519 0.0% 5.4% 5.4% 0.1%
New York Yankees 79 83 20 .488 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL East (Alternate Scenario)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Baltimore Orioles 100 62 .617 84.5% 15.5% 100.0% 10.9%
Tampa Bay Rays 96 66 4 .593 15.4% 83.7% 99.1% 4.3%
Toronto Blue Jays 89 73 11 .549 0.1% 49.2% 49.2% 2.7%
Boston Red Sox 84 78 16 .519 0.0% 5.1% 5.1% 0.1%
New York Yankees 79 83 21 .488 0.0% 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

That’s nothing to sneeze at. It is, for example, a lot more than the Orioles added at the actual trade deadline. Even getting one of those three players would be a coup for them. But more likely, this will work with Mario Kart rules; the worse-off teams will exercise their waiver rights and claim some of the pitchers, so either the very worst team in the hunt will end up with all of them, or they’ll end up spread out across multiple squads.

The universal appeal of useful pitching – everyone needs dudes like this, which means not everyone can get them – makes their eventual homes difficult to predict. I think the Padres make the most sense, but I could see them letting Moore through in favor of Tom Cosgrove and allowing some other fringe contender to end up with him instead. I could also see them deciding to stop chasing wins with a roster languishing below .500 and letting the next teams in the queue make a claim.

The two outfielders, on the other hand, don’t have that many obvious homes. Renfroe is a weak side platoon bat having a down season, and Grichuk might be worse than that. Most of the playoff contenders have those kinds of players available already. But as an example of the biggest impact they might have, I asked Dan to place both on the Marlins, who are desperate for offense:

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East (8/29)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 105 57 .648 100.0% 0.0% 100.0% 27.1%
Philadelphia Phillies 89 73 16 .549 0.0% 94.9% 94.9% 2.8%
Miami Marlins 81 81 24 .500 0.0% 14.2% 14.2% 0.2%
New York Mets 76 86 29 .469 0.0% 0.6% 0.6% 0.0%
Washington Nationals 72 90 33 .444 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL East (Alternate Scenario)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 105 57 .648 100.0% 0.0% 100.0% 27.0%
Philadelphia Phillies 89 73 16 .549 0.0% 94.6% 94.6% 2.8%
Miami Marlins 81 81 24 .500 0.0% 16.9% 16.9% 0.3%
New York Mets 76 86 29 .469 0.0% 0.6% 0.6% 0.0%
Washington Nationals 72 90 33 .444 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Oh. Well then. I guess this might not be the move that turns the season on its head. ZiPS isn’t particularly high on either outfielder, but given that they’ve combined for 1.1 WAR all season long, that seems like a fair assessment. The pitchers are the most exciting additions, and they’re likely to be scattered widely across the league unless a single team at the very edge of the playoff race gets frisky.

Will the Angels’ fire sale change the fate of playoff races? Definitely maybe, but certainly not definitely. An extra arm is always welcome, but no one is building a lockdown bullpen or rotation on the sly in these deals. Honestly, Bader might be the most impactful player currently on waivers, because that kind of center field defense doesn’t grow on trees.

So if you’re a fan of a team on the fringes of the playoff race, take heart: the more desperate your situation, the more likely you are to find a solid pitcher under the Angels-sponsored Christmas tree come Thursday afternoon. But also, be warned: a solid pitcher or two probably won’t change your team’s fate very much. That’s just where we are at this point in the season. It’s part of why teams in the hunt decided to add good players a month ago. The wins and losses that have already been banked are hugely important. Small upgrades are simply less so. The big winners in this whole saga are probably the players themselves, who will now get a second or third bite at a playoff race instead of playing out a depressing string in Anaheim.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

123 Comments
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SenorGato
8 months ago

Reynaldo Lopez, Harrison Bader, and sure Giolito are welcome to Cubs

TKDCmember
8 months ago
Reply to  SenorGato

If the Reds don’t figure out how to come up with $3-4 million dollars to pick up the better pitchers, also blocking the Cubs, and make a legit run at the playoffs, their owner and GM should be shot into the sun.

sadtrombonemember
8 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Honestly it wouldn’t be crazy to see a team like the Cardinals or Mets pick up Giolito so they can evaluate him directly before pursuing pitchers in free agency.

PC1970
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I was thinking the Tigers could/should do the same..assuming they lose E-Rod, Giolito would be a logical candidate for them.

It would also give them a month to start a relationship, see if the pitching coach can work with him, etc.

sadtrombonemember
8 months ago
Reply to  PC1970

I mostly picked the Cardinals or Mets because both of them are indicating that they’d like to sign 3 pitchers in free agency, and it’s not clear they will be in on the top tier of guys that would get QOs (Nola, Snell, Urias, Sonny Gray, Ohtani if he hadn’t gotten hurt). They’ll both be going hard after Jordan Montgomery and E-Rod, and if Stroman opts out I would expect the Cardinals to go hard after him as well. But really, any team that wants to go after that class of pitcher or the one directly below it (Flaherty, Maeda, Ryu, Seth Lugo) might be in on Giolito as well. And by that principle, there are a whole lot of losing teams that might want him. The Cardinals, Mets, Tigers, Padres, Rockies, (wouldn’t that be awful), Yankees, maybe even the Pirates. Maybe even the White Sox would claim him.

I think I would be surprised if he made it all the way to a team with a winning record.

soddingjunkmailmember
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleveland kick the tires on Giolito.

Jason Bmember
8 months ago

That would require an outlay of funds which is never, ever, ever popular with Indians ownership

OddBall Herrera
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

He is an impending free agent. Teams with losing records have no reason to pick him up unless you want to go waaaay out on an “they should try to impress him so he will come back in free agency” limb

sadtrombonemember
8 months ago

I mean, you can literally just keep him hanging around to work with the pitching coach to see if they can make any quick fixes. If it turns out he can’t implement them, maybe it’s not worth pursuing him at all.

sadtrombonemember
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I wouldn’t trade for him under those circumstances but for the cost of his remaining salary, I’d certainly bring him in as due diligence.

Lanidrac
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It’s probably better to save that million or so bucks for their actual free agent offers.

fartinyourface
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Mets 100% should do that with Giolito and Lopez.

snood
8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

man, I would be frustrated if I got traded to what I thought was a WC contender, went 7-18 or whatever, and got waived for what I thought was a playoff race, only to end up with another loser with no shot at a run/ring.

sadtrombonemember
8 months ago
Reply to  snood

The only way it would be worse is if he blows out his elbow pitching for the second loser. Actually, that’s the worst case scenario anytime, no matter what else is going on.

tz
8 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

I have a feeling that the Padres and maybe even Boston will snag a guy or two before the Reds have their chance. But the Reds should be going all-in on any pitching help available via waivers, absolutely.

HappyFunBallmember
8 months ago
Reply to  TKDC

Haha nope. Evidently they feel that they need more OFs for … reasons