The truth about MLB waiver claims is always presented at the bottom of a splashy and intentionally overblown headline and equally worse article like it’s the Terms and Conditions when signing up for a credit card, website or service. The devil is in the details but that devil isn’t a concern until after the fact. I may be overestimating those who are writing the pieces implying that Cliff Lee might somehow wind up with the Dodgers following their waiver claim—some suggesting that the Phillies let him go for nothing—by thinking that they’re simply following the edicts of editors who want them to write stories that are designed for webhits and to spur conversation rather than disseminate accurate information, but overestimating those who don’t know much of anything to begin with tends to be a mistake.
Here are the MLB waiver rules posted on the B-R Bullpen.
Since the Dodgers’ waiver claim on Lee is being misinterpreted as Lee going to the Dodgers and spurring the concept that the Phillies are going to trade Lee, I’m wondering what’s going to happen when Robinson Cano, Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez, David Wright, Justin Verlander and any other star you could name is placed on waivers. Is it going to be a frenzy of ridiculous writing that a trade or the decision to let them go is imminent?
The waiver rules can lead to drastic mistakes made by GMs. In 1998, then Padres’ GM Kevin Towers claimed Randy Myers of the Blue Jays because he was worried about Myers winding up with the Braves. The Blue Jays let the Padres have Myers and stuck them the remaining money on his contract for 1999-2000 plus whatever he was owed for 1998. It presumably came to over $14 million. Towers almost lost his job over it and, to make matters worse, the insurance company refused to pay the Padres’ claim in spite of Myers’s inability to pitch. The case was settled out of court.
Oh, and the Braves had no interest in Myers anyway.
Another case in which the GM made a mistake was in 1990 when Pirates’ GM Larry Doughty placed minor leaguers (and then top prospects) Wes Chamberlain and Julio Peguero on waivers and, without realizing he couldn’t pull them back, was forced to trade them for Carmelo Martinez. This wasn’t as egregious an error as the one made by Towers. The waiver rules had been changed earlier that season and Doughty was a baseball guy, not a legal expert; the Pirates didn’t have an in-house legal mind to navigate the rules because they wanted to save a few bucks. In retrospect, neither of the Pirates’ “top minor league prospects” Chamberlain and Peguero did anything in the big leagues to make it a regrettable deal, but since they were well-regarded at the time, the Pirates could’ve gotten more for them them the fading veteran Martinez.
This reaction to the Lee waiver claim is a non-story. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. placed Lee on waivers and because he was willing to listen to offers for the much-traveled lefty and there’s speculation that he’s going to be dealt, but they’re not giving him away and if the Dodgers want him, they’ll have to give up several prospects to do it. In theory, the Phillies could let Lee go and use the available money to sign a replacement arm for next season such as Zack Greinke or try to trade for Hernandez or some other big name, but Amaro said they’re not letting Lee go, so the point is moot. And even if it happens, it will be as much of a shock to those who are playing up Lee being placed on waivers as a big news story. The stoking of this fire is worse because that fire is being fanned in a crowded theater with people who don’t know any better as the inhabitants.