The Blue Jays are dealing with a tumultuous start to their season. R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson have endured rough starts, Jose Bautista's biggest blast involved umpires, and, on Friday night, Jose Reyes suffered a severely sprained ankle. The injury will cost Reyes potentially the next three months and opens a spot on the roster for Munenori Kawasaki, who hit .192/.257/.202 last season for the Mariners. Everything that could go wrong is seemingly going wrong. But were there warning signs about the quality of the Jays' roster even before Reyes' injury?
This we know for sure: Few teams are as active on the waiver wire as the Blue Jays. Last November Ben Lindbergh crunched the numbers and found the Jays had made the second-most waiver claims league-wide since Alex Anthopoulos took over as general manager. The Jays don't keep all of their claimed players on their 40-man roster. Instead they commonly send the acquired player back through waivers in an attempt to then send him to the minors. Call it the Toronto method of building organizational depth. This strategy has its downfalls, however. Like when it appears to be a sign of weakness. Take Jon Morosi's tweet from last week:
On the Jays: It is rare for a World Series contender to tinker this much with waiver claims early in a season.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 10, 2013
Morosi is correct, of course. Typically, contending teams have little use for players on the waiver wire, many of whom are fringe major leaguers. In recent seasons it feels as though the quality of player available through waivers is lessening; perhaps as teams improve their roster management skills. Still, the Jays have plucked three players off waivers this April: Mauro Gomez, Edgar Gonzalez, and Casper Wells. Only Wells remains on the 25-man roster, which is true to the Jays' methods. Curious nonetheless, I asked research guru Andrew Koo for a list of April waiver claims made by each team since 2009. He obliged and here is the complete list of teams that claimed at least three players in April:
2013 Blue Jays
Yup, that's it. There were three teams that claimed two players: the 2012 A's and Rays and the 2013 Orioles—or one playoff team, one contending team, and one team that Morosi is high on. Otherwise the Jays are on an island. To expand the sample I went through Baseball-Reference's transaction log for each World Series participant since 1993, thus adding 30 teams to the pool. In every case the teams claimed either one or none players off the waiver wire in April. So Morosi is right on point about the waiver-claiming habits of your typical team or World Series participant.
But under Anthopoulos the Jays have not operated like a typical team anyhow. They claim to bolster depth, not to add talent to a middling bench or bullpen. The benefits of that approach are debatable. Yet, on their own, the waiver claims hardly seem like reason enough to write off the Jays as a potential contender.
Update: Steve Kinsella, of DRaysBay, raises another good point on Twitter: Many competitive teams are near the end of the waiver line to begin the season, thus reducing their ability to claim the most attractive options available.
Special thanks to Andrew Koo for research assistance.
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I know a part of the consideration in previous years was the Jays' AAA affiliate. Las Vegas is terror on pitching and deterred 6ymlfa's from signing with the club when all other things (opportunity for instance) were equal. Waiver claims take that deterrent out of play. And Syracuse before that was generally not a well-regarded destination (stadium, playing surface, player amenities).