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The start of September is the beginning of the regular-season end of the Transaction Analysis column. Most trades are completed before August’s conclusion to comply with the playoff-eligibility rules, while the roster-expansion period minimizes the roles options and waivers play in achieving the optimal 25-man set. Factor in that the remaining free agents are non-entities, and the next month-plus will be light on meaningful activity. This is, then, the perfect time to reflect on the year that was in transactions (or, at least, April 1st through September 8th) by highlighting and examining some trends.

The Dodgers enjoyed using Oklahoma City …
Much has been made of the inventiveness and resourcefulness of Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman’s frankenadministration in Los Angeles. Those attributes were most apparent in how and why they used their new Triple-A affiliate. The Dodgers led the majors by issuing 53 optional assignments (49 of which directed players toward Oklahoma City), seven more than the next-closest team (the Red Sox), 10 more than the next-closest contender (a tie between the Angels and Yankees), and nearly 24 more than the league median (29.5).

What compelled the Dodgers to farm out players so often? A seeming desire to keep the bullpen as fresh as possible. Whereas outfielder Chris Heisey (six times), catcher Austin Barnes (thrice), and infielder Jose Peraza (twice) were the only Dodgers position players optioned more than once, six Dodgers pitchers were demoted more than three times each, usually when they required a breather, or when the bullpen needed some length. Lefties Ian Thomas and Daniel Coulombe logged the most miles, with each taking six trips from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City.

Zaidi’s roster-churning achieved such a frantic pace that he never abstained for two full weeks before issuing another optional assignment; he maxed out at 12 days. The Mets, the Dodgers’ likely first-round playoff opponents, went 12 days or longer between optional assignments on four occasions.

and the waiver wire.
Zaidi’s obsessive adjustments sometimes required a corresponding 40-man roster move. Resultingly, the Dodgers necessitated a majors-leading 23 designations for assignment. (The Cubs finished second with 19.) Credit Zaidi for his timing and selections, since 11 of those designations ended with the player clearing waivers and accepting an outright assignment, thereby remaining with the organization. But while the Dodgers also led the National League in outrights, they did not lead the majors.

The Yankees selected a lot of contracts
Just who topped the Dodgers? The Yankees, the game’s other ruthless, brainy financial powerhouse. Though Brian Cashman and his analytical boffins don’t receive the same level of attention or praise, they nonetheless ran an organization-wide bullpen swap meet like the one perfected by the Dodgers; hence a majors-leading 12 outright assignments and 24 contracts purchased, with 16 of those belonging to pitchers. (The Braves were the other team to select more than 20 contracts, and they went through more pitchers than a bar on St. Patrick’s Day.)

Chris Capuano‘s on-again, off-again saga aside, most of the Yankees’ 40-man additions were one-offs or altogether new additions to the 40-man roster. Cashman showed no hesitation in returning to the well as often as he saw fit, selecting another pitcher within 10 days of his most recent addition nine times.

The Pirates were stable
While the Dodgers and Yankees micromanaged their rosters like busy bees, the team with the most bee-like colors, the Pirates, changed theirs at a pace befitting a sloth. Neal Huntington reserved his spare 40-man roster additions for the times when he needed them. He adhered to the tried and truest of strategies: fill roster holes as they appeared. That meant purchasing 12 contracts throughout the season, leading to a random Pedro Florimon appearance here, a Brent Morel sighting there, and so on. The Pirates served as the Dodgers’ opposite in another regard: They finished last in optional assignments handed out. In other words, the Pirates had one of the most steady rosters in the game.

So were the White Sox
But while the firmness and reliability of the Pirates’ roster has led to an impressive season, the White Sox are evidence that those qualities don’t always precipitate a playoff run. Rick Hahn stayed true to the team he assembled during the winter, thus leaving the White Sox near the bottom in waiver claims, recalls, and contracts selected. In fact, the White Sox purchased just seven contracts all season, and five of those happened in April, three before they even played a regular-season game. Were it not for the Mike Olt waiver claim, Hahn would have gone three full months without adding anyone to his 40-man roster. There’s no reason to envy his predicament, but you have to admire his patience and loyalty.

The Rangers claimed a lot of players off waivers
Believe it or not, Alex Anthopoulos did not claim the most players off waivers this season; he showed unusual self control, leading to a second-place finish. Top billing instead belonged to Jon Daniels, who plucked six players. None of the six has done anything notable with the Rangers—half haven’t appeared in a game with the big-league club—but it’s the thought that counts, and Daniels proved throughout the season that he’s open to improving his roster through any means. Those busybody Dodgers finished third in successful waiver claims, by the way, while the Brewers—an honest-to-goodness noncompetitive team that even held the top priority for a time—rounded out the top five.

Teams other than the Rangers didn’t claim players as often as usual
Here’s a league-wide observation for the road: Teams designated more players for assignment than in the previous three seasons, yet also claimed a lower percentage of those players off waivers:

Season

Waiver claims

DFA

Individuals DFA

Claims/DFA

2012

55

187

158

29.4%

2013

46

223

174

20.6%

2014

53

238

195

22.3%

2015

50

286

229

17.5%

Everyone’s favorite explanation for this phenomenon is that teams have improved at roster-management. This makes sense here, because it would mean a lower quality of player is placed on waivers than in years past. Whether that’s true is hard to pin down. One way to test the theory is to look at the percentage of designations that resulted in an outright assignment, the thinking being that if desirable players seldom hit the waiver wire, then a greater percentage of designations would lead to trades (for the quality players) and outrights (for the not-so-quality players). However, that does not seem to be the case. The percentage of outright assignments was about 60 percent, a little lower than in 2014 (70 percent) and a little higher than in 2013 (55 percent).

While it’s hard to say for certain that teams have gotten better at roster management with data, there is anecdotal evidence that supports the notion. Consider the trends in the Dodgers and Yankees sections. Some teams are now subverting roster limitations by toggling through players at a hyper rate and subjecting their spares to waivers; that, in turn, also explains why more players are hitting the wire and fewer are being claimed: Teams don’t want or need someone else’s org filler; they have their own to worry about. Don’t be surprised if more teams follow suit next year.

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ofMontreal
9/10
Some tight writing in here RJ. I like to think budget is playing pretty hard too. Some teams seem quite averse to spending the relatively small sums.
RJAnderson
9/10
Tight as in efficient, not forced, I hope.

Yeah, I shouldn't have neglected the financial angle—adding a player to the 40-man roster means giving him a decent-sized raise; bringing him to the majors (if only for one day) does the same, etc. That can add up when you're making 20, 30 more moves than the normal team.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise then that two of the game's financial giants are leading the way?
RJAnderson
9/10
Tight as in efficient, not forced, I hope.

Yeah, I shouldn't have neglected the financial angle—adding a player to the 40-man roster means giving him a decent-sized raise; bringing him to the majors (if only for one day) does the same, etc. That can add up when you're making 20, 30 more moves than the normal team.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise then that two of the game's financial giants are leading the way?
ofMontreal
9/10
Tight as in clever & efficient, yes. Yeah I think the transition of limited resource GM's into deep pocket teams is changing the dynamic. The teams I follow closely have 2-3 obvious churn slots on the 40. My only concern is when they have too many out of option players but we might be seeing that becoming less of a concern.