In a stunning development, the Angels have waved the white flag on their season, placing starter Lucas Giolito, relievers Matt Moore and Reynaldo López, and outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Randal Grichuk on waivers, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. Each player is an impending free agent and the Angels are apparently hoping to save some money by having some or all of them claimed off waivers while simultaneously allowing the players to join playoff contenders before the September 1 cutoff. Dominic Leone is also on the list, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
The Halos also placed starter Tyler Anderson on waivers last week, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post (on Twitter). He went unclaimed and elected to stick with the Halos. That no one took Anderson on is hardly a surprise. He’s only in the first season of a three-year, $39MM free agent contract that hasn’t gone well in year one. In 117 2/3 innings, the veteran southpaw has a 5.35 ERA.
The Angels have been making a strong push to contend in recent years, trying to put a competitive ballclub around their superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. Part of their offseason upgrades included signing Moore and trading for Renfroe. The club hovered around contention through the trade deadline, deciding to hang onto Ohtani as well as making further additions, including Giolito, López and Grichuk.
Unfortunately, just about everything has gone wrong in the month of August, with the club having posted a record of 7-18 so far this month. As if that weren’t enough, Ohtani was diagnosed with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing elbow, which will prevent him from pitching again this season. Trout, meanwhile, attempted to return from his hamate surgery despite still being sore but was in too much pain to continue and landed right back on the IL.
This brutal month has pushed the Angels’ record to 63-69, which leaves them 11.5 games back of a playoff spot. Calculations from both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus give the club no hope of coming back, making this a lost season. All six of the players reportedly on waivers are impending free agents, meaning they have no real use to the Angels now. The only player of the bunch that would warrant a qualifying offer, allowing the Angels to recoup draft pick compensation, would be Giolito but he’s ineligible to receive one since he was traded midseason.
Since the trade deadline passed four weeks ago, there’s no way for the Angels to exchange any of those players for any kind of future value. But by putting them on waivers, they at least give themselves a chance of saving some money. Giolito is making $10.4MM this year, without about $1.9MM left to be paid out. For Renfroe, those figures are $11.9MM and $2.18MM. For Moore, $7.55M and $1.38MM. López, $3.625MM and $633K. Leone is $1.5MM and $275K. Grichuk’s case is slightly more complicated since he’s making $9.33MM this year as part of the extension he signed with the Blue Jays, though that club is eating $4.33MM of that while the Rockies also sent some cash considerations is to the Angels when trading them Grichuk and C.J. Cron. There’s about $1.71MM left to be paid out though a claiming team wouldn’t be responsible for all of it.
Beyond the strict cash savings, dumping some salary will have luxury tax implications for the Angels. Roster Resource calculates the club’s competitive balance tax figure at $234.4MM, just $1.4MM over the base threshold of $233MM. Cot’s Baseball Contracts has them even farther over at $241.7MM. Both of those numbers are unofficial but highlight that the club is likely over the line by a small amount. The Angels are sure to make Ohtani a qualifying offer at season’s end and would receive draft pick compensation if he signed elsewhere. That compensation would be a pick just after the fourth round if they are a CBT payor but would move to just before the third round if they can dip below. That would roughly move the draft pick from around the 140th pick to the 75-80 range. Being a repeat payor also has escalating penalties, so avoiding paying the tax now could benefit the club if they decide to spend aggressively again next year.
In prior seasons, the July trade deadline was followed by a second deadline in August, though the latter portion required players to clear revocable waivers before being dealt. In 2019, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to a single deadline, with no trades allowed at all after the first deadline. There’s no longer any way for a club to make deals at this part of the calendar but players are still playoff eligible if they join an organization prior to September 1. That means they may find interest on the waiver wire, so long as the claiming club is willing to take on the salary of the player in question.
The waiver order goes in reverse order of standings, regardless of league. The previous August waiver trade system used to be league-specific but that’s no longer in place. As of today, the Athletics would have first dibs on any of these players, followed by the Royals, then the Rockies and so on, simply going from worst record to best, regardless of league. Of course, there’s little reason for those clubs out of contention to claim an impending free agent and take on their salary commitments. The claims are more likely to be made by clubs still hoping to make the playoffs, with those with worse records having a better chance of a successful claim than those at the top of the standings.
This will lead to some interesting calculations in the days to come. Many contending clubs have already spent the majority of the money they had allotted for the season, but will have to decide on whether it’s worthwhile to suddenly add another $1.9MM just for one month of Giolito to help with a stretch run, for example. He’s been inconsistent since joining the Angels but had a 3.79 ERA for the White Sox prior to the deal and has a longer track record of success, with a 3.86 ERA from 2019 to 2022.
Moore made a transition to the bullpen in recent years with excellent results, with a 1.95 ERA last year and 2.30 ERA this year. López is fairly similar, having gone from a fairly mediocre starter earlier in his career to effective reliever, including a 3.86 ERA this year. Renfroe’s production has been up-and-down, with a .240/.300/.480 batting line in his career but a lesser .239/.300/.425 showing this year. Grichuk is having another season with his blend of power but a subpar walk rate, slashing .261/.317/.435. Leone has struggled with control but has generally posted above-average strikeout rates.
For the players, they likely aren’t thrilled about being subject to the whims of the waiver wire, especially the ones who only just became Angels recently. But they will at least likely find themselves moving from a sinking ship to a contender in the coming days, giving them a chance to compete in a playoff race and perhaps get into the postseason.
As for the clubs considering a claim, this will be their best chance to bolster their rosters for the final month of the season, now that the deadline is long gone. It’s also possible that a new precedent has been set for the end of August, as it’s not just the Angels that have taken this tack. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has reported that Carlos Carrasco of the Mets, Mike Clevinger of the White Sox and José Cisnero of the Tigers have also been placed on waivers, while Erik Boland of Newsday first reported that Harrison Bader of the Yankees is also on the list.
Though the moves make some sense for the Angels, it’s undoubtedly a frustrating low point as the attempts to contend have repeatedly failed. They gave up several notable prospects to acquire some of these players just a few weeks ago and are now trying to give them away for little more than cost savings. They are now sure to finish the season without having made the playoffs since 2014 and could potentially watch Ohtani sign with a new club this winter.