On the Fly
June 3, 2005

One of the experiments I'm trying this year in AL Tout is to see which positions can be filled from the waiver wire as the season progresses.  But when the rest of the league is also scrambling to fill holes caused by injuries and draft miscalculations - like my own blunders with Joe Borchard, Bubba Crosby and Juan Cruz - then it gets a little tricky.  As I'm finding out, it's very easy to whittle away one's entire FAAB budget trying to fill these holes.

So, what have I discovered so far?  Well, nothing that surprising, really.  But before I go into the details, I need to lay some groundwork here.  This is an AL-only league with 12 teams and only a six-man reserve squad.  While the measure of impact that these players will have is far less than they would have in a mixed league, the principle - which positions yeild the most production off the wire - still holds true.  OK, enough babbling...

First, middle relief is the easiest commodity to fill with quality personnel off the waiver wire.  Andy Sisco, Alan Embree, Cliff Politte, JC Romero, Jamie Walker and Shigetosi Hasegawa have all come off waivers and helped their teams in WHIP and ERA.  Sisco has been a boon in strikeouts as well.  It isn't unusual that a dozen relievers in each league come from waiver pick-ups and exceed expectations.  So unless the guy is either a closer or clearly the #1 set-up guy, there really isn't any reason to draft or bid on relievers at the auction.  The exceptions would be relievers on teams with either no established closers or a weak one whose hold is tenuous.  Even then, there's no reason to go overboard in bidding for them; Dustin Hermanson was picked up for a pittance in the AL Tout draft.

The second easiest commodity to pick up off waivers has been outfielders.  It's actually more of a toss-up between the outfielders and starting pitchers because there have been some superb mid-season starters over the last several years - in the NL, Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb come to mind - but there have been some pretty significant waiver outfielders too, like Jose Guillen and Wily Mo Pena.  Generally speaking, outfield help seems to be readily available as long as you're not trying to rebuild an entire outfield.  For example, Damon Hollins has been a godsend this year and Jeff Fiorentino was very useful for a month, but doesn't look like he's quite ready for the full season grind.  In many leagues Bobby Kielty and Nook Logan were probably available to start the season.  AAA lifer Matt Diaz had an opportunity but failed to capitalize and now looks like a Simon Pond-esque bust, especially since the Royals appear to be in full rebuild mode with the Shane Costa call-up.

The third easiest commodity to pick up off waivers is probably starting pitching, although there really haven't been any standouts to this point in the AL.  Chien Wang has been a poor mans' Jon Garland to this point, but the lack of strikeouts and rather average K/BB ratio will catch up to him.  Even Jake Westbrook struck out nearly 5 batters per 9 last year.  Wang is sitting just above 3 per 9.  The other waiver starters in the AL have not been particularly good (Kirk Saarloos, Seth Etherton, Jeremi Gonzales, Hayden Penn).  There's still a chance that a good starter will emerge from this bunch, or from the high minors - Chad Gaudin or Brian Tallet perhaps?  But to this point, the pitching has been on the disappointing side.

Middle infield is next.  Robinson Cano was probably available in many leagues to start the season and is beginning to look like he might make it as an everyday player.  Although Chris Gomez qualifies in the infield, he's played there only sparingly - 3 times at second, 3 times at short.  However, he's hit for very good average and his walk/strikeout rate (8/1 currently) seems to indicate that it's not as fluky as it may seem.  He won't continue at this rate, but the drop-off won't be as fast as might otherwise be expected.  Nick Green has been pretty steady, as has Juan Castro.  Marco Scutaro has contributed some, but his declining batting average is beginning to take a toll.  Pablo Ozuna has picked up 4 useful steals but little else.  Wilson Valdez failed to meet even the meager standards established by his MLEs as a 250-ish hitter with a modicum of speed.

Next on the roll call is corner fielders.  I should probably put Aaron Hill in the middle infielder group as that is where he has played his entire minor league career, but the Blue Jays brought him up to play third so that's where he ends up here.  He's been outstanding his first few weeks.  Although he's not much of a power hitter nor does he possess much speed, he will help his teams with batting average as long as he stays hot, and runs and RBI after that.  Eduardo Perez had a hot bat for Tampa while Travis Lee was out, but his at bats have waned lately and will further do so when Rocco Baldelli returns and pushes Aubrey Huff back to the infield occasionally.   After those two, the drop-off is pretty severe.

Lastly are the catchers, all of whom are the back-up variety.  Many people extol the virtues of the back-up catcher theory in auction leagues, preferring to spend a buck on one or two back-up guys who might pop an occasional homer and spend the rest on real players.  That works as long as you get a couple of the better back-ups, like Doug Mirabelli or before this season, Greg Zaun.  Otherwise you are looking at a six month trail of tears because the batting average depths to which these guys plummet are not for family viewing.  Ken Huckaby, Geronimo Gil, Charles Johnson, John Flaherty, Adam Melhuse, Greg Myers, Josh Paul, Alberto Castillo, Vance Wilson and Josh Bard are all hitting .225 or less.  Several of those guys are hitting below .150.   That's just not something any team can afford.  Personally, I've spent nearly a third of the FAAB I've used (21) on back up catchers so far this season and have been rewarded with a .116 average with 1 homer, 1 run and 6 RBI for my efforts... that and Wiki Gonzales on the DL.  To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, no roster so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. 

It's early enough in the season that some of these developments can still change significantly.  But as it stands now, if you had to skimp on the budget at auction time, hopefully you did so with your pitching staff (especially relief) and in the outfield because the opportunities for value off the waiver wire are reasonably plentiful.  There's other positional help to be had but when it comes to catchers, it's a dark and scary world on the waiver wire.