We are in the portion of the MLB season where nearly every player hits waivers, as teams try to see whom they’ll be able to move before playoff rosters lock on August 31st, as well as explore options at shedding unwanted salary for veterans and clearing September playing time for youngsters.
It is never surprising that a player has been placed on waivers, since teams can pull back anyone that is claimed. It was surprising to me, though, that Elvis Andrus cleared waivers this morning. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised — Andrus is one of the worst hitters at the weakest hitting position in baseball and this spring inked an 8 year/$120M extension with the Rangers. The combination of the two would normally ensure a player would pass through waivers unclaimed. Andrus is a unique case, however — only 24, he is in his 5th full season and has accumulated nearly 15 fWAR on the strength of gold glove defense, speed on the bases and just below league average hitting. (See here for my discussion of Andrus’ career thus far in historical context).
Next year, Andrus will make $6.5M, and then in years 2015-2022 he will earn $15M/season, with a vesting option for the 2023 season. Andrus has unquestionably had a down season — but $15M/season for a 24 year old that has averaged 3 fWAR/season at SS through his early 20s is hardly an overpay, and at least two strong, relatively deep pocketed contenders (Detroit, St. Louis) have holes in the middle of their infield. So why would nobody even offer a claim? Besides the total $$$ commitment, Andrus’ contract contains a number of interesting clauses that perhaps explain the passage through waivers:
(1) The 2023 vesting option (at $15M, in what will be his age 34 season) becomes a player option if traded.
(2) Andrus’s contract includes limited (10 team) no trade protection beginning in the 2016 season — however, this becomes FULL no trade protection in the event of a trade or waiver claim. [Note: I can’t tell from Cot’s whether this still only kicks in in 2016, or the full no trade vests upon a trade]
(3) Andrus may opt-out in 2018 and 2019 (allowing him to hit the market again at 29-30). Though this could also be seen as potentially limiting a claiming team’s exposure, in effect it places all the downside risk of the contract on the team’s shoulders rather than Andrus.
Ultimately, it could be that teams are concerned about Andrus’ seeming regression at the plate this year. Nevertheless, Andrus’ defense alone makes his floor fairly high, and though $120M is a large commitment, the $15M annual price tag is not huge even if we assume his offense never develops. If I were Detroit or St. Louis, I probably would have made the claim and explored the asking price.