The Waive

Just when you thought nothing weird could happen to or emanate from the Angels, they found a way to disabuse you. With one act last week they helped yank a couple of pennant races inside out. Whether it was bold or boneheaded is a matter of opinion. Likewise whether it was both at once.

And that was on top of Shohei Ohtani going down for the count on the pitching side with that ulnar collateral ligament tear ... but continuing on as a designated hitter regardless of the ongoing risk, and without deciding to undergo the Tommy John surgery he'll have to face most likely.

In one week, the Angels went from mere disaster to the guys who just might have played key roles for somebody else's postseason trips. The way they did it may have set a precedent somewhere between foolish and dangerous to the integrity of the game.

They gambled on keeping Ohtani rather than flipping him for remake-beginning prospects at the trade deadline. They leaned on an illusory 11-3 string to finish July and traded for pitcher Lucas Giolito (White Sox) and left fielder Randal Grichuk (Rockies). They opened August going 2-9. They finished the month going 8-19.

They saw the season sinking faster than the Lusitania before August finally ended. First came Ohtani with the UCL tear. Then, as owner Arte Moreno and his minions saw their all-in push at the trade deadline turn to all-out pushed just enough out of the races:

* The Angels put Giolito, Grichuk, and three other players — relief pitchers Reynaldo López and Matt Moore, plus outfielder Hunter Renfroe — on waivers last week.

* Yes, the waiver placements were salary dumpings, and they just might give a lot of other teams ideas about dumping salaries at no cost to the dumpers and minimal cost to the dumpees. To claim and receive Giolito, López, and Moore cost the Guardians what Aaron Judge may hand out in tips, $3 million.

* Yes, too, that just might have given the Guardians new pennant race life in an American League Central that isn't exactly a division built to strike fear in the hearts of the rest of the league.

The Guards claimed Giolito, López, and Moore before the end of August 31. Meaning those three, should they hold up and pitch in well enough, will turn up in the postseason if the Guards manage to sneak into the wild card picture or even sneak the Twins off the top of the Central heap. They swung into a good start from there — they took the first two of a weekend set with the Rays, including a Saturday walk-off on an RBI single and a sacrifice fly.

If the Guards' motives included cutting into the Twins directly, they got off to a grand beginning even before they could pencil Giolito into the rotation and with only López seeing action prior to Sunday. They start a critical set with the Twins on Labour Day. It's a wonder the Twins and others didn't start ringing commissioner Rob Manfred's or players union chief Tony Clark's phones off the hook.

This is what a few people feared possible when the old waiver trade system expired in 2019. Until then, teams could trade players they put on waivers and, since they put everyone on the roster on the waiver wire until then, disguise whom they really wanted to deal while working out the particulars on the deals they really wanted by the close of business August 31.

If that sounds a little bit surreal, be reminded that a few Hall of Famers changed teams in just that way, including Jeff Bagwell (to the Astros, before he'd even seen substantial major league action), Bert Blyleven (to the Twins), John Smoltz (to the Braves), Justin Verlander (to the Astros the first time), and Larry Walker (to the Cardinals, after his long Colorado tenure).

But that was then: the traders got value or at least potential value via players in return. This is now: the dealers get salary relief if they want it, as the Angels have, but nothing else. Unless it's luxury tax relief, which the Angels will get since the waiver dump gets them below the $233 million seasonal threshold. Using it as a salary dump just might raise more than a few players union hackles and make more than a few other owners a little edgy, too.

The Reds claimed Renfroe plus Yankee outfielder Harrison Bader off the waiver wire in time to have them on a postseason roster, too. They've taken two out of three from the upstart Cubs (doesn't that sound a little weird to say?) since, but with little to no help from their new waiver wire toys yet: Bader entered play Sunday at 1-for-3 with a stolen base; Renfroe, 0-for-9.

They have a six-game National League Central deficit, but the Reds awoke Sunday morning with fingertips on the third NL wild card with the Diamondbacks and Giants having fingertips on the second card. The Guards are five games behind the Twins in that AL Central and slightly beyond the third AL wild card.

It all began with the Angels deciding the time for a salary dump came a little ahead of the usual offseason. The trouble was, too, that it dominated baseball's news wires and helped some people miss a few more glorious doings, in particular Braves star Ronald Acuña, Jr.'s entry into a club with a single member — himself.

Last Thursday night, Acuña ripped Dodgers starter Lance Lynn (a trade-deadline acquisition from the White Sox) for a grand slam and his 30th homer of the season. It made him the only man in Show history to hit 30 or more bombs and steal 60 or more bases in the same year.

When he swiped numbers 60 and 61 against the Rockies last Monday, two Rockies fans hit the field running to greet him, one hugging him and the other accidentally knocking Acuña on his derriere. Prompting an almost immediate discussion on increasing player safety on the field.

Not even the Angels' waiver deadline salary dumping could ruin the best moment of Acuña's 30/60 Club founding — his former teammate Freddie Freeman, the day after the founding, handing Acuña one of the bases from Thursday's game.

There really is something to be said for Don Vito Corleone's observation (in the novel The Godfather) that great misfortune often leads to unforeseen reward. The Guards and the Reds hope the Angels' misfortune leads them likewise. Who hopes it doesn't give enough owners any more cute ideas about salary dumps and, thus, prospective pennant race distortions?

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