Like Lewin Diaz was DFA five times in one offseason
Between the time Diaz started playing for the Stars in November and the time the Baltimore Orioles defeated him at Class AAA Norfolk on Tuesday, he had been designated for assignment five times in one of the most strange that any player in this sport remembers that a player endures.
A Major League Baseball spokesman said he could not confirm that being DFA five times in one offseason is a record, but Diaz’s experience is certainly rare. Right-hander Jake Reed was designated for assignment five times in 2022, but played on some of those teams before he was designated. Diaz hasn’t had a chance to do that yet.
As baseball sagas go, Diaz’s probably won’t go down as the most memorable of this offseason. But when star shortstop Carlos Correa found himself in an unprecedented limbo, bouncing from the Minnesota Twins to the San Francisco Giants a the New York Mets i back to the Twins amid concerns about his physicality, Diaz hoped a team would commit to him enough to help him get a visa in time for spring training.
“Obviously, it’s a difficult situation for him, especially because he’s in the Dominican and the issues we were going to run into: How quickly is he going to be able to get a visa? How quickly is someone going to be able to do it? Can he get to camp in time?” said Diaz’s agent, Adriel Reyes. “That process had started with one of those teams, but then it was left up in the air. You have to figure out who the point of contact is with a new team and make sure you do that quickly, but then there are doubts to do it because teams aren’t entirely sure they’re going to keep him on the roster.”
Reyes made it clear that if he managed a team, he would probably do the same. Don’t blame major league clubs for trying to get the most out of every roster spot.
In addition, dozens of players face similar uncertainty every year. Many free agents don’t know where they will sign until a few weeks before spring training. Teams don’t always know who will be healthy or perform. Some players sign late and their arrival at camp is delayed. Others switch teams just before the season, when final roster decisions release promising players and inspire other clubs to find room for them.
But Díaz’s situation is particularly difficult. He has not accumulated enough service time to become a free agent. If a team decides to put him on their 40-man roster, as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Orioles and Atlanta Braves did this offseason, he’s a member of that team. If a team decides it needs room for someone else on its 40-man roster, that team won’t be as concerned about parting ways with him as it might be about cutting ties with top draft picks or local players they’ve invested in years of organizational resources. And unlike some talented players who hit waivers, Diaz doesn’t have a rich contract, which means it’s easy for teams to reach out to him.
So Diaz found himself caught in the middle. He’s 26 years old and spent much of the last two seasons bouncing between the Marlins and the Class AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He is 6-foot-4 and an agile defender. He’s got the kind of power that gets guys like him a few extra chances because sometimes he sticks. In his most recent full minor league season, in 2019, Diaz hit .270 with an .851 on-base percentage and 27 homers in 121 games. He has struggled to duplicate that production in the majors, posting a .567 OPS in 321 at-bats.
He finished the 2022 season with no minor league options, which meant that if the Marlins wanted to remove him from their 40-man roster, they would have to designate him for assignment. When that happens, the player is placed on waivers, where the other 29 teams have a chance to claim him, with the pecking order established by winning percentage from the previous season. The team with the lowest winning percentage gets the first shot.
So when the Marlins designated him for assignment on Nov. 15, Diaz hit the waiver wire. A week later, the Pirates claimed him, a sign that he would likely be a coveted commodity: The Pirates tied for the third-lowest winning percentage in 2022.
At the time, Reyes said, a Pirates executive outlined the team’s plans for Diaz, but cautioned that it was early in the offseason. The Pirates didn’t know what their roster would look like. They may need a roster spot sooner rather than later. A few days later, the Pirates signed veteran first baseman Carlos Santana. They needed a roster spot and designated Diaz for assignment. He hit waivers again.
Three days later, the Orioles claimed him off waivers. The Orioles sit in the middle of the waiver order, meaning Diaz had been placed on waivers twice and never came close to sliding. Reyes said he had a similar conversation with Baltimore, but a few weeks later, the Orioles needed a roster spot for reliever Mychal Givens. They designated Diaz back for assignment, despite his potential to provide lefty power and solid defense for a young, cost-conscious Orioles lineup.
The Braves also clearly saw something in Diaz, because instead of waiting for him to fall into place near the bottom of the waiver order, they reached out to the Orioles for a trade. They sent cash to Baltimore for Diaz, who they officially acquired on December 23rd. Five days later, however, they traded for New York Yankees reliever Lucas Luetge and needed a roster spot. They also designated Diaz for assignment.
“He’s the 40th man on the roster, so he’s the easiest player to cut the bait,” Reyes said.
When 2022 turned into 2023, Diaz was back on waivers. A few days into the new year, the Orioles picked him up again, only to designate him for assignment a week later when they acquired lefty Darwinzon Hernandez from the Boston Red Sox. In three months, Díaz had seen the Orioncs add him, then discard him, two separate times. The second time was different, though.
This time, when the Orioles placed him on waivers, he cleared, giving Baltimore the right to send him to the minors. Tuesday they did. He’ll likely start spring training with Baltimore and try to make the 40-man roster, again, from there.
The Stars, Diaz’s winter ball team, lost Game 5 of the championship series on Wednesday as Tigres del Licey took the title. With the series over, spring training is now on the cards, about a month away. Diaz averaged more than one transaction per week since winter ball began. A month probably feels like an eternity.
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