When most of the baseball world hears the word ‘transaction’, our ears perk up to listen to the recent trade or free agency signing a team has made. Occasionally, the move may even be a call-up of a top prospect or a corresponding move after an injury. However, the waiver market is one of the most gritty and underrated transactions a team can possibly make. In most cases, these players who are claimed or sent to the waiver wire are the 25th man on the active roster – meaning they aren’t usually to be perceived as impact players. Although these moves are usually low-risk-low-reward, the Brewers have found some sizeable diamonds in the rough.
Perhaps one of the better positional waiver claims in the last few years by the Brewers, utilityman Hernan Perez came to the Crew last season after being designated for assignment by the Tigers. Although just 24 at the time and being ranked as their 5th-best prospect at the end of 2014 (Baseball America), he was replaced by former Brewer and journeyman Josh Wilson after hitting a meager .061/.088/.149 in 34 plate appearances. Former GM Doug Melvin swooped in and placed him as a younger, versatile version of 30-year old utilityman Elian Hererra – who was designated for assignment in the corresponding move on June 2nd. While in Milwaukee, Perez started slow, but strung together strong spurts as he put up a much improved .270/.281/.646 slash in 238 total appearances split between pinch-hitting duties and playing at second and third base. While his final numbers were relatively replacement-level, new GM David Stearns negotiated a minor league deal for Perez just 10 days after he was deemed a free agent. When 2B Scooter Gennett went on the DL with an oblique strain in late-April, Perez was the one who got the call to replace him. Through May alone, Perez tripled his home run output from the previous season (1) and stole 7 bases. His total numbers on the season have been stronger than expected: a .284/.310/.776 line with 11 HR, 23 SB, with a 97 wRC+. Though some writers are still concerned over his lowly walk-rate (4.8% this season, 8% is usually considered ‘average’), Perez continues to hit with some pop and make solid contact – making him a potential complimentary piece in the rebuild due to his young age and controllable contract.
On December 23rd and 24th, 2015, Stearns added a trio of positional waiver claims: OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis (NYM), 1B Andy Wilkins (TEX), and offense-first C Josmil Pinto (SD). Each move was made in order to provide depth at weak or vital positions – first base as an option besides Jason Rogers (Carter signed in early January), depth at the catching position, and centerfield in case none of the other candidates panned out. While both Nieuwenhuis and Wilkins stayed on the 40-man roster, Pinto quietly cleared waivers after the team signed 1B Chris Carter and has since been tearing up Triple-A pitching by hitting .323/.379/.931 with a 144 wRC+ in 76 games split between catcher and first base. Andy Wilkins got his third taste of the majors in his career after RHP Zach Davies was given extended rest before the All-Star Break and was sent back to Triple-A Colorado Springs a couple of days ago after an unimpressive showing – usually the norm with most waiver claims. Meanwhile, Nieuwenhuis made the active roster at the end of the spring and has produced power (11 HR) as a starter or a bench option. He has played his best baseball at Miller Park this season, hitting .293/.385/.957 with 9 HR, 5 SB and 24 RBI’s. Just under half of his 41 hits at home have been for extra bases as well (those nine HR’s to go with 10 2B and one 3B). Though his season is a tale of home-road splits, Niewenhuis has done a solid job manning the outfield wherever the team may need him.
What is best of all is that neither Nieuwenhuis nor Perez have been the biggest waiver success story for the Crew this season; it’s been RHP Junior Guerra. In what would be the first transaction Stearns ever made as a general manager, the 31-year old catcher-turned-pitcher has been one of the biggest surprises in the majors this season. After not panning out as a prospect in the Braves and Mets farm systems, Guerra left the professional game to play in Independent and Winter Venezuelan leagues. After posting a 3.46 ERA in 78 innings for La Guaira (Venezuela) in mid-2015, the White Sox picked him up. He succeeded enough to get a call-up late last season, throwing four innings of three-run ball. It wasn’t enough for Chicago, and they eventually designated him – prompting Stearns to pounce. After holding hitters to a .200 average in four starts for the Sky Sox at the beginning of the year, Guerra was called-up to replace struggling RHP Taylor Jungmann and hasn’t looked back. In fact, it could be said that Guerra has been the best starter the Crew has utilized so far this season, and quite possibly the second-best player on the roster behind Ryan Braun. In 107.1 innings of work, Guerra owns a 90-37 K-BB ratio (7.55 K/9) and has held opponents to a meager .204 average this season. Though he’s been on the DL to rest a small elbow issue, he threw a bullpen session yesterday and will most likely only miss two starts – meaning he could return sometime next week.
The bullpen has also seen a myriad of waiver acquisitions with mixed results. LHP Sean Nolin was claimed after the Athletics designated him to make room for OF Khris Davis, but has been on the Disabled List all season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. LHP Michael Kirkman and RHP Neil Ramirez were claimed as well, but both only tossed a combined 2.2 innings for the big league squad. Ramirez was later designated and claimed by the Twins, while Kirkman cleared waivers and has thrown well in relief for the Sky Sox this season (3.25 ERA, 9.8 K/9 in 27.2 IP). Former Pirate RHP Rob Scahill was also claimed back in mid-July – most likely due to his remaining options on his contract – and threw well enough in Triple-A Colorado to get the call earlier this month. In seven innings of work, Scahill has thrown 5 scoreless outings out of six opportunities. All three of his earned runs came against the Cubs in the second game of the doubleheader last week.
Pre-Trade Deadline waiver claims aren’t the most glamorous transactions in the game. However, the Brewers have found a surprises in the last couple of years that may help the team for the near future. With players like Josmil Pinto, Rob Scahill, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the team can bridge the gap between former Brewer veterans and the young and promising prospects that reside on the farm. Meanwhile, Hernan Perez and Junior Guerra could provide some intriguing value as everyday players, prompting them to net solid returns through trades or helping the team win ballgames a couple years down the line.