Guardians grab Lucas Giolito as Angels castoffs find homes

ByJeff Passan ESPN logo
Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Cleveland Guardians on Thursday added three strong pitchers to their staff as an unusually busy late August day of waiver claims ended with a massive transfer of talent from the Los Angeles Angels.

After placing six players on waivers Tuesday, the Angels lost right-handed starter Lucas Giolito, left-handed reliever Matt Moore and right-handed reliever Reynaldo Lopez to the Guardians. Two other former Angels players -- outfielder Hunter Renfroe (Cincinnati Reds) and reliever Dominic Leone (Seattle Mariners) -- were also claimed.

Every team was eligible to claim players, who would be awarded in reverse order of record. Cleveland surprised the industry by claiming the three best pitchers available despite carrying a 64-70 record and sitting five games behind first-place Minnesotain the American League Central.

"Whether or not we can close the gap that's in front of us, we don't know," Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said Thursday. "But we want to try.

"We had a unique opportunity to acquire three players to hopefully impact us moving forward as we continue to try to compete with the Twins for the AL Central. There were a number of players on waivers, not just these three, but in the end we felt these three were the three that made the most sense for us."

Thirty-seven days after the Angels acquired Giolito and Lopez from the Chicago White Sox to show their intentions of competing for a playoff spot, they deconstructed their roster, cementing the ill-fated decision to mortgage their farm system and receiving nothing but $50,000 waiver fees in return. The Angels, after a disastrous August that saw them fall completely out of contention, shed the players to save money and dip beneath the first luxury tax threshold of $233 million.

Prior to 2019, waivers in August were revocable, allowing teams to pull back -- or trade -- players claimed. With post-trade deadline deals no longer allowed, teams use the waiver period in hopes another organization will take on a player's contract.

Never had a team availed itself of the system quite like the Angels. On July 26, the day they decided not to trade superstar free agent-to-be Shohei Ohtani, the Angels acquired Giolito and Lopez from the White Sox for top catching prospect Edgar Quero and left-hander Ky Bush. Four days later, they dealt for Grichuk and first baseman C.J. Cron and a day later landed Leone.

Then they collapsed, going an American League-worst 8-19 in August, with Ohtani injuring his pitching elbow and Mike Trout playing one game after a return from hand surgery went poorly. The deadline acquisitions hadn't gone well, either, though the claiming teams are hopeful that a change of scenery -- and potential playoff run -- will elevate their performances.

While some executives called privately for rules changes to avoid the potential enrichment of worse-performing teams with high-caliber big leaguers after the deadline, the Guardians and others were plenty glad to get essentially for free what the Angels barely a month ago spent heavily to acquire.

"If our record was better, our chances of getting them would've been worse," Antonetti said. "So we had a pretty good understanding of where we were in the standings, and we weren't sure if we'd get one, two or three of them.

"But we're happy we were able to get all three."

Giolito, 29, was one of the prizes of the deadline -- and should fit in better with Cleveland than he did the Angels. In six starts with Los Angeles, he threw 32 innings, allowed 10 home runs and went 1-5 with a 6.89 ERA. In his previous 21 starts with the White Sox, Giolito's 3.79 ERA was more in line with his career performance.

"He's been a really effective and durable major league starter for most of his career, and we're excited to have him join our rotation to help stabilize that and provide us some competitive innings moving forward," Antonetti said.

Moore, 34, has been the most effective of the claimed players, posting a 2.66 ERA in 41 appearances. His transition from the rotation to full-time reliever started in 2021, led to a 1.95 ERA last year and could see him pitching in the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Lopez, 29, will join a Guardians bullpen that already includes closer Emmanuel Clase and setup man Trevor Stephan.

Cleveland will assume what's left of their contracts -- all three can become free agents after this season -- and all would be eligible for the postseason roster if the Guardians qualify.

In making the moves, the Guardians added nearly $2.1 million in payroll. They'll assume $1,241,667 for the final 31 days of Giolito's $7.45 million salary, $416,667 of Moore's $2.5 million salary and $437,500 of Lopez's $2.625 million salary.

"Every opportunity that we've had to improve the team, the limitation hasn't been finances," Antonetti said. "Whether that's this year or years past, we've been really fortunate to have finances available to try to do that when we haven't made moves.

"It's mostly been because the player value we would have to give up exceeded what we thought made sense. In this case, there was no player value. So it was really financial considerations and then how we could fit them on the roster. And both of those things made sense."

To make roster space, the Guardians designated right-hander Peyton Battenfield and catcher Eric Haase for assignment.

Outfielder Randal Grichuk, the only one of the six players released by the Angels to not be claimed during the waiver process,will stay with the club.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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