I suppose you could look at it in a variety of ways, but the Chicago Cubs have had exceptional luck grabbing guys off of waivers, and then getting those same guys through waivers to stash at AAA this year. Although they couldn’t pull the trick off with Ryan Lavarnway or Mike Kickham earlier this year, the Cubs have managed to grab and stash guys like Joe Ortiz, Donn Roach, Drake Britton, Gonzalez Germen, and, now, Anthony Varvaro, per the team’s transactions page.
The advantage of this approach is that you get to retain the player without him taking up a 40-man roster spot. The risk – the small cost of waiver fees – is almost non-existent, and it provides the organization with AAA depth (and possible future upside) without glutting the 40-man roster. No, you’re not likely to stumble into any stars this way, but you just never know when a stashed player is going to become necessary or, maybe even break out. Worst case scenario is that you claim a guy, lose a 40-man spot and the waiver fee, then waive the guy (getting the 40-man spot back) and lose the guy to another team for a waiver fee. If you can make it work with the roster, there’s almost no downside.
As for Varvaro, he’s about as good as this kind of fringe big league depth gets, as I wrote when the Cubs claimed him last weekend:
Varvaro, 30, came to the Red Sox in a trade from the Braves back in December. (Fun fact on the return? It was cash and minor league pitcher Aaron Kurcz, whom you may recall was part of the compensation the Cubs sent to the Red Sox for Theo Epstein.)
With the Braves, Varvaro was a very good reliever each of the last two years, posting sub-3 ERAs and sub-3.50 FIPs over 128 innings in that span. With the Red Sox this year, Varvaro’s strikeout rate shrank from 22.9% last year to just 15.7%. His walk rate climbed from 6.0% to 11.8%. It was a small sample (11.0 innings), but the Red Sox cut bait in favor of other bullpen options. Varvaro’s velocity was down about 2 mph in the early going, for what that’s worth.
The Cubs will now get a chance to see if Varvaro’s struggles in Boston were a real issue, or just an early season blip. Given his track record and the current state of the bullpen, it’s very possible that we could see Varvaro up with the big league team before too long.