In the last 11 years, the Pirates have made over 60 successful waiver claims and gotten just a few, brief, decent reliever performances out of it. That raises the question of other teams’ experience. I’m not about to go through all 30 teams, so I just looked at the other four NL Central teams. Here are the highlights:
Milwaukee has done very well with waiver claims. To start with, there’s 1B Jesus Aguilar, who put up 35 HRs and 108 RBIs in 2018, and that was after a good year in 2017. The Brewers got two very good years, in 2009-10, from 3B Casey McGehee, before he fell off in 2011. RHP Todd Coffey had a very good year in relief in 2009 before a mediocre year in 2010. George Kotteras had three mostly good years as a backup catcher from 2010-12. The Brewers in 2015 claimed RHP Junior Guerra and 3B/OF Hernan Perez, both of whom have seen significant playing time with decent-ish performances over the past three seasons.
The Brewers also got modest contributions, or at least a fair amount of playing time, from a number of other players:
Joe Inglett, IF - Had a good year, mostly as a pinch hitter, in 2011.
Jeff Bianchi, IF - Played parts of three years, including a lot of action in 2013, but was awful at the plate.
Elian Herrera, IF - Played a lot in 2014-15, although not well.
Shane Peterson, OF - Served as a fourth outfielder in 2015 but didn’t hit well.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF - Was a semi-regular in 2016 but didn’t hit well.
Rob Scahill, RHP - Selected from the Pirates in mid-2016, pitched well in relief the rest of the year but poorly in 2017.
Stephen Vogt, C - Selected in mid-2017 and hit well the rest of year as a backup.
The Cards literally got almost no contribution from any waiver selection from the fall of 2007 until this year, and not much even then. They claimed former Pirates Rule 5 pick LHP Tyler Webb around mid-season and he appeared in 18 games for them. In August they picked up RHP Tyson Ross and 1B Matt Adams, neither of whom did anything of note.
The Cubs have done just a little better than the Cards due to Luis Valbuena. Playing mainly at 3B, he was a semi-regular in 2012-13, hitting badly in 2012 and decently in 2013. He played regularly in 2014 and had a very good year.
The Cubs also picked up two outfielders in 2013, both of whom got a decent amount of time as backups the rest of the year. Cody Ransom hit fairly well, while Julio Borbon hit very badly. Chicago also claimed RHP Randy Rosario after the 2017 season. He pitched a lot in relief for them this year, but not well.
The Reds have done nearly as well as Milwaukee. They’ve had three very successful waiver claims. RHP Alfredo Simon, picked up in early 2012, had two good years in relief and one as a starter. RHP Dan Straily, added at the beginning of 2016, had a very strong year in their rotation. And their best waiver claim, Scooter Gennett, has totaled 50 HRs with a combined OPS+ of 124 the last two years.
Keyvius Sampson, RHP - Had two awful partial seasons in 2015-16, one as a starter, one as a reliever.
Ryan Mattheus, RHP - Pitched a lot in relief in 2015, but not well.
Tyler Holt, OF - Played a lot as backup in 2016 but didn’t hit at all.
Patrick Kivlehan, OF - Played a lot as a backup in 2017, didn’t hit very well, now a Pirate.
Arismendy Alcantara, UT - Played a lot as a backup in 2017 and hit very badly.
It’s only four teams, but these results aren’t that surprising. The Cubs and Cards just don’t use waiver claims much. The Cards have had strong teams throughout this time, which means they’ve had less need for players and have had to pick near the end of the waiver list. The Cubs have been only a little more successful than the Pirates during this period, but they have a lot more money to throw at their needs without having to scrounge the waiver wires.
The Reds and Brewers are much more similarly situated to the Pirates and, like the Pirates, are big customers of the waiver wire. This raises the question why the Pirates haven’t hit it big with a few of their waiver claims like those two teams. The Pirates’ record here mirrors their drafting. They’re not Littlefield-level incompetent at it. Somehow, though, in 11 drafts they haven’t hit it big with any player, as even Littlefield did with Andrew McCutchen. (Or Starling Marte, if you extend it to Latin American scouting.) You’d think, out of over 60 waivers selections, just by accident they’d have found somebody better than A.J. Schugel.