During the MLB offseason, we can rely on at least two things: players changing uniforms via trades or free-agent signings, and the ensuing roster crunch that usually follows. Oftentimes, these moves require making space on the team for said new acquisition, resulting in bumping a player who either may not be a good fit for the organization, is in excess at his position (making him expendable) or both.
But all hope is not lost for these players. Getting removed from the 40-man roster — otherwise known as being designated for assignment, or “DFA’d” for short — means a club has seven days to trade the player or pass him through waivers (where another team can claim him). Players often change teams through this process, especially when they have upside, as these moves can sometimes involve younger players with fringe MLB potential. The catch? The acquiring or claiming team needs to fit the player onto their 40-man roster.
Such can begin a cycle of a player being in both too much demand and too little — and perhaps no one embodies that more than Baltimore Orioles first baseman Lewin Díaz. To say that Díaz has endured a roller-coaster of an offseason thus far would be an understatement: Since last November, he was DFA’d an astounding five times before finally clearing waivers and getting outrighted to the minors by the Orioles. As a result, Díaz’s transaction offseason sheet is now as long as a CVS receipt.
|11/15/2022||Designated for assignment||Miami Marlins||—|
|11/15/2022||Assigned||Miami Marlins||Estrellas Orientales|
|11/22/2022||Claimed off waivers||Miami Marlins||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|11/30/2022||Designated for assignment||Pittsburgh Pirates||—|
|12/02/2022||Claimed off waivers||Pittsburgh Pirates||Baltimore Orioles|
|12/21/2022||Designated for assignment||Baltimore Orioles||—|
|12/23/2022||Traded||Baltimore Orioles||Atlanta Braves|
|12/28/2022||Designated for assignment||Atlanta Braves||—|
|01/05/2023||Claimed off waivers||Atlanta Braves||Baltimore Orioles|
|01/11/2023||Designated for assignment||Baltimore Orioles||—|
|01/17/2023||Outrighted||Baltimore Orioles||Norfolk Tides|
Getting DFA’d that often in one offseason isn’t just uncommon — it’s impressive. It signals that even though these clubs may not think he is good enough to stay on their respective 40-man rosters, Díaz still has a skill set that these organizations are willing to take a chance on, even if their plan is only to stash him in Triple-A until he is contributing at the major-league level.
And that makes sense if you dig into Díaz’s history. The Minnesota Twins signed him as an international free agent back in 2013, when he was 16 years old, and at the time, he was a top-10 international prospect, according to MLB.com. The Twins committed a sizable amount of money to him, too — $1.4 million, to be exact. Scouts immediately took notice of his big, raw power, even comparing him with Ryan Howard. His bat translated to the professional ranks immediately, posting a 142 weighted runs created plus in rookie ball, at the age of 17.
Díaz continued to hit as he ascended through the minors with the Twins, and he was acquired by the Marlins in 2019. He clubbed 27 homers and went into the 2020 season as Miami’s seventh-best prospect, having moved from the outfield to first base. He gained a reputation for being a plus defender at the position, and in 2020, he got his first taste of major-league action.
The problem? He just didn’t hit. Because there was no minor league season that year, Díaz had to adjust to facing MLB pitching without a single plate appearance in AAA. Though it was just a 14-game sample, Díaz posted a wRC+ mark of just 9. (Nine!) Things didn’t improve a whole lot over the next two seasons; although he showed some power (13 home runs in 98 games), a 60 wRC+ wasn’t enough to turn heads.
One thing that has translated to the major-league level, however, is Díaz’s aforementioned defensive prowess. Remarkably, he ranks second among all first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved (16) since the 2020 season, despite playing only 753 ⅔ innings. If we are to believe what DRS is telling us, then Díaz doesn’t just have a good glove at first base, it’s actually the best in baseball on a per-inning basis (and it isn’t even that close).
It’s that defensive value, combined with the power potential — particularly of the left-handed variety — that has made the Pirates, Orioles, Braves and Orioles (again) want to take a chance on Díaz. Based on his per-inning defensive track record, Díaz could be worth at least a win (if not much more) over a whole season with his glove alone. And we’ve seen shades of what he might do with the bat in a similar span of games: Over the past two years, he has swatted 39 homers in 156 AAA contests. We even got another taste of it when Díaz was playing in the Dominican Winter League last month, between DFAs:
Díaz will still be just 26 on opening day, so there is still reason to believe he can turn things around offensively. And the Orioles, a squad who made an unlikely playoff push in 2022, will now be able to stash Díaz as a depth piece in the minors, waiting for his chance to shine with the big club. As of now, the team has Ryan Mountcastle listed as the starting first baseman and Anthony Santander as the designated hitter. There is always the outside chance that Díaz could make the team out of spring training as a non-roster invitee, though it would likely take a monster March to do so. But those are just normal baseball-prospect hurdles to clear. Once you’ve changed organizations four times in the span of 44 days, simply knowing what franchise you’ll be competing for is half the battle.