Former Miami Marlins first baseman Lewin Díaz spent the past few months in the Dominican Republic playing winter ball for Estrellas Orientales, and that is just as well. Had he wanted to settle in with a new team after four seasons in the Marlins organization, he probably would be suffering from whiplash.
Between the time Díaz began playing for Estrellas in November and the time the Baltimore Orioles outrighted him to Class AAA Norfolk on Tuesday, he had been designated for assignment five times in one of the strangest offseasons anyone in the sport can remember a player enduring.
A spokesman for Major League Baseball said it cannot confirm that being DFA’d five times in one offseason is a record, but Díaz’s experience certainly is rare. Right-hander Jake Reed was designated for assignment five times in 2022, but he played for a few of those teams before they designated him. Díaz has not had a chance to do that yet.
As baseball sagas go, Díaz’s probably will not linger as this offseason’s most memorable. But as star shortstop Carlos Correa found himself in unprecedented limbo — bouncing from the Minnesota Twins to the San Francisco Giants to the New York Mets and back to the Twins amid concerns about his physical — Díaz waited for a team to commit to him enough to help him get a visa in time for spring training.
“It’s obviously a difficult situation for him, especially because he’s in the Dominican and the issues we were going to come across — how quickly will he be able to attain a visa? How quickly will someone be able to do that? Can he make it into camp on time?” said Díaz’s agent, Adriel Reyes. “That process had started with one of these teams but then was kind of left up in the air. You have to figure out who is the point of contact with a new team and make sure you get it done swiftly, but then there’s a hesitation to do it because teams aren’t completely sure they’ll be keeping him on the roster.”
Reyes made it clear that if he were running a team, he probably would do the same thing. He doesn’t blame major league clubs for trying to get the most out of every roster spot.
Plus, dozens of players face similar uncertainty every year. Many free agents don’t know where they will sign until a few weeks before spring training. Teams do not always know who will be healthy or will perform. Some players sign late, and their arrivals at camp are delayed. Others change teams just before the season, when final roster decisions spring promising players loose and inspire other clubs to find room for them.
But Díaz’s situation is particularly challenging. He has not accumulated enough service time to become a free agent. If a team decides to put him on its 40-man roster, as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Orioles and Atlanta Braves did this offseason, he is a member of that team. If a team decides it needs room for someone else on its 40-man roster, that team will not fret as much over parting with him as it might cutting ties with top draft picks or homegrown players in whom it has invested years of organizational resources. And unlike some talented players who hit waivers, Díaz does not have a rich contract, meaning it’s easy for teams to take a chance on him.
So Díaz found himself caught in between. He is 26 and spent much of the past two seasons bouncing between the Marlins and the Class AAA Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. He is 6-foot-4 and an agile defender. He has the kind of power that earns guys such as him a few extra chances because sometimes it sticks. In his most recent full minor league season, 2019, Díaz hit .270 with an .851 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 27 homers in 121 games. He has struggled to duplicate that production in the majors, posting a .567 OPS in 321 at-bats.
He finished the 2022 season with no minor league options, and the Marlins decided to designate him for assignment. When that happens, the player is placed on waivers, where the other 29 teams have a chance to claim him, with the pecking order set by winning percentage from the previous season. The team with the lowest winning percentage gets the first shot.
So when the Marlins designated him for assignment Nov. 15, Díaz hit the waiver wire. A week later, the Pirates claimed him, a sign that he probably was a coveted commodity: The Pirates tied for the third-lowest winning percentage in 2022.
At the time, Reyes said, a Pirates executive outlined the team’s plans for Díaz but cautioned that it was early in the offseason. The Pirates didn’t know what their roster would look like. They might need a roster spot sooner than later. A few days later, the Pirates signed veteran first baseman Carlos Santana. They needed a roster spot, and they designated Díaz for assignment. He hit waivers again.
Three days later, the Orioles took him off waivers. The Orioles sit in the middle of the waiver order, meaning Díaz had been placed on waivers twice and never came close to sliding through. Reyes said he had a similar conversation with Baltimore, but a few weeks later, the Orioles needed a roster spot for reliever Mychal Givens. They designated Díaz for assignment again despite his potential to provide left-handed power and solid defense for a young and cost-conscious squad.
The Braves clearly saw something in Díaz, too, because instead of waiting for him to fall to their place near the bottom of the waiver order, they contacted the Orioles about making a trade. They sent cash to Baltimore for Díaz, whom they officially acquired Dec. 23. Five days later, though, they traded for New York Yankees reliever Lucas Luetge and needed a roster spot. They designated Díaz for assignment, too.
“He’s the 40th man on the roster, so he’s the easiest player to cut bait,” Reyes said.
As 2022 turned to 2023, Díaz was on waivers again. A few days into the new year, the Orioles grabbed him again, only to designate him for assignment a week later when they acquired lefty Darwinzon Hernandez from the Boston Red Sox. In three months, Díaz had seen the Orioles add him, then discard him, two different times. The second time was different, though.
This time, when the Orioles placed him on waivers, he cleared, giving Baltimore the right to send him to the minors. On Tuesday, it did just that. He is likely to begin spring training with Baltimore and try to make the 40-man roster — again — from there.
The Estrellas, Díaz’s winter ball team, lost Game 5 of the championship series Wednesday as Tigres del Licey took the title. With the series over, spring training now looms, about a month away. Díaz averaged more than a transaction per week since winter ball began. A month probably feels like an eternity.