Maybe there should be a limit for how many times a guy can be designated for assignment in one year. Earlier this year, Bryz's Saturday Notebook entered into a talking point regarding whether or not certain teams abuse the waiver wire. He brought up the Blue Jays in the context of this article from MLBTR's Charlie Wilmoth, wherein you can see exactly how active Toronto was in claiming players over a certain period.
Both Bryz and Wilmoth agree that what these teams are doing is within the rules, but also bring up that moving around can't be easy on a player. And it most certainly isn't. Just ask Alex Burnett, who had these things to say after being DFA'd by the Jays, claimed by the Orioles, and assigned to their Triple-A affiliate before being recalled.
"That’s the biggest part of the whole thing, I had my wife with me in spring training, she’s pregnant, so that made it even worse otherwise she’d be with me right now," said Burnett. "We had to go to Dunedin and I said, ‘You know what, honey? Everything is crazy right now, go home.’ I didn’t want her flying all over the place with me and moving.
"I had to break a lease in Minnesota because I figured I was going to be there, I had to get out of a lease in Buffalo, I had to get my car shipped from Minnesota to Buffalo, now I have to get it from Buffalo to God knows where right now. Yeah, it’s been a very crazy few weeks.
He said these things in an article published April 23, which was exactly one month before Baltimore designated him for assignment. Here is Burnett's road so far this season.
March 29: Selected off waivers by the Blue Jays from the Twins
April 10: Designated for assignment by the Blue Jays
April 12: Selected off waivers by the Orioles from the Blue Jays
May 23: Designated for assignment by the Orioles
May 27: Selected off waivers by the Cubs from the Orioles
June 1: Designated for assignment by the Cubs
One of Burnett's last quotes in that article is quite telling. Considering how some teams are playing this yo-yo act with players, using them purely as assets and ignoring the fact that they're actually people, it would surprise me if this issue wasn't changed during baseball's next round table for their Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"It happened pretty quickly for me, guys like Casper Wells were in limbo forever, he hasn’t been able to do anything," said Burnett. "I think it’s something that should maybe be brought up in the next players’ association meeting. It is a bad situation when it carries on as long as it has for some people."
Moving around, as a player, is a part of the game. It's a business, and as such teams will do what they think is best for the bottom dollar - and the bottom dollar, a vast majority of the time, has a strong correlation with winning. Finding little loopholes, like this one to supplement your minor league roster and essentially constitutes stowing away talent until you need it, is all a part of the game.
But to some extent, it's also inhumane. It's only a matter of time before Burnett is moved again. He can't keep moving himself around the country and expect to find any kind of stability in his life, much less the game, if he's not with his family and is constantly wondering where and when the next ax will drop.
Perhaps one answer is that a player can only be designated for assignment so many times in a given period, or so many times in a season. Perhaps one answer is that, if you claim a player who was designated for assignment, you need to keep him on the 40-man roster (or even the active 25-man roster) for a certain number of days.
Whatever the answer ends up being, the time where teams are allowed to make these kind of maneuvers is likely growing short. The guys who are bouncing around as DFAs aren't making millions of dollars, and they're not machines.
Good luck to Burnett, wherever he lands next. Hopefully this next time he can settle in for a bit.
[Note by Jesse, 06/03/13 1:35 PM CDT ] It just came through that Burnett cleared waivers and has been assigned to Chicago's Triple-A affiliate. Hopefully this means he can stick in one place for, perhaps, the rest of 2013.