The Diamondbacks announced they’ve brought back infielder Sergio Alcántara via waivers from the Padres. Reliever J.B. Wendelken has been designated for assignment in a corresponding move.
It’s familiar territory for Alcántara, who is clearly well-regarded by the Arizona front office and coaching staff. The Snakes initially signed him as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic a decade ago. After a few seasons in the farm system, he was dealt to the Tigers at the 2017 deadline as part of the J.D. Martinez trade. Alcántara landed with the Cubs via waivers last season, and the D-Backs reacquired him from Chicago in a trade this March. A month into the season, Arizona designated Alcántara for assignment. The Padres grabbed him on waivers but DFA him themselves last week, and the D-Backs jumped on the chance to acquire him for a third time.
Alcántara, who turns 26 next weekend, continues to earn opportunities based on the strength of his glove. Long regarded by many prospect evaluators as a potential plus shortstop, he’s rated very highly in the eyes of public defensive metrics over his 450 MLB innings at shortstop. He’s capable of suiting up all around the infield.
While his defensive prowess has drawn a fair bit of interest as a depth infielder, Alcántara’s struggles at the plate have prevented him from securing a long-term home. He’s tallied 373 plate appearances over the past three seasons, with the majority of that work coming for last year’s Cubs. The switch-hitter owns a meager .188/.268/.307 line, hitting just seven home runs while striking out at an elevated 27.6% clip.
Alcántara is out of minor league option years, meaning the D-Backs will have to keep him on the active roster or again designate him for assignment. He’ll add some immediate infield cover while the team navigates a left hamstring injury for Ketel Marte. Marte has been able to serve as a designated hitter for the past week, but the team hasn’t run him out on defense for fear of aggravating that issue. Arizona has relied on a rookie middle-infield tandem of Geraldo Perdomo and Buddy Kennedy of late, and neither player has offered much at the dish. Perdomo has long been viewed as a highly-regarded prospect and figures to get continued run at shortstop, but Alcántara could vie for playing time with Kennedy and/or fellow utility option Jake Hager.
Wendelken, meanwhile, loses his roster spot amidst a second straight down year. The right-hander was quietly one of the more reliable bullpen arms for the A’s early in his career. Between 2018-20, Wendelken fired 74 1/3 innings of 2.30 ERA ball. He punched out a solid 26.4% of opponents over that stretch while holding batters to a measly .172/.246/.276 slash line. Oakland looked as if they’d unearthed a long-term key piece of the bullpen, but Wendelken has run into unexpected struggles over the past couple seasons.
Through 26 games in green and gold last year, he posted a 4.32 ERA. The A’s made the surprising decision to designate him for assignment, and the D-Backs (owner of the league’s top waiver priority at the time) promptly placed a claim. Wendelken stuck on the active roster for the remainder of the season but posted a 4.34 ERA while watching his strikeout percentage plummet to 16.9%.
Arizona tendered the 29-year-old a contract over the winter, hoping he’d rediscover something approaching his 2018-20 form. Instead, Wendelken has allowed a personal-worst 5.28 ERA through 29 innings. He’s continued to show diminished strikeout and swing-and-miss numbers, and manager Torey Lovullo has more frequently deployed him in lower-leverage situations. Like Alcántara, Wendelken is out of options, and the D-Backs have decided to move on entirely.
They’ll now have a week to trade him or try to run him through waivers. In spite of his down swing-and-miss rate, Wendelken hasn’t lost any velocity or spin on his fastball or slider relative to his peak. That could attract some interest from other clubs hoping to see if they can coax something more closely resembling his early-career success.
Wendelken is playing this season on an $835K salary, a touch above the league minimum but a modest figure nonetheless. He’s still due around half that amount, which would be the responsibility of any team that claims him off waivers. Should he clear waivers, Wendelken would have the right to refuse an outright assignment in favor of free agency. As a player with between three and five years of MLB service time, however, electing free agency would require forfeiting the remainder of this year’s guaranteed salary.
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