As everybody knows, July 31 is the MLB trade deadline. In the weeks leading up, the air is filled with thick, swirling rumors, and in the final hours and minutes, activity often goes off the scale as teams scramble to get their moves made. More often than not, July 31 is the most hectic day on the baseball calendar.
Yet trades can still be made in August (and, for that matter, September). This is because July 31 is kind of a soft deadline, or - more specifically - the non-waiver trade deadline. Through July 31, trades are relatively easy to make. After July 31, trades are still possible, but they're more difficult, because teams have to go through the waiver process.
The waiver process is a confusing, complicated thing. However, it's worth getting to know, and based on my Twitter feed lately, it's worth getting to know now, if you don't understand it already. This is not the first waiver primer ever written, nor is it the best waiver primer ever written, but it's the waiver primer you're reading now, so I'll try to make it as quick and easy as I can.
The first thing to know is that the overwhelming majority of baseball players will be placed on waivers around this time of year. A player being placed on waivers says nothing about his team's intentions. A player being placed on waivers says nothing at all, except that he's been placed on waivers. It isn't news. Players are placed on waivers because there's no harm, and only players on waivers can be moved after July 31, so it maximizes flexibility.
Now, once a player is on waivers, he can either get claimed, or he can clear. This is where it starts to get messy.
Waiver priority goes in reverse order of standings, split by league. Worse teams have priority over better teams, but AL teams have priority for AL players, and NL teams have priority for NL players. If the Padres place a guy on waivers, the NL's worst team will have priority over the NL's best team, but the NL's best team will have priority over the AL's worst team.
So a player gets claimed by a team. If he's claimed by multiple teams, the claim goes to the team with the highest priority. There are then three ways for the situation to work out:
(1) The player is pulled back from waivers, and nothing happens. In this event, the player cannot be put back on revocable waivers afterwards.
(2) The teams work out a trade within a 48-1/2 hour (business day) window. The claimed player may only be traded for players who have cleared waivers, or for players not currently on the other team's 40-man roster.
(3) The player and his entire contract are given to the claiming team for a $20,000 fee.
If a player is not claimed off waivers during a 47-hour business day window, he has cleared waivers. A player who has cleared waivers can be traded to any team.
You got all that? Great. Now, let's quickly touch on some of the behavior we regularly see around this time of year. Have you heard of waiver blocking before? Waiver blocking happens when a team places a claim on a player because that team doesn't want the player to become available to a team with a lower priority. For example, the Red Sox currently trail the Yankees in the standings. If the Red Sox see somebody on waivers they don't want to go to the Yankees, they might place a claim, even if they have no interest in the player themselves. This way, the Yankees can't get their hands on him.
But there can be a risk to blocking behavior. The oft-cited example is Randy Myers, a reliever who was claimed by the Padres in 1998 in an attempt to block the Braves. Instead of pulling Myers back, the Blue Jays gave Myers to the Padres, who didn't actually want him. Myers had a big contract and almost immediately broke down, costing the Padres more than $12 million between 1999-2000 without throwing an inning. You can't just go around claiming players all willy-nilly without being aware of the possible consequences.
So that's the bulk of it. It's also worth noting that trades can be made in September. However, players acquired in September are ineligible for playoff rosters, so August 31 is for all intents and purposes another deadline.
Now to finish, why don't we walk through a few hypothetical examples?
Mike Stanton. Stanton would be claimed by everybody, because he's a productive 21-year-old who doesn't cost anything. The Marlins also wouldn't move him. So there's really no point to placing Stanton on waivers at all.
Mariners have placed or will place Figgins on waivers, because he's bad and expensive. However, he's likely to clear, because any claiming team would certainly end up stuck with his contract.
- Indians have an opening, as they're competing in the AL Central and just put their regular DH on the disabled list. It's possible that the Indians could claim Thome and work out a deal with the Twins so as to give their lineup an immediate boost. . Thome has been placed on waivers, and is due roughly another $600,000 before his contract is up. Teams out of contention in the American League have little reason to put in a claim, but the
I hope this clears things up for you. It really isn't as complicated as it seems once you break it all down.