As you know, July 31 was the “non-waiver trade deadline,” and, for the rest of the season, teams can make “waiver trades.” You probably even nodded your head at these concepts as though they were as self-explanatory as “ground ball,” “second base,” or “team chemistry.”

And maybe you do understand them implicitly. But not everyone does, so I thought, as we enter August, it might be worth explaining how the waiver system works in August (and September).

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is so called because it marks the date by which, if you want to complete a trade without having to worry about this whole “waivers” business, you need to makes yer dealz.¬†After July 31 (and through to the end of the season), however, a team must first place a player on “waivers” to make that player eligible to be traded.

Ok, but what are “waivers”?

In a super shorthanded description: waivers are the way you say to every other team in baseball, “hey, you want this guy?”

If a player is placed on waivers, any team may “claim” him. If more than one team claims the player from waivers, only one team’s claim actually goes through. Priority is given to teams in the player’s league, with the team with the worst record getting highest priority. If no team in the player’s own league claims him, then priority goes to the other league, again, in reverse order of the standings.

If another team claims the player off waivers (and its claim is either the only claim or is the highest priority claim as described above), the player’s current team has three options:

(1) It can allow the claiming team to assume the player’s entire contract, who then places him on its 25-man roster; or

(2) It can trade the player to the claiming team within two business days of the claim; or

(3) It can cancel the waiver by pulling the player back.

If the player is not claimed by any team within three business days of being placed on waivers, the player is said to have “cleared waivers.” That player is then free to be traded to any team, released, or assigned to a minor league team (subject to various collectively-bargained-for rights about refusing assignments).

And that’s it. That’s how waivers work, and how they relate to trades in August.

Now, I know what you’re wondering: so who has been placed on waivers? The short answer is: no idea. The slightly longer answer is: probably just about everyone.

The complete answer is: unless the information leaks (or a player is ultimately traded to or assumed by another team), you’re not going to find out who is on waivers. This isn’t your fantasy football league. Who has been placed on waivers is a highly secretive business, for reasons that I’d think would be obvious. Every year, it leaks that some superstar has been placed on waivers, and the media erupts. “OMG! YANKEES PLACE AROD ON WAIVERS!!!!1!!LOL!!!!”

Sorry, folks. It’s not a story. And the reason is tied to that “slightly longer answer” up there. Because of the revocable nature of waivers, teams risk almost nothing by placing virtually every player on waivers in August. If there’s even a tiny chance you might want to move a guy, you might as well throw him up on waivers, and see what happens. If he clears waivers, cool. If he’s claimed, you can work out a trade, or just pull him back. No fuss, no muss.

The only risk that I can see is that, if a guy is placed on waivers in August, is claimed, and then is pulled back by his team, that’s it for him. No more waivers that year. But, for the types of players who would be claimed by a bunch of teams (i.e. stars or cheap players), you’re probably not going to want to place that player on waivers later in the year anyway.

One final note: this same procedure applies in September, despite the existence of another deadline, dubbed the “waiver trade deadline,” on August 31. The rub, however, is that guys who are traded in September are not eligible for the post-season roster. Every couple of years, it seems, a September trade goes down, but it’s rare.

So, with all this information in your back pocket, you can now more confidently approach the waiver trade period and say things like, “there is zero chance Geovany Soto would not be claimed,” or “Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano can be traded as easily in August as in July (of course, that is to say, not easily at all).”

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that Zambrano, Soriano, and John Grabow have been placed on waivers – but, with your knowledge of how the system works, you didn’t need me to “hear” that to know it’s true. Odds are, most Cubs have been placed on waivers. Far more importantly, we may soon hear about who has cleared waivers, and who hasn’t.


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