We’ve passed the mid-point of August without hearing much about the Chicago Cubs’ efforts to put together an August waiver trade, something Jim Hendry was quick to say was more than possible when the Cubs did nothing at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Unfortunately, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Cubs will once again do nothing.
According to Jayson Stark, the Cubs did place valuable pieces Kerry Wood and Reed Johnson on waivers this month, but each was claimed, and the waivers were subsequently revoked by the Cubs. As you know, the team(s) that claimed Wood and Johnson would have been able to put together a trade for those players had the Cubs and that team wanted to do so. Apparently, however, the Cubs were simply hoping Wood and Johnson would clear waivers, thus leaving the team options later in the month should a trade possibility arise.
None of that is particularly surprising.
But Stark also says Carlos Pena has not yet been placed on waivers. Now that’s surprising.
Pena is owed another $1 million or so this season, and then $3 to $5 million (depending on whom you ask) in January. The reason it’s surprising that the Cubs haven’t placed Pena on waivers yet? If those contract details are accurate, no team is going to claim Pena on waivers, risking the Cubs saying, “ok, he’s yours,” at which point the claiming team is on the hook for a really, really expensive month and a half of Pena.
So, does that mean the Cubs are absolutely keeping Pena? That’s a logical conclusion, but here’s the rub: even if the Cubs were certain they wanted to keep Pena through the end of the season, they could still place him on waivers – just as they did with Wood and Johnson – and revoke the waivers if, for some reason, he was claimed. At that point, he couldn’t be placed on waivers again, and the Cubs would have gotten their wish: Pena would be a Cub through the end of the year. But, in that scenario, the Cubs would have left open the possibility of a trade if Pena cleared, and someone wanted to knock their socks off.
What’s the deal, then? I honestly can’t say. Given what I know about Pena’s contract and about the waiver system, I cannot see the reason for waiting to put Pena on waivers until now.
In fact, the only explanation I can come up with is a real stretch: it’s possible that Pena’s contract isn’t exactly as has been reported, and he would be claimed by teams on waivers. If that’s true, I could see the Cubs waiting to place him on waivers, hoping that the standings change, which, in turn, changes the priority of teams claiming players on waivers. That is to say, the Cubs could be hoping a particular team with whom they believe they could work out a trade slips in the standings, and thus gains priority over a team that might claim Pena, but not be willing to work out a trade.
It’s also entirely possible that Stark’s source is wrong, and that Pena has already been placed on waivers. The waiver wire in August is one of baseball’s most strict secrets, so it can be hard to get a reliable read on just who is or isn’t on waivers.