Writing about the post-July-31 trading system has become an annual rite. Not a lot has changed since I explained the process last year, but, I suppose the faces have changed (as have the readers). Thus, it’s worth doing again.
Invariably, the non-waiver trade deadline passes, a bunch of would-be trades don’t happen, and folks start to wonder something they didn’t really openly wonder on July 30: what’s that “non-waiver” part mean?
The short answer is that, before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, anyone can be traded to any team. After that date, trades can still happen, but you’ve got to first deal with the sticky issue of “waivers.”
You’ve actually heard that term before. Waivers are not relevant only in August, you see. They’re used throughout the year, for various purposes, and the types of waivers employed vary based on the time of year and the purpose of the waiver. For the purposes of this post, however, I’m focused only on waivers in August, which is the process by which teams make players eligible to be traded. (Perhaps next March, I’ll write up a more complete explanation of waivers, as that’s the next time you’re likely to hear the term thrown around a lot.)
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?” And, if you want to trade a guy in August, you’ve got to first give every other team a chance to take him (and his contract) for nothing.
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 47 hours (business days only), 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).
One more important piece of the pie, which I’ll just grab from last year’s edition, since I’d mostly be saying the same thing:
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.
So, against that backdrop, let’s take a quick look at the Cubs’ tradable pieces (because of the revocable nature of these waivers, you can safely assume – whether it’s true or not – that all Cubs will be waived).
Hopefully it’s apparent to you at this point that Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol, thanks to their unhealthy contracts, will easily clear waivers. They can be traded as freely in August as they could have been in July. The Cubs will undoubtedly shop them aggressively, and try to save a little money and pick up a prospect or two in the process.
Jeff Baker is a closer call, but he still makes a hair more than a team would probably care to claim ($1.375 million this year). If he is claimed, you can be sure that it will be by a team that actually wants him this year, and the Cubs will try to work out a trade. He won’t net much, but the Cubs could at least save a few hundred thousand in the process. If he clears waivers, the Cubs will continue to shop him.
The story is largely the same for Shawn Camp (despite his implosion yesterday), though I suspect he would get claimed (he makes the minimum). The Cubs will try to work out that deal, and could get a not-totally-forgettable prospect in the process (but not any kind of impact talent). If he clears waivers, like Baker, he’ll be shopped.
A tricky case is someone like Bryan LaHair. No, he isn’t hitting, but neither is he even remotely expensive. Why wouldn’t a team take a chance on him if they could have him for free? Unless there’s some kind of gentleman’s agreement not to claim guys like LaHair unless you really want to work out a deal, I have a hard time seeing LaHair even making it past the crappy teams (none of whom would probably give up much for him in trade, instead submitting the waiver claim as a way of saying, “well, I mean, sure, we’d take him for free”). I would be very surprised if LaHair is dealt in August.
As for someone like a Matt Garza, let me say it as clearly as possible: there is a 0.00000 (and then an infinite number of 0′s thereafter, without so much as a hint of a “1″) % chance that he could make it through waivers. Again, absent some kind of gentleman’s agreement (which I don’t think exists for August waivers the way it does earlier in the year), he wouldn’t even get past the very first team, the Houston Astros.
The injury won’t scare teams off from a waiver claim, because the upside in claiming is more than worth the risk that he’s broken. Since he is arbitration eligible, he’s not “under contract” for 2013 (he’s simply “under control” for 2013). If a team took him (which, by the way, wouldn’t happen either, because the waivers are revocable, and the Cubs would be plenty happy to keep Garza, so they would revoke the waiver and keep him), and he was all broken, they could just “non-tender” him in December, and he’d become a free agent. All they’ve lost is the couple million bucks they paid him in 2012 by taking his contract for this year. That’s chump change when the reward on the other end is getting Garza in 2013, or getting to trade Garza for a bounty of prospects in December.
I don’t think any other other tradable pieces – Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Manny Corpas, James Russell – will go anywhere in August, for a variety of reasons. Given the explanations above, I imagine you can figure them out.
A final note on September trades – We call the end of August the “waiver trade deadline,” but, strictly speaking, it isn’t a deadline at all. Trades can still go through in September, but here’s the rub: to be eligible for a playoff roster, a guy has to be on your team before September 1. So, although a team *can* acquire a guy in September, in-season trades overwhelmingly tend to involve sending big league pieces to teams in playoff contention. If you can’t use that piece for the playoffs, themselves, how valuable is that piece? Hence, the last batch of important trades tend to happen in August, before the “waiver trade deadline.”