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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 (including this here preamble!), but the players involved have changed, as has the Cubs’ situation, so this is about half re-write, half brand new.

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.” I offered a very brief explanation during this year’s Blogathon.

You’ve actually heard the term “waivers” before. Waivers are relevant not 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. The waivers relevant for our purposes today are Trade Assignment Waivers. I like to think of them as August Waivers.

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. Those are August’s Trade Assignment Waivers.

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. (So, for Cubs players, the Rockies will have the first priority, then the Diamondbacks, Phillies, Padres, and so on up the standings until you reach the Dodgers, and then it flips over to the bottom of the American League pile.)

So, if a team waives a player, and 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 2011’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!!!!” [Ed. - My, how quickly things change.]

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. That’s not me saying they all WILL be waived. I’m just saying that for our purposes, it doesn’t matter. If it’s a guy the Cubs will consider trading, he’ll go through waivers.).

The Cubs have quite a few guys who would obviously be claimed on waivers but not traded – or who would not be claimed because teams know there’s no way they’re getting the player, and there’s no sense in being a jerk – and don’t really merit discussion here. You know the guys I’m talking about: Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jake Arrieta, Arismendy Alcantara, Hector Rondon, Neil Ramirez, etc. I also think it’s very likely that Luis Valbuena would be claimed early up the priority ladder by a team that would not actually want to put together a trade for him (because he’s got a lot of value to the Cubs, and a team out of contention isn’t going to give up enough to get him). I think you could argue that Pedro Strop falls into this category, too, but there’s a teeny, tiny chance he’d make it far up enough the ladder to be claimed by a winning team that might actually want to trade for him. I really doubt it, though. If you’re the Rockies, wouldn’t you want to have Strop for free?

Travis Wood is a tough call, given his down year, but I still tend to think he’d be claimed early on. Junior Lake is so young and makes nothing, so I think he’d be claimed early. So they fall into that category, too.

Long story short: for the guys mentioned above, even if they were waived, they would be claimed by a team that isn’t going to put together a huge package, and the Cubs would pull them back. End of story.

Instead, the guys who could plausibly be traded in August include Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva, Wesley Wright, John Baker, Chris Coghlan, Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Sweeney, and Nate Schierholtz.

Thoughts on each:

  • Jackson – He won’t be claimed on waivers thanks to the $11 million per year he’s owed through 2016 (if he were claimed, I’m pretty sure the Cubs would say, “OK, take him”). So, Jackson, who was probably one of the first guys the Cubs placed on waivers, will clear. And then we’ll see if his performance allows the Cubs to shop him. I doubt anything happens, but we know the Cubs will be open to it.
  • Villanueva – He’s making $5 million this year, which might be too much for a team to claim him. It’s hard to say, given his bad numbers this year. But he’s been fantastic out of the pen all season long, so I think there’s value there. Either way, because he’s a free agent after the year, he’s a trade candidate. If he’s claimed, it’ll be by a contender that wants him (though, since the Cubs would then be limited to trading him to that team only, their leverage is greatly reduced, and might not get too much more than salary relief). Or, he’ll go unclaimed, and the Cubs could shop him this month. Of all the Cubs’ players, Villanueva is the guy I most expect to be moved this month.
  • Wright – He makes $1.43 million this year, and is under control for one more arbitration year. It’s possible that a non-contender would want him for next year, but I think it’s more likely he makes it far enough up the waiver chain to reach the competitive teams. And if he’s claimed by one of them (or goes unclaimed), a trade is definitely possible. As for the Cubs, they might prefer to hang onto Wright, though I’d argue that the $2.5ish million he’ll make next year might be better spent elsewhere, given the availability of LOOGYs and the presence of Zac Rosscup at AAA.
  • Baker – Don’t do it, Cubs. Not worth what you’d get in return. You cannot replace his awesomeness.
  • Coghlan – He’s making nothing, playing well, and under control for a while. I’d expect him to be claimed pretty early, and I don’t see a deal coming together that makes sense for the Cubs when it’s a market of one team. A deal is very unlikely.
  • Ruggiano – Just about all of that applies to Ruggiano, too. He makes a little more money and is a little older, but he’s got a lot of potential value to the Cubs next year. Might as well hold onto a guy like that, and have some options for the offseason and 2015.
  • Sweeney – He’s having a down year, though some of that looks to be small sample and bad luck. I’m not sure Sweeney would be claimed, but I’m also not sure a team would step up and offer enough to make it worth dealing Sweeney right now. Again, the Cubs can hold him until the offseason, see what develops, and go from there.
  • Schierholtz – A free agent after the season, making $5 million this year, and playing poorly, Schierholtz is a candidate to clear waivers (if he’s claimed, I’m inclined to think the Cubs would let him go – but I don’t think he’ll be claimed). Could he be dealt for a modest return after a couple hot weeks? Maybe. It’s not always worth trading a guy for a nothing return, though.

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, the value of that piece is driven down considerably. Hence, the last batch of important trades tend to happen in August, before the “waiver trade deadline.”

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