Making Trades in August - The Waiver System, Which Players Are Trade Candidates, and More

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Making Trades in August – The Waiver System, Which Players Are Trade Candidates, and More

Chicago Cubs

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.

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 Marlins will have the first priority, then the Giants, then the Brewers, and so on up the standings until you reach the Pirates, and then it flips over to the bottom of the American League pile.)

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 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).

Unlikely last August, the Cubs no longer have any obvious albatross contracts that you just know will clear waivers. Indeed, I could make an argument for every single player on the Cubs’ 25-man roster being claimed by some team out there (in terms of his contract).

For example, although someone like Nate Schierholtz has a great deal of trade value, he almost certainly will not be traded in August. First, because of his productivity and desirable contract, he is a lock to be claimed. Second, because he offers even bad teams nice value in 2014, he would likely be claimed by one of those non-competitive, sub-.500 teams. And that team is not going to offer much in the way of trade. (Remember: when a player is claimed, the Cubs can trade that player to that team. But a market of one team is not much of a market when it comes to wringing out acceptable trade value.)

Thus, guys like Schierholtz, Jeff Samardzija, Luis Valbuena, and James Russell (and other guys who are obviously not trade candidates like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro) are simply not going to be traded this month.

David DeJesus may have a teeny, tiny chance of clearing waivers, given his 2014 team option and its associated buyout. I say that because, while I tend to think he’s worth $6.5 million in 2014, I suppose there’s a chance that other teams don’t feel that way. In that instance, the teams that would want him for the stretch run would be picking up the remainder of what he’s owed this year (about $1.5 million) plus the buyout on his option year (another $1.5 million). Is a month and a half of DeJesus worth $3 million? Again, I tend to think it would be to a contender who needs him, but you never know. All in all, I think DeJesus falls into the same category as the above players.

Ditto most of that discussion for Carlos Villanueva, who is under contract for $5 million in 2014. I tend to think a number of teams would gladly take him and his contract if they could have him for free. So, as with DeJesus, I pretty much don’t see Villanueva being a legitimate trade candidate in August.

The only pieces I could see the Cubs moving in August are complementary pieces with fringe value, like Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, Dioner Navarro or Cody Ransom. I suppose you could say that about Julio Borbon or Cole Gillespie, too, but I doubt any team would want to trade for them, regardless. Ryan Sweeney isn’t going to return from the DL to really enter this conversation (and I tend to think the Cubs may want a chance to bring him back in 2014), and Brian Bogusevic is also still on the DL (I tend to think he is more like a Borbon/Gillespie type than one of the initially-listed fringe value types, anyway).

The rest of the roster is made up of guys with no meaningful trade value, and/or guys that the Cubs pretty clearly want to keep for 2014.

So that leaves Gregg, Guerrier, Navarro, and Ransom as realistic possible August trade candidates. Lower-value, complementary pieces often make it through waivers, or their value is sufficiently small (and market sufficiently reduced) that it is possible to work out a reasonable trade with that one claiming team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two of these guys dealt this month. All are low value impending free agents, though, so don’t get your hopes up for an impressive return.

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.”

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.