Well, the annual BN Blogathon might’ve just gotten a little busier.
In a post at The Athletic today, Ken Rosenthal has revealed that Major League Baseball will, in fact, eliminate the waiver-trade deadline in August, as rumored, pushing everything to a single, non-waiver deadline at the end of July.
If that’s confusing, allow me to explain: The existing July 31st trade deadline is the famous one you already know and love. That’s the deadline by which any team can trade any player to any other team without limitation. It’s commonly referred to as the deadline, for that reason alone. However, it hasn’t actually been the only trade deadline.
After the July 31st deadline – in the past – teams were still permitted to trade players, however, every deal was subject to trade waivers. Here’s an example: If the Cubs wanted to trade for Player X on August 1st, that player would have to first clear waivers – meaning that he’d have to be made formally available to every other team ahead of the Cubs in priority (worst record to best, starting with that team’s league) before it could go down. This allowed other teams to swoop in and effectively kill a trade for other teams. The risk, of course, is that the blocking team might have had to accept that player – and his full salary – if the trading team wanted to give him away for nothing, which is why blocks don’t always happen. More on the apparently outgoing system here.
But now all of that is gone. There are no more August waivers. To be sure, August trades were rare, but they certainly did happen – that’s how the Cubs got Daniel Murphy on August 21st last season for a recent example. For a sense of how common those deals are compared to July non-waiver pacts, let’s turn to Ken Rosenthal: “In 2018, teams made 48 trades in July leading to the non-waiver deadline and 24 in August leading to the deadline for setting postseason rosters.”
Now, the fallout of this rule change – which was somewhat expected – is going to be mostly unknown until we actually get there, but there are a few known impacts. For one, this is probably a good thing for the players, because it should create a little more certainty. Often, pricier veterans on borderline clubs can spend all of June, July, and August on the trade block with plenty of uncertainty surrounding where there’ll be living by the end of the year. Now, the new rules will eliminate an entire month of unknowns. And for the league, this should preserve a little more competitive integrity, as Rosenthal put it. Teams will have to make their roster decisions earlier in the year and can’t continue selling off if things look bleaker in August – i.e. no more late-season salary dumps.
But that’s where things get a little tricky. I don’t think we can know for sure, but it certainly seems like this will make the July deadline far busier, as you can no longer count on sneaking that one final piece onto the roster later in the season. And it also eliminates time to determine whether an injured player might be back in time to help out down the stretch. Front offices will have to take their last look at the roster in July and decide how much they want to buy or sell.
And it’s not just the big moves, either. The Cubs have often used the August waiver-trade period to get their speed guy for the postseason – usually a guy whose one and only skill is being really fast – like Terrance Gore (acquired on August 15th, 2018), Leonys Martin (August 31st, 2017), and Quinten Berry (on August 25th, 2015). Now, if the Cubs think they have a shot at October baseball and want a guy like that in house, they’ll have to get it done before the end of July, and they’ll have to figure out how to fit that guy on the 25-man roster, not the expanded 40-man September roster (which is actually soon going to shrink to 28, but one thing at a time).
(You might also remember the Cubs putting in a waiver claim on Cole Hamels back in August of 2014, but the Phillies pulled him back.)
Another potential effect of this change – at least, a desired one from the players perspective – is that it might make teams more likely to call up top prospects to assist their big league clubs. Without being able to make external additions, the only remaining help must come from within.
Ken Rosenthal has a great breakdown of the potential implications at The Athletic, including some quotes from executives around baseball, and I encourage you to check it out. But even he admits that the fallout, like any major rule change, will be unclear until it is clear. I, for one, am hoping for an ultra-busy July and many more prospects in August and September.