While July 31st marked the end of the unrestricted trading deadline for Major League baseball, there is still a window of opportunity for contenders to continue to beef up their rosters for the stretch run. There are various explanations of this out there, but frankly, I didn't like like how they were structured/explained, so I have put together this version in the hopes of answering all of the inevitable questions. I do like, however, this definition of "waivers" from baseball-reference.com that I will start off with:
Waivers are a [request for] permission granted by the other teams in Major League Baseball to allow a team to do a player move which would not normally be allowed by the rules. In other words, opposing teams waive their objection to the move.
A "Waiver Claim", therefore, is a team's statement of objection to the request to waive player-movement rules. Such a claim has numerous implications, and that's the subject of this post.
So here's how Waiver Claim Trading works from August to the end of the Season:
1. Players made eligible for trade are placed on "revocable waivers". This is pretty much routinely done for much of the roster for most of the teams. Why? Well, it provides maximum flexibility for their GMs; it tends to mask whatever their true intentions might be (forest/trees); and it also doesn't single out individual players as possible targets -- which would tend to get players bent out of shape (witness Andruw Jones a few years ago).
2. Once placed on the Waiver list, there is a 48-hour claiming period, during which any team may put in a claim. So that every team doesn't claim every player out there and cause utter chaos, there is a token price ($20,000) attached to waiver claims. If a team fails to make a claim, it is effectively saying "we have no objection to you moving this player to another team", and thus they render themselves powerless in whatever happens after that point. In other words, they give up their right to complain later.
3. Let's do the simple case first: if no team claims a given player after the 48-hour window, that player may then be freely traded to any other team -- just like the rules allowed before August... except for a little detail that I'll cover in Item #6 below.
4. Now the fun part: a waiver claim is made. Let's use an example of Wandy Rodriguez, since he's gonna be an interesting case. His contract requires another $2-1/4 million payment this year, but kicks up to $12 million for each of the next 3 years. It is exactly for that financial reason that many expect him to clear waivers unclaimed. But let's suppose that the Yankees put in a claim. What happens then? Here are the options:
a. Revocation of Waivers. The Astros can be stupid and pull Wandy back to their side of the dark void... that's the "revocable" part of revocable waivers. This is effectively a team saying "PSYCH - I really wasn't trying to trade this guy." He still belongs to the original squad.... but of course they still gotta pay him, too.
b. A Trade. The Astros can try to negotiate a trade.... exclusively with the Yankees, since they were the claimants (they asserted their right to object -- and are rewarded with this right of exclusivity). That trading opportunity window is limited -- 48 more hours. If they can't get together on a deal in that time frame, then the Astros can still pull Wandy back... OR they can...
c. Give the Player away. At the Astros option, the claimed player can simply be given away -- entire salary and all -- to the claimant team. This is why the higher-salaried players will often clear waivers: because of the risk that it's simply a salary dump ploy. So while the initial dinner date (the waiver claim) might be cheap, but you might also regret it in the morning. We'll get to that more later.
5. Waiver Claims, part 2. If a player is pulled back to his original team (waivers are revoked), the original team CAN place the same player on waivers again in August. However, during that second time, the Right to Revoke is lost: any team making the claim has effectively bought the player without the need to negotiate anything.
6. Part 3, or 'a Trade is Bourn': Let's say that a bona fide trade deal is worked out. Waived Player A traded for a Player B. If Player B is on the 40-man roster of his club, then he must also have already passed through waivers successfully (i.e., his own 48-hour waiver period is done) before being trade-eligible.
When I mentioned "maximum flexibility" above, this is what I was referring to: getting a large number of your own players through waivers gives your GM more options for possible trades. Now if Player B is not on the 40-man, then there is no issue. This turns out to be common with "player-for-prospects" kind of trades.
Sometimes, these trades are also done on a "Player to be named later" (PTBNL) basis... if you believe you can't get a guy through waivers to make him tradable, then you simply wait out the process and "name" the guy after the season when this process is no longer in force. So there are ways around it if the two partners are satisfied enough to wait it out.
7. Part 4: Getting More Complicated. Okay, that's trading with one claiming partner. But suppose there are multiple teams making claims on the same waived player. What then? Well, there's a "pecking order" of priority -- which prevents the best teams from simply loading up. Let's go back to Wandy's case and suppose that the Giants, Phils, Red Sox, and Yankees ALL claimed him.
Take all of the teams making a claim and arrange them in order of League, and then by current Won-Loss record. In the case of Wandy Rodriguez, he's National League, so the Giants and Phillies get first crack - and the Giants win out because their record is worse than Philadelphia's. If no NL team claimed him, then the AL squads finally get a chance - with the Yankees prevailing over the Red Sox because of the Sox' better record.
Once again, the rule is this: First - look for claims within the same league as the waived player. If multiple teams in that league put in a claim, the winner is the one with the worst record on that date in which the 48 hour window expires. Next - If no team in the same league put in a claim, repeat the process for the opposing league. In case of a tie... well, I actually don't know the answer to that one; I would guess we'd use playoff tie-break rules!
If the claim-winning team is unable to come to a trade agreement, steps 4A and 4C (above) are still the only other options - you cannot go to the next claiming team in line. There are some unfair negotiating advantages that this would impose on the process otherwise.
8. Finally: Using Waiver Claims as a Weapon. There are numerous famous cases of a team making a claim specifically to block a (better) rival from obtaining a certain player. Do note that this is a two-way weapon... you might also get stuck with somebody that you don't really want yourself/can't afford. Here's some history:
> The Braves claimed pitcher Dennis Martinez in 1993 to block him from the Giants. We didn't get him... but then neither did the Giants. There's also a rumor that the Yankees put in 45 claims that year to try and block "every decent starting pitcher" available!
> However, the Yankees did get stuck with Jose Conseco in 2000 when he was waived by the Rays in an apparent attempt to trade him to the Blue Jays. He basically sat on the bench for the rest of the year with no position available to him, but you could argue that the tactic was successful, because Jose ended up with a World Series ring.
> The Braves were blocked from getting closer Randy Myers in 1998 when the Blue Jays waived him and San Diego put in a claim. Oops... the Blue Jays simply gave him to the Padres for nothing, saying "thank you very much for taking his contract", which was for an additional $12 million over 2 years (think 1998 dollars - that was huge).
A Few Final Notes:
A. Note that waiver claim trades may continue to occur from now until the end of the season -- but to be "playoff eligible", traded players must be on their new team's 25-man roster before September 1st (*see below). It's for that reason that the waiver-trade action will be from now until the end of August, as the only practical reason for going past that date is to replace injured players.
B. Can teams talk trade before the waiver claims are made? Sure -- if you want to do a trade, it's a good idea to work out the parameters beforehand... and sometimes the claims process actually works out to let that happen.
C. Let's suppose the Cards and Brewers both make a waiver claim on the same player. Based on today's standings, the Cardinals would win the claim. Do the Brewers then get a refund of their $20 grand? Nope. That's their ante in the poker game: the non-refundable price of admission. High enough that most teams won't make claims frivolously -- but low enough to still allow for meaningful transactions.
D. So where do I (John Q. Baseballfan) go to see the current listing on the waiver wire? Well it turns you can't, actually. This tidbit from Wikipedia:
The waiver "wire" is a secret within the personnel of the Major League Baseball clubs; no announcement of a waiver is made until a transaction actually occurs.
Bummer. Occasionally some information will be leaked out, but by-and-large, we simply don't know until after the fact. Kinda takes all the fun out of it, but overall, that's probably a good thing.
E. *More About Playoff Eligibility. This is almost as confusing as the waiver process itself, but at least I cab boil it down to a fairly compact list of bullet points. A player is eligible for post-season play if he fits any of the following eligibility rules:
1. On the 25-man active roster before September 1st.
2. On the Disabled list as of August 31/midnight (but, per usual practice, must be eligible to come off of the list for a given playoff game)
3. On the bereavement list as of August 31/midnight.
4. On the suspended list as of August 31/midnight.
5. A member of the team's organization approved by the Commissioner's office to replace an injured player during the playoffs. Such a player must be a direct replacement (position for position: you can't add a pitcher to replace a catcher). If the player is not currently on the 40-man roster, he must be added. He then must be added to the 25-man active roster, replacing the injured man. Replacement player must have been a member of the organization continuously from at least the period of August 31st onward.
...and I think there's a time period in which you can do these replacements -- like the beginning of a series or something. But that's way deeper than we need to go right now.
Thanks very much for the compliments on this post. My pleasure to serve. Several online sources contributed to this compilation of information.