When is a Trade Deadline Not a Trade Deadline?

Are you confused about the whole “July 31 was the trade deadline but it wasn’t REALLY the trade deadline” thing? Does thinking about the ins and outs of waiver trading give you a headache (or make you yawn) worse than UZRs, BABIPs and OPS+s all rolled in to one?

We here at Knuckleballs are going to try to make it all simple and easy to understand. After all, we’re nothing if not simple around here. So here are our “Waiver Rule Q&As for Dummies Knuckleballs.”

Q: I thought the trade deadline was July 31. Now I hear it’s August 31. Is there really a trade deadline at all?

A: No. There’s really no such thing as a trade deadline in Major League Baseball. A player can be traded any time. BUT (isn’t there always a “but”?) there are hoops that teams have to jump through that change on July 31 and August 31 that lead media types to confuse us simple folk by using the term “deadline”.

Q: So what are those hoops?

A: Here’s a rundown on the way the rules change on July 31 and August 31:

  • Through the deadline on July 31, teams could trade players to any team. July 31 is commonly referred to as the “non-waiver trade deadline.”
  • After July 31 and through the remainder of the season, players must first go through “revocable waivers.” This process involves:
    1. placing the player on waivers. At this point, any team may place a waiver claim on that player.
    2. If the player IS NOT claimed by any other team, his team can trade him to any other team.
    3. If the player IS claimed, his current team has 47 business-day hours to choose one of three options.
      • revoke the waiver and keep the player.
      • let the player go to the team winning the waiver claim for the waiver price of $20,000. The new team takes on the player’s current contract.
      • take up to an additional 48 1/2 hours to work out a trade with the team winning the waiver claim.
  • Any player acquired in a trade after August 31 is not eligible to be a member of his new team’s playoff roster that season.

Q: 47 hours and 48 1/2 hours? What idiot came up with those numbers?

A: I have no idea who came up with those numbers, but when it comes to idiotic things MLB does, I look first, last and always at Bud Selig.

Q: If more than one team claims a player, can his team can try to make deals with all of them?

A: No. The claim of any team in the same league gets priority over claims by any team in the other league. If that rule doesn’t determine who wins the claim, then the next criteria is based on current winning percentage of the teams making the claim. Lowest winning percentage wins the claim.

Q: Can a team just keep putting the same player on waivers and revoking those waivers over and over?

A: No. A team can only pull a player back from waivers once. If they revoke the waivers once and put him back on waivers again before the end of the season… and he is claimed by another team, then that team automatically gets the player (and his contract).

Q: Do teams only put players they want to get rid of on waivers?

A: No. Almost every player on every MLB roster will be placed on waivers in August.

Q: WHAT!?!?!? The Twins are going to waive Joe Mauer?!

A: Maybe. You see, every General Manager thinks he is clever, crafty, and really smart… and that every other GM is a total idiot. So they think that if they put ALL of their players on waivers, the dumb GMs on the other teams won’t be able to tell which players they want to keep, which ones they might want to trade, and which ones they might want to dump on another team stupid enough to take on an overpaid washed up pitcher who couldn’t strike out your great-grandfather.

Q: And this works?

A: Amazingly, sometimes… yes. You see, not many GMs are all that smart. At least not nearly as smart as those of us who blog about their teams.

Q: Can players with no-trade clauses in their contract get waived or traded in August?

A: Yes. A lot of them actually want to get he heck off of the sinking ship they’re currently playing for and get in a pennant race. But if a player is claimed by a team to which he has the right to reject a trade, his team is required to revoke the waiver unless the player agrees (usually for a hefty price) to waive the no-trade rights and join the new team.

Q: So do teams just automatically put all of their players on waivers August 1?

A: Some might.

That way they find out quickly who might be interested in making a deal for which of their players. They also think there might be a chance teams will be so overwhelmed by the volume of waived players that they might overlook some players, making it more likely those players will completely pass through unclaimed and thus able to be traded to any team.

But other teams, especially those that are still deluding themselves (and their fans) in to thinking they still may have a shot at the playoffs, may wait until later in the month when even the most delusional GM has to admit his team sucks and he should start sending through waivers the dead weight he gave obscene contracts to two years ago.

Q: Do teams really want every player they claim or do GMs sometimes claim players just to keep another team from getting that player?

A: GMs do occasionally make preventive claims. They may claim a player they don’t really want in order to keep a team with a better win percentage at the time from getting him. If they win the claim, they won’t make any attempt to make a trade for the player and assume the player’s current team will simply revoke the waiver and keep the player. Sometimes it backfires, though, and the GM gets stuck with a player (and a contract) he and his manager (and owner) didn’t really want. Oops.

Q: You said you would make this simple to understand. You lied. My head still hurts.

A: That’s not a question, but maybe we can come up with an example that will help.

Let’s say the Angels put closer Brian Fuentes on waivers 47 hours ago. If nobody has claimed him, the Angels can trade him to anyone they can make a deal with.

But let’s say he has been claimed by several teams who think he could help their bullpen this month and in the playoffs… the Phillies and Rockies in the NL and the Rangers, Rays and Yankees in the AL. Now what happens?

First, forget the Phillies and Rockies because teams in a player’s current league get priority over teams in the other league, regardless of their records. Their only shot was to hope no AL team claimed Fuentes.

Next, we look at the winning percentages of the Rangers, Rays and Yankees. The lowest is currently the Rangers so they win the claim on Fuentes.

Now the fun starts.

What do the Angels do? If they think they’ve gotten all the use they can out of Fuentes this year, they may simply let Texas have him (and shed the $3 million or so still owed on his 2010 contract). If they aren’t willing to just let him go and get nothing but the claiming price of $20K in return, they revoke the waivers.

If the Angels believe they’re still in the playoff hunt and don’t want a team in their own division to have Fuentes, they pull him back and keep him. But if they are ready to concede they have no shot this year, they’ve got 48 1/2 hours to finalize some kind of trade with the Rangers.

If Texas really does want Fuentes, they’ll offer some sort of package of low level minor leaguers and probably try to get the Angels to eat some of Fuente’s remaining salary in a trade. If their intent was simply to keep potential playoff opponents from getting Fuentes, they’ll just tell the Angels, “No thanks.”

Let’s assume the Angels end up keeping Fuentes. Now fast forward 3 weeks to the last week of August and see that the Angels are so far back that even the rosiest colored glasses in Anaheim recognize there’s no shot in 2010. They see playoff contenders still out there who need bullpen help and they have no use for a closer to whom they still owe about $2 million. What do they do?

They may put Fuentes back on waivers. Now, any team that claims him knows that there’s a reasonable chance they may get him. If one of the contenders really feels he’ll help their bullpen and has $2 million burning a hole in their pockets, they’ll make a claim. Otherwise, he’ll go unclaimed and the Angels are free to try to get whatever they can for him in a trade with any team. Whether by claim or trade, if he becomes a member of his new team by August 31, he’ll be eligible for the playoffs with his new team.

Q: Did you say something? My eyes glazed over after, “Now the fun starts.”

A: Yeah… I said the Twins just put Joe Mauer on waivers.


This information was gathered from Cot’s Contracts and various other sites. If any of it is wrong, it’s not the author’s fault. It’s never the author’s fault. Ever. – JC

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