Ryan Howard

Reminder: even though the trade deadline has passed, trades can still happen

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I write some variation on this post every year, mostly because there is always someone who asks why guys are still being talked about in trade rumors even though the “trade deadline” was July 31. So, let’s do this again, shall we?

July 31 is the non-waiver trade deadline. That means that clubs can just straight up trade dudes. Between now and August 31 clubs can trade dudes, but to do so they have to send them through waivers first. It works like this:

  • A team wishing to trade a player as of now will place him on revocable waivers. That means that the team can pull the player back off waivers if the player is claimed by another teams;
  • If the player is placed on waivers and goes unclaimed by every other team (i.e.  he “clears waivers”) he can be traded the same as he could have been before the July 31 deadline. He’d be eligible for the playoff roster and everything, as long as it was before the end of August;
  • If a player placed on waivers is claimed by another team, the team doing the waiving has a choice: they can pull him back (which is the “revocable” part of “revocable waivers”), keeping him as if nothing happened OR they can let the claiming team have him. If they do that, the claiming team is stuck with the player, including his current salary;
  • There is an order to the claiming process — teams with the worst record in the same league get to claim guys placed on waivers first, and then the choice cycles through the teams in the other league, worst record to best as well.

You often hear about big names with big salaries placed on waivers. They’re rarely claimed, however, because as noted above, the claiming team would be stuck with the salary. So, for example, the Phillies may place Ryan Howard on waivers. There is a low possibility anyone will claim him, of course, because even if a team wants Ryan Howard, they really don’t want that contract. This is why it’s not really news when someone reports that “so and so was placed on waivers.” People still act like it’s news for some reason, but it isn’t. People get bored easily.

Likewise, a team claiming someone isn’t really big news because teams often play games with the waiver process. For example, sometimes a team will claim a guy for the express purpose of NOT allowing him to clear waivers and thus be traded to a rival. For example, if a club puts a guy on waivers that the Astros REALLY want, the Angels — who have a worse record than the Astros and thus claiming priority — may put a claim on him to keep him from clearing and thus being traded to the Astros. There’s risk involved to the Angels of course in that the team placing the guy on waivers may not pull him back, thus sticking him with the Angels, but that’s the gamble involved.

So that’s what waiver trades are all about. Some waiver trades will happen. If they do, they will either involve (a) guys with not-so-great contracts, particularly starting pitchers; (b) guys coming back from an injury who represent something of a gamble; or (c) role players, bench bats and the like. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN has a post up today about some possible waiver trade candidates. I’d add a couple more to that list he leaves out — Howard, James Shields, and Matt Garza come to mind.

Anyway, if you take nothing else from this, take this one thing: generally ignore reports about guys being placed on waivers. Almost everyone is placed on waivers. It doesn’t matter, however, unless they clear.