Though July’s non-waiver trade deadline draws most of the attention, Major League Baseball has really operated with two trade deadlines. The other is the August 31 waiver trade deadline, which is considerably more complicated. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, August’s waiver trade deadline will be removed.
The MLBPA proposed the idea, per Rosenthal. He quotes an unnamed owner who calls the removal of the waiver trade deadline a “huge mistake.” That same GM worried that teams dealing with the injury bug late in the season may have to promote minor leaguers in the middle of a pennant race.
Players on the injured list still accrue service time, so it’s not substandard rosters owners are really worried about; it’s potentially starting (or resuming) the service time clock for players who otherwise might not be on the active roster.
Once the July 31 deadline passed, teams could only trade players by placing them on waivers. Starting with the team with the worst record in the same league as the player placed on waivers, teams can put in claims on that player. Once the player has been claimed, that player’s team can negotiate a trade with the claimant or choose to pull the player back from waivers. If the player is pulled back, that player can’t be traded through waivers to any other team. If a player goes through waivers unclaimed after three business days, that player’s team can trade him normally. That team can also option him to the minor leagues or release him.
Teams out of playoff contention tended to use waiver trades as a way to dump the contracts of older, less productive players on contending teams. Contending also sometimes blocked other contending teams (with better records) from making upgrades by preemptively putting in a claim on a player.
Eliminating the August 31 waiver trade deadline will create more importance on the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, which is probably obvious. Some teams may feel the need to be cautious and acquire more depth than they might need at that particular moment, since injuries and underperformance certainly occur during the final two months of the season.
Next season, active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 players and September rosters will expand to only 28 players, down from the usual 40. Teams certainly took advantage of the August 31 waiver deadline and the September 1 roster expansion, using waivers to acquire significant amounts of depth.