Since August 31 is the deadline for waiver trade deals, and since we may see a few deals this week, I figured it was a good opportunity to discuss the waiver trade process. You may be able to recite this forward and backward, but every year I find a lot of fans that don’t really know how the process works. I figure it could be helpful to go over the waiver trade process to clarify everything.
The July 31 trade deadline is the last day that teams can make a trade straight-up. After that, teams can still make trades until August 31; however, the players must clear waivers (or they can be claimed off waivers). The 25-man rosters are allowed to expand as of September 1, but that is also the date that postseason rosters are set. A player must be on your 40-man as of September 1 to be eligible to play for your team in the playoffs. There have been rare September trades before; a team may need an extra arm to help them in their playoff push. That player would not be allowed to be on any postseason roster though. Most of these deals go down before August 31 though.
There have been big August trades before – for example, like the blockbuster between the Red Sox and the Dodgers last year that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto west. All players traded in August must either clear waivers, or they can be claimed off waivers.
Take Marlon Byrd for example, traded by the Mets to the Pirates today (on Marlon Byrd t-shirt night in New York, nonetheless). Since Byrd was an NL player, each NL team has the first opportunity to claim him off waivers, going from the team with the worst record to the best record. If all of the NL teams would have passed on him, he would have moved on to the AL teams, and they would have had the opportunity to claim him from worst record to best record. Byrd never made it that far – the Pirates (third best record in the NL) claimed him. That means that the Pirates and Mets have 72 hours from the time of the claim to work out a trade. If they’re unable to make a deal, the Mets can pull Byrd back off of waivers. However, that now means he is ineligible to be traded for the rest of the season. Obviously, we know they were able to complete the trade.
Let’s say Byrd made it through the NL and AL without being claimed – Adam Dunn and Justin Morneau are two of the players that saw this happen. Once a player clears waivers, they can be traded to any team in the majors. If they don’t clear, the trading team can only negotiate with the team that claimed the player.
There are a few other things that we’ve seen over the years with August trades. There are many cases where a team knows their opponent wants to trade for a player. If their record is worse, they can effectively block the trade by claiming the player just to keep the opponent from doing so. For example, Cincinnati could have claimed Byrd, knowing that the Pirates wanted to trade for him. They may have no desire to actually trade for the player, they just don’t want their opponent to have them. The Yankees and Red Sox were notorious for doing this to each other in the 1990s and early 2000s. It can backfire on a team though – let’s say you put in a claim for a player with a huge, bloated contract. Pre-July 31, there may be money involved in that kind of deal to offset the salary, but after August 1, the trading team can just say “here, he’s your problem now.” That happened a few years ago with Toronto and the White Sox with Alex Rios – the White Sox claimed Rios, and rather than working out a deal, Toronto used it as a way to get out from under the contract. You won’t get a player back in return, but you can be rid of a contract that was handcuffing you.
Sometimes we never hear about players that were claimed on waivers. Recently, Chris Antonetti claimed he made a couple of waiver claims, but was unable to complete a trade in the end. Someone recently claimed the Mariners’ Kendrys Morales, but it’s still unknown which team put in the claim. He could be a good fit for the Indians, but I doubt he made it very far though; I’d bet the Orioles or Yankees tried to snag him.