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August Transaction Primer: How Waiver Season Works

This was our August Transaction Primer from last year. It bears repeating on a yearly basis. Hopefully this clears up some of the questions you have, and we'll write up a new one come next year.

Impress your friends with your knowledge of waiver wire trades, including the ins and outs of who gets priority, who gets put on waivers and how complicated it all really is!

If an organization wants to make a trade after the July 31 deadline they still can, it just becomes more complicated. It's harder to trade with one specific team, there's more risk involved and it's a lot more tactical as teams have the opportunity to potentially interfere with rival clubs.

It all starts by a team (we'll say the Twins) placing a player on waivers. In many cases a club will put players on waivers simply to judge interest, and will pull him back if he's claimed. But we'll deal with that in a moment.

Think of waivers as a list of every team in baseball. Once you make a player available to that list, teams have 47 business hours in which to place a claim on said player. From here there are three options.

No teams place a claim on the player: In this scenario a player has "passed through waivers", and the Twins would be free to trade the player with any team in baseball they choose...provided the player is traded for either A) 40-man roster players who have also cleared waivers, or B) non 40-man roster players.

One team places a claim on the player: The Twins would have 48.5 hours to work out a trade with the claiming club, or allow the claiming club to pay $20,000 and assume the player's contract.

Multiple teams place a claim: Teams with the worst records have priority, subject to teams being in the same league. In the Twins case, for example, say the Orioles, Rays, Astros and Braves all placed a waiver claim on the player. The Orioles would be awarded a claim over the Rays, the Rays would still have priority over the Astros, and the Astros over the Braves. Again, the two teams have 48.5 hours to work out a trade, or the claiming club would have to pay the $20,000 transaction fee and assume the player's contract.

There are three main reasons a player will be placed on waivers:

  1. To judge interest.
  2. To trade the player.
  3. To dump salary.

There are two main reasons a team will make a claim on a player:

  1. The team actually has interest in acquiring the player.
  2. The team is trying to block a competitor from being awarded the claim, in which case the claiming team usually believes the player will be pulled off waivers. But this is also how teams get stuck paying salaries they did not actually want to take on, if the original club is looking to dump salary. Even if a deal can't be worked out, the original team can essentially stick the claiming team with the tab.

Finally, waiver requests can be revoked. The main three reasons for revoking a player are:

  1. The original club was gauging interest in the player and had no interest in trading him, as mentioned earlier.
  2. The original club does not want to send the player to the team awarded the waiver claim.
  3. The original club and the claiming club cannot work out a trade.

Once a player has been pulled back, he can be placed on waivers again but this time they are irrevocable.

So, to summarize:

  • Nearly all players are put on waivers in August.
  • Not all players on waivers are placed there with the intention of being moved.
  • Teams with worse records have priority over teams with better records, American League teams have priority over American League players and National League teams have priority over National League players.
  • Teams will often make a claim on a player to block a rival club from being awarded the claim, but this is dangerous because the claiming team could just get stuck with a player they didn't want...and his salary. It's the reason Manny Ramirez cleared waivers a few years ago: nobody wanted to get stuck with his contract.
  • If a player clears waivers they may be traded to any team, for a player who has also cleared waivers or for non 40-man roster players.
  • If a player is claimed he can only be dealt to the team awarded the claim.
  • A player can be pulled off waivers once, but if put on a second time the waivers are irrevocable.

I hope that makes at least a little bit of sense and clears up any basic questions you have. Enjoy the rest of your Monday.