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Baseball waiver trade season primer: How do August trades work?

Jesse runs through the basics on how the waiver trade period works.

Hannah Foslien

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 can be quite tactical as teams have the opportunity to potentially interfere with rival clubs' plans.

It all starts by a team placing a player on waivers. In many cases a club will put players on waivers simply to judge interest, and will pull him off of waivers if/when he is claimed. But we'll get back to that, so hold that thought.

Think of waivers as a list of every team in baseball. First in line is the worst team in the league putting Player X on waivers, the best team in that league coming in at number 14, and the worst team in the opposite league is at number 15 with the best team in that opposite league coming in last at number 29. Once a team makes Player X available to that list, teams have 47 hours in which to place a claim on said player. From here there are three options.

1 - No teams place a claim on that player

In this scenario, a player has "passed through waivers" and his team would be free to trade him with any other team in baseball. He can be traded for A) 40-man roster players who have also cleared waivers, or B) non 40-man roster players.

2 - One team places a claim on the player

The two teams would have 48.5 hours to work out a trade. Alternatively, the claiming club can pay a $20,000 fee and assume the player's contract if the original team is motivated to just dump a contract (or player) on somebody or anybody.

3 - Multiple teams place a claim

In this scenario, precedence goes in the order outlined above. If Player X is placed on waivers by the Red Sox and there is interest shown by the Astros, Braves, Cubs, and Twins, the Astros would have priority over the Twins, who would have priority over the Cubs, who would have priority over the Braves. Again, once the claim has been awarded the two teams have 48.5 hours to work out a trade. Or, as in case number two, the original team can stick the claiming team with the player and his contract.

Why do teams place players on waivers?

  1. To judge interest.
  2. To trade the player.
  3. To dump salary.
To that effect, almost every player on every team is placed on waivers at least once in August. And there are two main reasons why a team would place 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 that Player X will be pulled off of waivers. Of course, as mentioned, this is also how teams can get stuck paying salaries they did not actually want to take on. Even if a deal can't be worked out, the original team can just stick it to the claiming team.
Finally, waiver requests can be revoked. The three main reasons for pulling a player off of waivers are:
  1. The original club was gauging interest in the player and had no intention of actually trading him.
  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. If a player is placed on waivers a second time and claimed, he has to go.

All in all, 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 can 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 why Ricky Nolasco would probably clear waivers: nobody wants to take on his $12 million dollar contract with the season he's had.
  • If a player clears waivers they can 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 of waivers once, but if put on a second time the waiver request is irrevocable.
I hope that makes everything a bit less murky and answers some of your more basic questions (and probably one or two of the less basic ones as well). Have a good Monday, folks!