Last Thursday marked the MLB trade deadline, which you may have heard a bit about. Things are a bit more complicated than that though. What Thursday actually marked was the non-waiver trade deadline. Deals can still be made, but players must be put through waivers first.
Here's how it works:
- Teams may place any player from their 40-man roster on waivers. In fact, you will hear a lot about players being place on waivers during the next couple weeks, including some of the best players in baseball. Once a player is put on waivers, there is a 48-hour window in which the other 29 teams may put in a claim on that player.
- If no team puts in a claim on a player, than he may be traded freely, just as he could have been before the non-waiver deadline. Ryan Howard is a perfect example of a player who could be put on waivers this month, and go unclaimed, because the $60 million he is guaranteed over the next couple years is a complete nightmare.
- If multiple teams put in a claim on a player, priority is given to the team with the worst winning percentage in the same league as the team who placed the player on waivers. For example, if the Angels place Mike Trout on waivers, the Rangers would have "first dibs" on him, because they are the worst team in the AL. If no AL teams put in a claim on him, than the claiming team with the worst record in the National League would win the claim.
Okay, so what happens once a player has been claimed, and the "winning" team has been identified? Again, there are options:
- The team that placed the player on waivers can simply let the other team have the player. The new team accepts full responsibility for whatever remains on the player's contract (which is why no GM could claim Ryan Howard with a ten-foot pole). Famous examples of this include the Padres claiming Randy Myers back in 1998, and the White Sox claiming Alex Rios (and the $60 million he was owed over the next five years) in 2009.
- The team that place the player on waivers can also simply withdraw the waiver request, and keep the player, while now having the right to work out a trade involving that player, but only with the specific team that won the claim on him. So, let's say Trout is placed on waivers, and the Rangers put in a claim. The Angels quickly withdraw the claim, but are then free to trade Trout, but only to the Rangers.
Because priority goes to teams with worse records, teams will often make claims on players they don't want, in order to block another contender from being able to acquire him. For example, any player the Indians put in a claim on cannot possibly end up being traded to the Tigers, so even if it's a guy the Tribe don't want, they might put a claim on him if they suspect Detroit is going to try and get him. There is risk involved though, because the waiving team may simply let the Indians have that player, which is what happened with Myers in '98, when San Diego only put in the claim to block Atlanta from winning the claim, not suspecting that Toronto would simply let Myers go for nothing.
Is there a deadline for this sort of trade?
Players can be moved through waivers and then traded all the way to the end of the season, but any player who is not on a team's active roster by the end of August cannot be on their postseason roster, so for contending teams (which are generally the ones looking to make moves right now), August 31st is a deadline of sorts.
Will the Indians make any trades?
How do I know?! I can tell you that the Indians will certainly place some players on waivers. This does not mean those they actually want to be rid of those players, it just means it's nice to have options, and placing a player on waivers accomplishes that. If Michael Bourn does well after his return but the Tribe fall out of the race, they might look to move him. If some general manager gets really drunk, Chris Antonetti might try to get him to take Nick Swisher. If Chris Antonetti gets drunk, he might try to move Michael Brantley.
We'll just have to wait and see.