Follow me on Twitter @jim_krug; opening image credit Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
If striking out at the MLB Trade Deadline leaves avid fans with a proverbial “walk of shame” away from their computers on the afternoon of July 31st, then thinking their favorite team might still find a way to add a player during the waiver trade period is the equivalent of saying “maybe he/she will still call me!”
Ending August 31st, the entire month of August allows teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates to make “waiver trades” even after the normal trade deadline has long since passed. However, the requirements are more specific. Here’s the process in a nutshell.
1. Teams may place any of their active roster players on “revocable” waivers. Unlike regular waivers- where a team will either assign a player to the minors or lose him outright- here, a MLB club may “pull” a player back onto their active roster. No harm done. One MLB executive recently stated that the majority of rostered players ARE waived during this period, but such waivers are never announced unless a trade is actually made.
2. Once a player is waived, other teams may “claim” him.
A. For an AL player, all AL teams get waiver priority over NL teams. For an NL player, the opposite is true, with the Senior Circuit having first dibs.
B. Order is determined by the current MLB standings at the time of the waiver.
3. If a player is claimed, the claiming and waiving teams have a period of time to work out a trade (minor leaguers do not have to pass through waivers, which is why trades involving Major Leaguers from both sides are almost* impossible to pull off during this time). If a trade cannot be worked out, the waiving team can either pull the player back, or allow the claiming team to have him outright.
Why would a team ever simply give a player away? Two words: bad contracts. If a team is out of postseason contention, and has a semi-productive player saddled to an albatross of a contract, they may elect to simply let the player go to his claiming team without a fight, affording them payroll relief. This is why sellers have to be careful with whom they claim: there’s always the possibility that they’ll get what they asked for, bad contract and all!
4. If a player is pulled back, they cannot be placed on revocable waivers again.
Now pay attention, because this is where waivers affect the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Fans may have been excited to see coveted White Sox OF Alex Rios recently claimed by (and traded to) the Texas Rangers, and assume that the Pirates will not be far behind in adding a bat. But the 2013 team’s place in the standings renders such a trade highly unlikely.
–>As of August 10th, the Pirates would be 2nd-to-last (behind the Atlanta Braves) in order for NL waivers.
–>The Pirates would be 29th in order for AL waivers.
Now you might be thinking, “But how did the Rangers land Rios, when 10 AL teams had first dibs in front of them?” And the answer is, money. Alex Rios is earning $12,500,000 a year through 2014, with a $13.5MM option for 2015. Teams faring poorly in the standings aren’t going to assume the risk of adding a pricey contract- especially for an only semi-productive player in Rios (currently at a 100 OPS+)- with no realistic shot of the postseason. And so, for the Pirates…
–>The only productive players that could pass through to the end of the waiver list are those saddled to healthy contracts, such as Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins. It’s highly unlikely that the Pirates’ normally spendthrift ownership will take on an 8-figure-a-year contract, especially for a player in his mid-30′s.
*Now earlier, I said trades involving MLB players from both teams are almost impossible. That’s because the Pirates executed one of their most famous trades in recent history on August 26th of 2003, when then GM Dave Littlefield shipped star OF Brian Giles to the San Diego Padres for SP Oliver Perez, a minor league OF named Jason Bay, and a player to be named (which ended up being short-lived farmhand Cory Stewart).
The only reason such a trade was possible was because the Padres found themselves in a unique position. At the time of the trade in 2003, San Diego was the worst team in the National League, yet moving into a new stadium the following season, was under pressure to add a marquee name to build anticipation with their fan base. The Pirates waived a very marketable Giles, knowing that the Padres would be able to claim him first, and a pre-arranged trade quickly materialized.
The 2013 Pirates are buyers, not sellers, and have been so successful that their place in the standings renders such a waiver trade nearly impossible. But perhaps fans and writers shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of something special happening. As we now know, the 2013 season has been filled with them. Thanks for reading.