The Trading Deadline

The Trading Deadline
One week to go!

That is, one week before the Trade Deadline next Saturday, July 31. Right now speculation is rampant on blogs, websites (like Major League Trade Rumors), chat boards, talk radio and of course MLBN, ESPN, etc.

What’s it all mean? Last year for example the leading story was the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, as numerous teams vied for the nonpareil righty’s services. When Toronto couldn’t get the package they wanted, their most ardent suitor, Philadelphia, turned to Cleveland and made a deal to get former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, a move that got the Phillies to the World Series for a second consecutive year. A few weeks ago Cliff Lee, acquired by the Seattle Mariners from the Phillies when they finally did land Halladay last December, traded the sterling lefty to Texas to bolster their post-season push.

Current speculation on the premium arms available, Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros and Dan Haren of the Arizona Diamondbacks is flying thick and fast, with reports that first one team, then another is “in the lead” to acquire the object of their desire. These two will dominate the chatter over the next week, with no guarantee that either will actually be traded (I think Haren will and Oswalt won’t).

The deadline is important because on August 1st teams will no longer be able to trade in unencumbered fashion. They will have to put a player through the process known as waivers. This means a player must be made available to other teams, who can put in a claim. In reality, there are many August deals that happen, and some that don’t when a savvy General Manager can intervene to keep a rival, say, from acquiring a key player.

In revocable waivers a team takes a player off its 40-man roster and puts him on the waiver wire. This is a surreptitious process unknown to the player and (usually) the outside world in general. On the 30 Front Offices (FO’s) are aware of who is on waivers.

Sometimes teams do this with a player they want to trade; sometimes they do it with a player they might trade if there is interest. Let’s say the New York Mets put Carlos Beltran on waivers; first the teams in the NL in reverse order have their chance to claim him (this would start with the Pittsburgh Pirates), ending with the San Diego Padres. If no NL team claims Carlos, then the AL teams in reverse order get their chance, starting with the Baltimore Orioles and ending with the New York Yankees. Teams have two business days from the time a player is waived to put in a claim. If no one claims Carlos, he has cleared waivers and can be traded. If another team claims him then the Mets would have the following options:

1) The Mets and the claiming team (say the Cardinals) can work out a trade. Any player from the Cardinals’ 40-man roster would then also need to clear waivers.
2) The Mets can tell the Cardinals, “He’s all yours” and the Cardinals now assume Carlos’ salary and contract.
3) The Mets can pull Carlos back, in effect saying, “We’re not serious”; they cannot repeat the process with that player again for 30 days.

Now we have what are called irrevocable waivers. This works a little differently. This means a club cannot “pull back” a player and cannot use him as so-called trade bait during the process. This is usually used when a team wants move a player off its 40-man roster for the purpose of giving him his release (in fact any player being released must go through irrevocable waivers).

Not always, though. The Boston Red Sox famously put Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers several times starting in 2003; any prospective claimant would have had to pay a $25,000 waiver fee, and then be fully responsible for Manny’s contract. No one ever claimed Manny, and neither did the Red Sox release him before finally trading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 31, 2008.

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