The July 31 trade deadline has long since passed, yet several trades were completed in the first week of August. If there was a deadline, why are teams still making trades a week later?
For example, on August 7, the Cleveland Indians traded Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to the Atlanta Braves for Chris Johnson. The next day, the Houston Astros announced they had acquired pitcher Oliver Perez from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league pitcher Junior Garcia.
What rule allows this to happen? Why can MLB teams still make trades after the deadline?
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The technical term for these transactions is a waiver trade. Waivers can be a complicated process, and, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark in a 2004 story, “Trying to make sense of baseball’s waiver system can be hazardous to your mental health.” (Know your waiver rules.) If you are a big league general manager, you need to know the details of waivers, but for fans, it isn’t necessary to learn the rules in order to understand how trades are completed after the deadline.
Major League teams use waivers for several things. Simply put, waivers are used prior to releasing players, moving some players to the minor leagues, or to make trades after the no restriction trade deadline (usually July 31 at 4 p.m. Eastern Time).
To waive a player, the team contacts the league office, notifying them of the move; the player’s name is added to the list, which is available to all other teams. Another team can then claim the player with little or no compensation to the waiving team (depending on the situation). If the team doesn’t really want to lose the player, they can remove him from the list. If no team makes a waiver claim, the player can then be traded (or released, sent to the minors under certain restrictions, or stay with the original team).
“Trying to make sense of baseball’s waiver system can be hazardous to your mental health.” – Jayson Stark.
A waiver trade is not an automatic process. The list is public knowledge, and all Major League teams likely pay close attention to it in case a player they think they can use appears on the list. A waiver trade is obviously more difficult than swaps made before the trade deadline. Just because two GM’s want to make a waiver deal, that doesn’t mean other GM’s will let them do it.
A GM might claim a player on waivers in order to attempt to block a suspected deal. In such a situation, the waiving team will likely withdraw the player from the list, but sometimes they don’t. GM’s know that if they claim a player, and the waiving team does not withdraw him from the list, the claiming team will be stuck with the player and his full salary. A GM attempting to block a suspected deal could have the whole thing backfire on him if he ends up with a player he didn’t really want (and a salary he didn’t want to pay).
Although waivers are more complicated than that, the concept of the waiver trade is simple. Two GM’s agree on a trade, they place the affected players on the league waiver list and hope no one claims them. Once the players clear, (i.e. no other teams claim one or more of them) the trade is made.
Obviously, none of these complications occur before the (non-waiver) trade deadline, but GM’s that perhaps were not able to complete a deal before July 31, can still accomplish it if they can get the players involved through waivers. Such was the case when the Indians and the Braves made their recent waiver swap.
For those that did not understand how trades are made after the deadline, that should explain the concept of waiver trades to laymen like me, people that don’t need or want to learn all the details of the waiver process.
If you want to know the specifics of waiver rules (unconditional release, irrevocable outright, and revocable Major League), feel free to read Explaining August Trades by Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors, and MLB Transactions Part Three: Waivers and DFA, by Jeff Aberle on SB Nation.