This year’s MLB trade deadline came and went with few surprising deals. Apart from a couple middle-of-the-rotation arms and some notable role players, the days leading up to July 31 provided us with little trade excitement.
While there were some quality players available prior to the trade deadline, the market wasn’t headlined by any marquee players. As a result, rumors fizzled and players like Hunter Pence, Alex Rios and Michael Young remained with their respective teams.
None of those players are likely to find new homes before the season ends—though it’s not an impossibility.
The rules for the MLB waiver process are somewhat contrived, but the bottom line is this: If a team is desperate to deal a player after the trade deadline, it can still happen.
The process begins with a player being placed on waivers. For the sake of an example, let’s say that player is Rios.
The White Sox could place the outfielder on waivers in the hopes that an interested team would claim him, thereby giving Chicago an opportunity to negotiate a trade in the 48 hours following the initial two-day period for a player to be claimed.
In many scenarios, two teams will have already agreed on a deal and set the process in motion, but there’s no guarantee that player will make it to that particular suitor.
As quoted by Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated, former Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P Ricciardi compared the waiver process to bidding on a car via email:
It's a silent, non-physical auction. Think about this—if you're going to auction a car off but have to put in your bid through email. It's the same with the waivers. You put your claim in, and then you'll know at the end of that 48-hour period if you got them.
Every team has an opportunity to put in a claim for any player put on waivers. It’s not exactly a free-for-all, as order of preference is determined by current records, but no team is without the option of putting in a claim.
In keeping with the Rios example, let’s say the Pittsburgh Pirates are still interested in acquiring him, as CSN Chicago's David Kaplan reported was a possibility prior to the July 31 trade deadline.
The White Sox could place Rios on waivers in the hopes that no other team claims him ahead of the Pirates, thereby giving the two teams a short window to negotiate a trade. Chicago would hold most of the cards, though, as it would have the option of pulling Rios off waivers before the 48-hour period ends and Pittsburgh essentially gets him for free.
Deals like that are common at this point in the season, especially for teams hoping to get something in return for desirable players who have enough value to warrant return packages, as would be the case with Rios.
Rios is a good example, given the fact that Chicago acquired him from the Blue Jays in 2009 via the waiver process. With a sizable salary and underwhelming production, Toronto was hoping to either get something in return for the outfielder or cut ties with his salary altogether.
That last part is one of the biggest reasons for post-deadline trades.
Many teams use the trade deadline as an opportunity to dump big contracts on teams desperate for additional talent in pursuit of postseason berths. In a waiver acquisition, the team making the acquisition is responsible for paying the player's remaining salary.
Waiver transactions are especially prevalent at this point in the season with the trade deadline having already passed. Any player claimed before August 31 can be added to a team’s postseason roster, meaning the month of August has the potential to still provide some fireworks we didn’t see in July.