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August 2, 2010
August and Everything After
As Jose Guillen approached the plate for his first at-bat Saturday night, the Kauffman Stadium crowd greeted him with the sort of enthusiasm usually reserved for an unwanted house guest who has announced he is staying for another week. The non-waiver trade deadline had passed just a few hours earlier, and Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore had not found a taker for his cleanup hitter. As Guillen popped out to right, Royals fans unleashed another round of boos.
But Guillen remains a good candidate to be traded. With few teams willing to add payroll, any player with a significant amount of money left on his contract is likely to clear waivers, allowing his club to work out a deal in the last two months of the season.
The trade deadline had been June 15 before 1986, when it was pushed back to give clubs more time to determine if they were buyers or sellers. As we discussed last month in a breakdown of optional waivers, the transaction rules change after 4 p.m. EST on July 31. In order to deal a player in August or September, a club must first place the player on trade assignment waivers. If the player is not claimed within 47 business-day hours, he may be traded to any club. If the player is claimed, his original club has three choices:
If more than one club claims a player, the club with the lower winning percentage has priority. But American League clubs have priority for AL players, and National League clubs have priority for NL players. If a team pulls a player back, it is free to try to run him through trade waivers again. But any subsequent waiver request is irrevocable. A player with a no-trade clause who is claimed must be pulled back if the player’s no-trade clause allows him to block a deal to the claiming club. However, the player may waive the no-trade clause and join the claiming club. Finally, a player acquired after August 31 is not eligible to be placed on the post-season roster with his new club.
By submitting a claim, a club can ensure that a rival does not acquire a difference-maker in August. But by employing that strategy, a team runs the risk of getting stuck with the contract of a player it doesn’t want. Jose Canseco became a Yankee this way in 2000 when GM Brian Cashman claimed him on trade waivers from Tampa Bay. When the Yankees showed no interest in working out a trade for Canseco, the Devil Rays simply let him go to New York, along with the $1 million in salary left on his contract. A year earlier, the Yankees had claimed Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who was in the middle of a massive $64 million contract at the time. After toying with the thought of allowing Thomas and his contract to go to New York, the White Sox pulled him back.
The Padres made an expensive mistake in trying to prevent Atlanta from acquiring Toronto left-hander Randy Myers in August, 1998. The reliever had two more full seasons and $13 million left on his contract. So when San Diego claimed Myers, the Blue Jays gladly let him go. Myers threw just 14
The White Sox took the biggest waiver gamble last August by claiming Toronto’s Alex Rios, who had six years and $61 million left on his deal. The Jays allowed Rios to go to Chicago, and the outfielder struggled in the season’s final two months. But he has rebounded in 2010, posting a triple slash line of .303/.352/.493 for the White Sox.
Despite the risk in making a waiver claim, adding a veteran in August can help a team in need of a boost for the stretch drive. Last season, the Dodgers acquired starting pitchers Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland, second baseman Ronnie Belliard, and pinch-hitter Jim Thome on the way to the NL West title.
A late-season deal can also pay off down the road. Last August, Minnesota traded for reliever Jon Rauch and starter Carl Pavano, who helped the Twins chase down the Tigers in the AL Central. Both pitchers re-signed with the Twins in the offseason and have become key contributors.
Another strategy—available to clubs before or after July 31—is to acquire a player headed for free agency in hopes of receiving draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. Boston went that route last August, acquiring closer Billy Wagner from the Mets. The Red Sox agreed to pay Wagner’s remaining 2009 salary of $2.5 million, as well as a $1 million buyout due on his 2010 option. The payoff for Boston was a 1.98 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 15 innings from Wagner, who qualified as a Type A free agent, entitling the Red Sox to two additional selections in the 2010 draft. With the 2011 amateur draft hyped as the best in years, players who project to deliver draft-pick compensation provide value for clubs looking to upgrade their farm system.
So what names are candidates for a trade this August?