Today the trade deadline passed, and for the second year in a row the Pirates didn’t make a move. The deadline was a strange one, as the majority of the trades that were made featured Major League talent going for Major League talent, rather than prospects for established players. While the Pirates didn’t make any moves at the deadline, they will look internally for some upgrades. A big misconception in the past is that teams can’t trade after the deadline. Obviously, as Pirates fans saw last August, you can make deals after July 31st.
The big advantage to making deals prior to the July 31st deadline is that there are no restrictions on deals that can be made. Teams can trade with any other team, and for that reason, teams can try to maximize the value of the return for their players on the market by selling to the top bidder. That luxury is removed after the July 31st trade deadline. Teams are limited to making deals based on the waiver system, and the numerous scenarios that make it difficult to deal in August. Before I list some of those scenarios, let me first explain how trades work in the month of August.
August trades are made through revokable waivers. Any player on the 40-man roster can be placed on revokable waivers. If the player clears waivers, he can be traded to any team, without restrictions. If the player is claimed by another team, then his original team has a choice to make:
-They can let the player go to the claiming team, with the new team assuming the remainder of that player’s salary. We’ve seen this in previous years, specifically when the Chicago White Sox claimed Alex Rios from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009, taking on the remaining $60 M of his salary.
-A team can also pull their player back from waivers if he is claimed. The team keeps their player, although they lose the right to place that player on waivers again. If a player has previously been pulled off of revokable waivers, and he is placed on waivers again, the team has no choice but to give him up to any claiming team.
-The original team can also work out a trade with the claiming team, which is something that happens frequently. This is how the Pirates got Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Justin Morneau last year.
Note: Players who are not on the 40-man roster don’t have to be passed through waivers. Also, players who are on the 40-man roster, but in the minor leagues at the time of a deal, can be traded as a PTBNL. They just can’t be called up to the majors by the trading team after the deal is made, and they can only be dealt after the season, when the waiver process expires.
The claim priority is based on league, and the current standings. Using the Pirates as an example:
-They currently have the 9th priority in the National League.
-Any player waived by a National League team would have to pass through the 8 teams ahead of the Pirates.
-Any player waived by an American League team would have to pass through every AL team, and the 8 NL teams ahead of the Pirates.
The Pirates are in the middle of the pack in the NL, which from a waiver claim perspective is much better than where they were last year after the deadline.
You’ll hear a lot of rumors about players being placed on waivers. Pretty much every player in the majors will be placed on waivers this month, with almost all of them being drawn back. There are some players who have cleared waivers already this season, which was the case with Jose Tabata before he was outrighted to Triple-A. Some teams place their entire 40-man roster on waivers, to try and disguise who they’re actually looking to pass through waivers. Some teams are looking to place players with big contracts on waivers, just hoping that another team will be willing to assume the salary. Just because a player is on waivers doesn’t necessarily mean the player is being shopped. And just because a player is claimed, doesn’t mean he will be traded.
Sometimes you hear about teams blocking other teams from making moves. For example, say the Pirates are looking for a bullpen arm. The Reds, with the higher priority, could claim every bullpen option that passes through waivers, essentially blocking the Pirates from making any upgrades. The risk taken here is that there’s no guarantee that the Reds don’t get stuck with a ton of unwanted relievers. The higher priority can serve as an advantage if two teams are looking to upgrade the same position. For example, if St. Louis and Pittsburgh are both looking for bullpen help, the Pirates will have the priority as long as they are behind the Cardinals in the standings. The irony with all of this is that the Reds would have had a perfect chance to block the Pirates from getting Marlon Byrd last year, and instead they let him slip through waivers to the Pirates, who needed a right fielder.
The value of trades goes down in August, mostly because teams don’t have much negotiating power. They can only make a deal with one team, and they are limited with what they can receive in return, as they can only trade for players who reach them on waivers, or who aren’t on a 40-man roster.
To give you a better idea of how the process works, here are a few examples of the various types of trades that can be made:
A Player on the 40-Man for a Player on the 40-Man
In any trade where teams are trying to swap two (or more) players on the 40-man roster, those teams have to make sure that the players reach their destination. If the Pirates and the Marlins decide to make a swap of Player A and Player B, the Pirates have to hope that Player A passes through to Miami, while the Marlins have to hope that Player B passes through to Pittsburgh. All it takes is for one player to get blocked to prevent a deal from happening. Normally there is a gentleman’s agreement in place, although there can be some blocked deals. That’s especially true if you have a situation like I mentioned above, where two division rivals have the same need.
Example: When the Pirates traded Brian Giles in 2003 to the San Diego Padres, they received Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, who were both on the 40-man roster for San Diego. Getting Giles to the Padres wasn’t hard, as they had the number one waiver claim. However, Bay and Perez had to pass through three other NL teams before they could go to the Pirates.
A Player on the 40-Man for Prospects
Once a team claims a player, they can try to trade as many prospects as needed to get the other team to release that player, provided the prospects aren’t on the 40-man roster.
Example: Pretty much 90% of the deals that go through.
So there you have it! The July 31st trade deadline has passed, but teams still have until August 31st to make a trade. They can actually trade beyond August 31st under the same waiver rules, but only players acquired prior to September 1st can join the playoff roster, making September trades rare.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.