Major League Baseball is getting rid of August waiver trades and it’s a sad story for team building nerds like myself. Fans love transactions and networks plan accordingly with trade deadline specials on every network covering each major American sport. In baseball, the trade deadline is generally impactful due to the sheer amount of teams that feel compelled to push for a wildcard spot. There were 42 trades made last year prior to the July 31st trade deadline. There were another 24 trades completed in August as well however.
A team like the Milwaukee Brewers who were very active in the year’s 8th month in 2018 will have to change their strategy of in-season player procurement in 2019. The “waiver deadline” is a confusing time for many fans and observers but it adds intrigue during a potential dead period of the season for many clubs. Most teams cycle players through revocable trade waivers in August. If a player is claimed by another team, multiple options come into play.
If a player is claimed on waivers, the placing team can let the claiming club have the player, work out a trade with the team that put the claim in or just pull back the player and end the process. Once this occurs for a potential player, they cannot be placed on revocable trade waivers again during said season. If a player placed on revocable trade waivers clears the entire league without a claim being made, that player can then be traded to any of the other 29 clubs. The stipulations are that they can only be traded for financial relief, different players that have also cleared waivers or prospects not currently on a team’s 40-man roster.
One of the biggest trades in 2017 took place on August 31st when the Houston Astros acquired RHP Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers. Verlander was owed a substantial amount of money and he cleared waivers because of it. Houston traded three of their top 15 prospects and took on money in order to obtain the frontline starter. It paid off for the Astros as they won the World Series in that season. Deals like this will not be possible under the current rule changes put in place by MLB.
In a column for The Athletic, baseball insider Ken Rosenthal broke down the details and the rationale for the new rule change. Rosenthal wrote that the rationale for removing the waiver trade period is, “to protect the competitive integrity of the 162-game regular season, create more certainty for players and force teams to decide earlier whether they are buyers or sellers”. The Athletic’s baseball big foot laid out the reasons why this idea could be a productive and proactive one. He also pointed out reasons as to why it could be a large blunder as well and spoke to baseball executives who felt similarly.
Will The Rule Have Unintended Consequences?
One singular trade deadline has many benefits but it can be argued that the date should be pushed back later than July 31st. Contenders playing for two months without the ability to add to rosters is one potential negative. Teams that have decided to go for it during the season would need to rely on depth or minor league pieces to cover for injuries or fatigue down the stretch of a long season. Minor leaguers that aren’t necessarily deemed as ready for the majors could be pressed into action sooner than was originally anticipated.
Clubs might need to keep a reserve of AAAA types in the upper minors to offer quick solutions in problem solving throughout a given season. This rule change could also be a big mistake in the sense that it forces teams to act on buying or selling more promptly. Organizations that are on the fence in regards to a decision will likely be more inclined to sell off pieces than add to the stable in late July. It could actually create an environment that turns haves into have nots rather swiftly. Without the possibility of trade waivers, floundering clubs might be forced to release players in the second half of the season that they would have previously spun off to a contender in past years.
Will It Affect Chicago Baseball?
The removal of the waiver trade period in baseball could have an effect on both sides of town. Last August, the Chicago White Sox made a pair of waiver deals. Left-handed relievers Luis Avilan and Xavier Cedeno were sent to the Phillies and Brewers respectively for some extremely young prospects on the fringes of those organizations. If the same were to happen this season, Rick Hahn would have needed to act more urgently in dealing those players or just release them in August in order to give innings to younger pitchers instead.
The White Sox are not expected to be a contending club this year as they continue to focus on the future of the franchise. There are multiple short-term options on the 2019 version of the club that inhabits Guaranteed Rate Field and the thought process on those players will be impacted by this recent rule change. Jon Jay (OF), Welington Castillo (C), Jose Abreu (1B/DH), Yonder Alonso (1B/DH) and James McCann (C) are all options to be traded in season.
On the pitching side, Ivan Nova (RHP) and Ervin Santana (RHP) are in the same boat. Others like Alex Colome (RHP), Kelvin Herrera (RHP), Nate Jones (RHP), Jace Fry (LHP) and Carlos Rodon (LHP) could be available as well but have years of control with the club remaining. The front office won’t have the luxury of waiting to see if a contender will want one of these rentals in August. They’ll need to act fast and expedite the process in order to move what they deem necessary prior to August 1st.
The Chicago Cubs are in a much different place. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer added southpaw Cole Hamels in addition to multiple relievers during last year’s trading period. They also added 2B Daniel Murphy from the Washington Nationals in late August and that was a move that gave the club a boost to close out the year. The Cubs also added some depth to their bench by acquiring OF Terrance Gore and C Bobby Wilson as well.
The Cubs will need to be proactive in the marketplace and make some decisions in July instead falling back on the month of August to deepen the overall depth of the club. The Cubs are expected to contend for the National League Central title and are smack dab in the middle of their championship window. There’s also a high likelihood that they will need some reinforcements on the pitching side at some point during the season. In order to enhance their bullpen to get through a tough division and league in general, they’ll need to begin trade talks sooner and not rely on the waiver process.
Some Intended Consequences
The rule change will do a better job of creating certainty for players. Most players won’t have to worry about switching cities and uprooting their lives in August or September any longer. Those decisions will be forcefully made much sooner. It’s also irrefutable that the trade deadline will become more captivating. Teams will be forced into action much sooner and the pretenders will have a difficult decision to make.
In some ways, the competitive integrity of the sport will be enhanced. Teams like the Blue Jays won’t be able to trade a player of the caliber of Josh Donaldson to a preferred front office like the Indians in the middle of August any longer. Teams that fall out of the race will no longer be able to take part in a mini fire sale to unload salary that is on the books unnecessarily. Some of these factors are indeed intended consequences.
There will be some years where the unintended consequences outweigh the intended however and it will be interesting to see how all parties respond to the potential challenges. One thing is for certain though, the networks will once again have a compelling trade deadline special that will appeal to a mass audience. And that is appealing to all parties.
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