How Waivers Work – Phillies Nation

How Waivers Work

The trade deadline has come and gone but trades can still be made. Perhaps the trade deadline itself should be named differently to assuage the notion that teams can no longer make deals after it passes. All that has realistically changed is the ability to unilaterally make moves. Teams cannot deal directly with one another the way they could before July 31, as players must first pass through the waiver wire before a trade can materialize.

Waivers can be confusing given the rules and different types, but don’t mistake the various forms with how the actual waiver wire works from here on out. The concept itself is fairly simple, and while none of us will ever be 100 percent versed in the minutia, hopefully this here primer can shed some light on how teams will make moves over the rest of the season.

Broadly, the waiver wire comes into play after the deadline for two reasons:

1. To improve parity by giving poorer teams first dibs to improve
2. To ensure teams cannot unload players via some secret pact to help another

The second reason occurs in fantasy sports as well, where a last place team might trade some of its best players to a fringe contender in order to aid that owner’s chances of winning. Of course, real baseball is played on a much larger scale, but the idea remains the same. As for parity, well, it makes sense if a league-wide goal is to improve competition.

OB-LI413_121410_DV_20101214085502Most players are made available via the waiver wire even if the team has no intention of trading them. Sometimes teams do this to try and mask a player they want to move by surrounding him with plenty of other names from their roster. Other times, a team will gauge interest in an all-star caliber player to get a sense of what teams might be willing to offer if he were seriously available. There is no risk in placing someone on waivers because these are revocable, meaning the team can revoke a claim and pull the player back if they want to keep him on their roster. For instance, Cliff Lee was placed on waivers, and a big deal was made over nothing. Him, and guys like him, are always placed on waivers. Even if someone claims him, the Phillies will likely just pull him back, no harm done.

Teams can place up to seven players per day on waivers, after which they remain on the wire for two business days. When claims are put in — it is a computer network of sorts where teams merely have to click a button to claim someone — the worst teams have first dibs, but preferential treatment is given to teams in the same league as the player being claimed.

If Ty Wigginton was placed on waivers, and the Yankees claimed him, they wouldn’t get to work out a deal or absorb his contract unless he passed through all other National League teams.

If a player isn’t claimed by any team in either league, then he is free to be traded to anyone through the end of the World Series. In that sense, think of non-claimed players the way you would think of any trade that occurs prior to the deadline.

He can be dealt anywhere because the purpose of the waiver wire was to give every team a fair shot at acquiring him, and nobody acted accordingly.

If a player placed on waivers is claimed by only one team, then there are three options. The most common is that the employing team will exercise their revocable rights and pull him off the wire. Another option is to simply let the other team absorb the player and his contract. (While the original team placing the player on waivers can pull him back when another team issues a claim, the revocable rights do not extend to the claiming team.)

In other words, if the Phillies place Joe Blanton on waivers and the Orioles claim him, the Phillies can decide to just let the Orioles absorb him and become liable for the entirety of his contract. The Blue Jays did this with Alexis Rios, where the White Sox put in a claim, and instead of working out a trade they just let him and his contract go directly.

The third option is then to work out a trade with the claiming team. If a team wants to trade a player as opposed to just letting him and his contract go to another team, they can threaten to pull him back off of waivers unless the claiming team agrees to make a traditional trade. This is literally the same as making a trade before the deadline, with the caveat that the deal can only be made with the claiming team. Otherwise, it’s the same type of deal where prospects or major leaguers are dealt for one another (as long as they have cleared waivers), with teams perhaps kicking in money to sweeten the deal, and no-trade clauses being just as relevant.

Teams can only pull their players off of waivers once without sacrificing the revocable rights. If Wigginton hits the wire, the Yanks submit a claim, and the Phillies pull him back, then if he is placed on the wire later in the month he is no longer protected under the pull-back rules.

When multiple teams claim a player, the same three options exist, but the worst team in the same league gets acquisitional priority. It doesn’t work where the original team can choose among those submitting a claim. Further, claiming teams have no idea who else has submitted a claim until after the fact. The Phillies might put in a claim for a player they have interest in, even though other teams higher up on the priority list have done so as well. Had the Phils known that the Diamondbacks were also putting in a claim they might not have issued their own, but the nature of the wire doesn’t avail itself to this information.

The next logical topic is why teams would submit claims, for which there are two answers: to acquire a player in whom they have legitimate interest, or to block a rival from bringing in a player that would help their cause. Examples of the former would be when the Phils acquired Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre over the last three years. Both were placed on waivers and fell to the Phillies in the claiming process.

An example of the latter is Cody Ross during the 2010 season. The Giants and Padres were neck and neck in the NL West, and the first-place Padres had interest in the then Marlins outfielder. The Giants, who had a higher rung on the priority chain, put in a claim of their own primarily to prevent the Padres from acquiring him. Sure, they may have had cursory interest, but they already had about 32 outfielders on the roster, so the move clearly had blocking implications. Ironically, the Giants probably don’t win the World Series without claiming Ross that year.

Blocking can also come back to bite a team, as was the case when the Yankees claimed Jose Canseco in 2000, and when the Padres claimed Randy Myers earlier in the 90s. In both situations, the claiming teams were attempting to block a rival, but ended up absorbing hefty contracts since they couldn’t undo their claim.

These are trade waivers, which are revocable.

Other waivers are irrevocable, such as when a team decides to release a player, or when it tries to move one off of its 40-man roster. In these cases, if a claim is submitted, the original team cannot pull its players back. The players become the property of the claiming team. In order to release a player, he must first pass through these irrevocable waivers. Generally, teams don’t claim these players, because once released the original team is liable for all but the minimum of the player’s salary. Then again, claiming a player on release waivers can ensure the interested team brings the player in, so there is risk all around.

Optional waivers are different than trade or release waivers because they are revocable and can be used as a circumventory process to the 40-man roster. The Phillies have done this twice over the last few years with Scott Mathieson. By designating Mathieson for assignment, the Phillies were able to remove him from the 40-man roster while having ten days to decide whether to trade him, demote him, or release him. But since he had options remaining, he had to first pass through optional waivers, which are revocable.

According to a front office source of mine, there is an unwritten agreement among teams not to claim players placed on optional waivers, so there is no risk of a claim being put in. This results in basically a ten-day loophole where a spot on the 40-man roster is opened up and there is no risk at all in losing the player, even if he is designated for assignment.

For the purposes of what to focus on right now, though, the trade waivers are more important. The Phillies can still make moves even though the non-waiver trade deadline has passed. But just because someone is placed on waivers doesn’t mean he is going to get traded. It’s standard protocol to place most of the roster on waivers, as without doing so there is a 100% guarantee they can’t get traded. Since there is such little risk in placing players on revocable waivers, even the star players staying put are placed on them.

It’s easy to see why Lee’s getting placed on waivers was a “story” but it really isn’t one aside from interesting hypotheticals. He is one of several high-priced superstars who will get placed on waivers and pass right on through. And, like the others, it’s doubtful he gets moved even after passing through.

Click to comment


  1. George

    August 3, 2012 at 8:18 am

    I hope people read and understand this well-done article. Waivers have confused many fans, who many times seem to think that a player is automatically gone when he’s placed on the wire.

  2. paul schlimme

    August 3, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Great piece thanks. Who else did the Phils put on waivers?

  3. TheDipsy

    August 3, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I would be very interested to see what happens when and if Lee is claimed. Much like what the White Sox did a few years ago when the Jays placed Alex Rios on waivers, a team could claim him and then just drop Lee’s salary right on the claiming team’s head. Rios got claimed and the Jays just said here…take him.

    We can all bitch about how we got here, but if Lee get’s claimed, what would you rather have – Lee or 24m extra dollars a year? Thats a tough decision. I think the right decision is to let him go. But it would be incredibly unpopular thing to do. But, then again, being a winning GM is not a popularity contest.

    The Dipsy

    • Moondog

      August 3, 2012 at 8:49 am

      Lee will not be claimed. Every GM in baseball knows what Amaro is doing. The Dodgers GM Colletti is a former Philly sportswriter and even he won’t do it. He did give up something for Shane tough. Let’s see how that works out.

  4. Danee

    August 3, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for this! I just asked someone to help me understand how this process works (after hearing the news about Lee) and could get a complete, logical answer.

  5. Danee

    August 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for this! I just asked someone to help me understand how this process works (after hearing the news about Lee) and could NOT get a complete, logical answer.

  6. mr.bill

    August 3, 2012 at 9:17 am

    did we get thad iguchi off waivers or was that before the deadline?

  7. Joecatz

    August 3, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Great piece. One thing to add that isn’t being mentioned anywhere. If a team claims a player and that claiming team is on the players NO TRADE list,
    Even if the team wants to let the Player go, it can’t happen without the player waiving his no trade clause.

    So in cliffs case, if a team like the Oakland As claimed him, if they’re on his 21 team list, even if raj said you can have him, cliff would have to like the idea of spending the next 4 years in oakland as a moving target.

    So all the “he’s gonna clear talk” is speculation. It’s actually fairly likely that a team that knows he’d veto a move to them will put in a claim just to block the possibility of someone else getting him.

  8. "Big Ed" Delahanty

    August 3, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Well-written and insightful. It cleared up the many questions I had. Thank you!

  9. Mike B

    August 3, 2012 at 10:11 am

    You said:

    “This is literally the same as making a trade before the deadline, with the caveat that the deal can only be made with the claiming team. Otherwise, it’s the same type of deal where prospects or major leaguers are dealt for one another[.]”

    But isn’t it the case that the “claiming” team can trade a 40-man player only if that player has also passed through waivers? In other words, the Phillies couldn’t trade, say, Utley (who in this hypo has not passed through waivers) for a guy on whom they made a claim, right?

    • Eric Seidman

      August 3, 2012 at 10:22 am

      Yeah, I thought that was implied, If not I’ll add a line,

  10. Jeff

    August 3, 2012 at 10:38 am

    If someone claims him. Let him go. The money we are paying this man he is not worth. Then we can build this team up. A couple good pitchers and fill the holes. Wish there was a way to shed Howard. That is the biggest waste contract in baseball history. He is terrible even before the injury. Not a clutch performer for the money. Maybe eat Ultey’s salray too and release him. Another man that has to go.

    • Alex

      August 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      I don’t even think you can compare Utley to Howard right now… contract or play wise. While I don’t agree or understand Utley missing the first half of the year, he atleast looks like he belongs at the bat and in the field, which is more than you can say for Howard. Plus, his contract is up at the end of next year, whereas Howard’s is another 20 years or so.

      • betasigmadeltashag

        August 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm

        you guys crack me up Howard has been back for what 3 weeks? From an injury that pretty much had him sitting with limited or zero ability to work out for 4-6 months, then he had an infection which I am sure was his fault too,which took him off his feet for another 3-6 weeks. And he is not hitting that great,”he is not Clutch?” Do you really smoke so much that your short term memory last 3 days? This Guy carried this team in clutch situations for 3-4 years, August and September of 07, 08, 09, Playoff hits. Man you are the type that give the City a bad name for fans. Almost to a man profesionals say that that type of injury take at least a year to be 100%. This team was not that much different that last years team in the first half expcept for Howard, (I know the bull pen did carry this team to a lot of wins last year in the first half and stunk up the joint this year) And look at where they are. Talking about signing Ryan to extension that early then saying they should have signed Cole to a long term extension 2 years ago in crazy. If Howard doesn’t get hurt in both of the last two seasons that would have been a great signing. If you signed Cole that long ago and he pitched like it was 2009 for three years you would be bashing signing him. Hindsight is great by GM do not have the Luxary to use it. Let this team have a post season off, shelf Utley early, so to get a full season out of him, and let Ryan finish rehabing his legs. Find a decent 3rd basemen and this team will be fine.

  11. Chuck A.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I wasn’t a big fan of re-signing him in the first place but now that we have Lee I think we really need him to help shore up this rotation (Who knows just what’s up with Halladay and where he’s headed???) I think Cliff will be fine and bounce back from such a poor beginning to the season.

    If you’re gonna get rid of him then this isn’t the way to do it. The ONLY way I’d get him off the roster is via trade and that will be tough. There just aren’t enough teams out there that want to take on his salary. Texas might be the one team that could really do it…who knows…

  12. Jeff Dowder

    August 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    First level tickets are available for tonight’s game on StubHub for under $10. Terrace level seats available for $1.

  13. Andrew from Waldorf

    August 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    You put Lee Howard Utley and Rollins on waivers.

    Anyone claims them you throw a party like its 1999.

    But no one will so its moot.


    I am going to the Meadowlands tonight and tomorrow maybe ill stop by on the way.

  14. Manny

    August 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    If someone claims Blanton, do you let him go without getting anything in return? I’m torn about it.

  15. Double Trouble Del

    August 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    RAJ had a plan for 2011-win another at all costs- ie. Cliff Lee signing. Of course we had 102 wins but a NLDS meltdown- none more frustrating than Cliff Lee’s squandering a 4-0 lead. I thought RAJ had a plan for 2012- acquiring everyday players who had an intelligent approach at the plate to bolster our formidable starting pitching. Somewhere along the line this fell to the wayside. The rest is history. We acquired Thome, Wiggington, held onto Martinez (a complete JOKE). Howard was hurt. Utley and Amaro either were ignorant about the former’s injured knees or lied to themselves and each other, likewise with Polanco. What is left is a train wreck. No waiver wire deals will cure the Phillies’ ailments, not until Howard and Utley are off the books. By that time it’ll be just like 2000 with Hamels, like Schilling, screaming for a trade.

    • schmenkman

      August 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      First, winning at all costs is not a plan, given what a crapshoot the playoffs are.

      Also, frustrating and disappointing as the NLDS was, it went the full five games and they lost that 5th and deciding game by 1 run. Hardly a “meltdown”.

      • Chuck A.

        August 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm

        Agreed. They could just as easliy won that game instead of lost. Cliff blowing the 4-0 led in the earlier game certainly didn’t help and contributed to the series loss but it wasn’t the only thing.

  16. PSUjoe

    August 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Lee, Franco and cash considerations for Olt.

    • schmenkman

      August 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      And if Olt turns out to be Mike Costanzo by a different name?

      • psujoe

        August 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm

        Olt is major league ready right now, but blocked by Beltre. That’s why the Rangers are letting him play some OF. He’s consistantly aroun .395 OBP. 28 dingers this year in 354 ABs. Prospects are always a gamble, but he’s a top 25 prospect. Phils will have to provide some cash $5 millin per year or so whichI don’t think the Phils would do, but I would.

      • EricL

        August 3, 2012 at 4:52 pm

        Joe, Olt was ranked 43rd in the nation by Baseball America this season. John Sickels had him at #65.

        So, no, he’s not a “top 25” prospect.

    • Jeff Dowder

      August 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      I don’t think Costanza was ever ranked among baseball’s top 50 prospects by Baseball America. It doesn’t matter though, even the Rangers want no part of a 34 year old pitcher with $100 million left on his deal.

  17. Chuck A.

    August 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Blanton just traded to the Dodgers. as per MLBTR

    • psujoe

      August 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm

      Cliff Lee got claimed too, not sure by who.

    • psujoe

      August 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      go a PTBNL or cash considerations just like in the Vic deal. I’d love to see the plyer list in both trades.


    August 3, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Kiss another bad contract, orchestrated by Amaro, goodbye !!!! Good luck Cheeseburger Joe

    • Chuck A.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Actually, when it was done, that contract wasn’t that bad. He was offered about market value for a pitcher of his caliber if I’m not mistaken. And….this season isn’t his fault either. If the Phillies were winnning this wouldn’t even be an issue.

  19. jeff

    August 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I guess mondog your wrong. Lee was claimed. Let him go let him go let him go


    August 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    It was a bad contract. Amaro paid too much.

    • schmenkman

      August 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      It’s not that clear. Based on his results (i.e. ERA), you can say he was overpaid. Based on his underlying stats — the things that he had more control over — walks, Ks, and even HRs, his stats translate to about $18 million on the open market, and he was paid $20 million for the 2 2/3 years of his contract.

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