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MLB reportedly will eliminate August waiver trades in 2019

The Phillies acquired Jose Bautista last August as they attempted to reach the postseason. (Ian D’Andrea)

On Aug. 30, 2008, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Pat Gillick made a seemingly innocent waiver trade, which turned out to be one of the most impactful deals in franchise history. Gillick, who would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011, traded Fabio Castro to the Toronto Blue Jays for 40-year-old Matt Stairs. All Stairs would do is hit a go-ahead pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, which helped to give the Phillies a commanding 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies ultimately won the 2008 World Series, cementing Stairs’ legacy as a folk hero in Philadelphia.

Such a trade may not be possible in 2019 if Matt Klentak is looking to upgrade the Phillies roster ahead of a potential playoff run.

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, baseball plans to immediately eliminate their August 31 waiver trade deadline. July 31 will remain the non-waiver trade deadline, where teams are free to trade players to any team in the league that they can agree to a trade with. But after that, there won’t be any more trades.

After the non-waiver trade deadline, teams had previously been able to complete waiver trades. This meant that a team could place a player – usually a veteran owed a fair amount of money – on revocable waivers in August. If a player was claimed, the team that currently employed the player would normally pull them back off waivers and negotiate a trade with the team that claimed said player. After a player was claimed, their current team couldn’t work out a trade with any team other than the one who had claimed them. If a player was waived and none of the other 29 teams in the league claimed them, their current employer was free to trade them to any team in the league they could facilitate a deal with, just like in July.

For reference, the Phillies have made quite a few notable August deals over the last decade plus.

In 2008, the Phillies not only acquired Stairs in August, but also left-handed reliever Scott Eyre, who posted a 1.88 ERA in 19 games after being acquired. While Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels were the faces of a team that ultimately won the second World Series title in franchise history, both Eyre and Stairs proved to be vital additions to the club.

Of course, not all August deals work out as well as the Phillies did in 2008. Just a year ago, the Phillies acquired Justin Bour, Jose Bautista and Luis Avilan in August waiver trades. None of the trio were particularly effective after being acquired, and the Phillies ultimately went from leading the National League East on Aug. 1 to finishing in third place, at 80-82.

The Phillies haven’t always been on the receiving end – at least in terms of the most notable player moved – of August waiver deals.

In August of 2015, the Phillies traded arguably the most popular player in franchise history, Chase Utley, to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a waiver deal. It’s not a stretch to say that baseball history would be different without this August trade. Utley was on the injured list at the time of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but showed enough after returning in August for his hometown Dodgers to acquire him. He would ultimately spend three-and-a-half seasons with the Dodgers. His most notable moment with the Dodgers came in October of 2015, when his hard slide into second base fractured the fibula of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada during Game 2 of the NLDS. That prompted the addition of Rule 6.01(j), affectionately (or not-so-affectionately) referred to as the “Utley Rule.”

A year later, long-time Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz would be dealt to the Dodgers in August. During Game 5 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals, Ruiz, used as a pinch-hitter, drove in a run and later scored during a four-run seventh inning. He was behind the plate when future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw came in to close out a 4-3 victory in the bottom of the ninth.

In some senses, eliminating August waiver trades will make the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline more interesting. But the Phillies likely wouldn’t have acquired Stairs in 2008 if Geoff Jenkins hadn’t gone on the injured list with a strained right hip flexor. Jenkins didn’t go on the injured list until Aug. 23, so it isn’t as simple as saying the Phillies could have just acquired Stairs a month earlier. Under the new rules, the Phillies wouldn’t have been able to acquire Stairs when Jenkins went down.

At the same time, there are some interesting pros to the new system beyond making the non-waiver trade deadline more interesting. While Rosenthal noted that teams may add more veteran bench pieces in July now, which could come at the expense of younger players, if a veteran gets injured in August now, teams will be forced to give minor leaguers at-bats, as opposed to acquiring a veteran. Rosenthal also pointed out that teams may be more willing to consider promoting their top prospects in August now if there is an injury or underperformance from an addition, though he acknowledged, and the feeling here is the same, that teams may still opt to keep top prospects in the minors to preserve another year of team control.

For the casual observer of baseball, Rosenthal is correct in saying the eliminating the August waiver trade deadline will make the back-half of the summer easier to understand. A post entitled “How do August trades work?” on MLB Trade Rumors was annually one of the most read sports articles of the summer, because many were caught off guard to find out that teams could still make transactions after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Certainly, this eliminates that confusion. It also eliminates the chance for Justin Verlander to be traded to the Houston Astros on Aug. 31, so there are two sides to the discussion.


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