1,800 words on a trade that will never happen.
The fury of the trade deadline has come and gone, but it wasn’t really a deadline at all. It’s a lot more difficult to make trades in August than in July, and a lot less constructive in September than in August, but there’s never a time when trading activity is fully shut down.
The Rangers have made plenty of trades in August. Last year they traded a player to be named later (Pedro Strop) for left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez. The year before: Joaquin Arias for Jeff Francoeur. In the past:
- Ryan Dempster and player to be named Rick Helling to Florida for John Burkett
- Ed Vosberg to Florida for Helling
- Jose Vallejo and Matt Nevarez to Houston for Ivan Rodriguez
- Ruben Sierra, Bobby Witt, and Jeff Russell to Oakland for Jose Canseco
- Steve Buechele to Pittsburgh for Kurt Miller and player to be named Hector Fajardo
- Harold Baines to Oakland for players to be named Scott Chiamparino and Joe Bitker
- Eddie Guardado to Minnesota for Mark Hamburger
- Players to be named Wilson Heredia and Scott Podsednik to Florida for Witt
- Adrian Myers to Seattle for Jeff Fassero
Cliff Lee was reportedly placed on revocable Major League waivers on Wednesday, which means his name could very well trend this afternoon on Twitter. The great likelihood is that there’s no story here at all, but social media being what it is, there have been thousands of tweets and column inches devoted to the Phillies’ routine maneuver, and I’m about to toss in my own two cents.
First, briefly, here are the basic rules.
After July 31, any player on a 40-man roster must first clear revocable waivers in order to be traded. Almost all players in baseball are run through this type of waivers in August (though I believe there’s a limit of seven per day per team, unless that was changed in the new CBA). The waiver period on any given player lasts 47 hours, from 2:00 ET on the business day he hits the wire until 1:00 ET two business days later.
In Lee’s case, that means the waiver closed a few minutes ago.
If a player placed on Major League waivers in August clears, he can be traded without limitation.
If he’s claimed within that 47-hour period, his current club has a few choices with regard to the player and the team making the prevailing claim (if he’s claimed by more than one team, the prevailing claim is determined by ordering them as follows: priority goes to teams in the same league as the player, headed by the team having the worst record as of the morning of the day that the waiver period on that player closes; if no team in the same league claimed the player, priority then goes to teams in the other league who claimed him, again in the order of worst record to best).
Once the team with the prevailing claim is identified, the player’s current club can:
- Work out a trade with that other team – within 48½ business-day hours of the closing of the waiver period (so by 1:30 ET on the day in question). If no trade is completed, the window shuts and neither the claiming team nor any other may trade for the player during the season.
- Stick the other team with the player by simply conveying the player’s contract – which the other team doesn’t have the right to decline. Randy Myers (1998, Blue Jays to Padres) and Alex Rios (2009, Blue Jays to White Sox) are two examples of this very rare result.
- Revoke waivers and pull the player back (a second run through revocable waivers is not permitted – waivers would be irrevocable in that case). This is what happens more than 90 percent of the time, and before the Twitter age we almost never heard about it.
Just about every player will go through this purportedly confidential process this month. Even players with full or partial no-trade clauses, including those with 10/5 rights, can be run through waivers. If the prevailing claim is made by a club to which the player cannot be traded contractually (or by virtue of 10/5), he can be traded only if the player waives his veto rights and consents to the trade.
That means a team on a player’s no-trade list (which is every team if it’s a full no-trade or 10/5 situation) can “block” by putting in a claim, with the only risk being that it makes the prevailing claim and the player’s existing club decides to stick that team with the player and the player agrees to waive his veto rights and consents to join the new team and the new team didn’t want him in the first place.
All the same rules apply starting September 1, but with one added restriction: An acquired player cannot appear on a post-season roster.
But we’re talking about August, and specifically about Lee.
If the rules haven’t changed, the waiver period on Lee will have closed minutes ago, at 1:00 ET (noon here). If no team claimed Lee, who has a $95-110 million obligation remaining on his contract, Philadelphia can trade him to anyone. If at least one team placed a claim, the prevailing claim will have been identified, and the Phillies would have until 1:30 ET (12:30 p.m. here) on Tuesday to complete a trade (with players and any cash subsidy to be negotiated), or wash their hands of Lee and convey his contract to that other team, or revoke waivers, making him a Phillie the rest of the year.
But even if he has cleared today, giving Philadelphia 29 teams and the entire month to consider while entertaining the idea of trading him, there’s another important hurdle.
Let’s say that Texas makes a claim, and that none of the 15 National League teams or the 12 or 13 American League teams with lesser records (I’m not sure how priority is determined between Texas and New York) make a claim, and that as a result the Phillies and Rangers have until Tuesday afternoon to talk trade.
Set aside for the moment that the one team that many are reporting as a legitimate candidate to submit a claim is the Dodgers, who were thought to be primed to sign the now-unavailable Cole Hamels in the off-season and who would have priority over Texas in the waiver process on Lee. Assume for now the Rangers made the prevailing claim.
Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman and Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers and Michael Kirkman and Craig Gentry will be off the table unless they were to get through 13 AL clubs and four NL clubs for Philadelphia to place a prevailing claim on them.
Same with Mike Olt.
Martin Perez, Leonys Martin, Justin Grimm, Wilmer Font, Engel Beltre, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez, Miguel De Los Santos, Matt West, and Roman Mendez would also have to get to Philadelphia on waivers, but each of those 40-man roster members – since they are in the minor leagues – could be designated as players to be named later to get around that hurdle. Players to be named must be identified within six months. So it can happen in the off-season. No problem.
Different case with Olt and Scheppers and the others, though – because a player to be named later may not appear in the big leagues between the time of the trade and the time that the player is identified.
So Olt, reportedly a player that the Phillies insisted on if they were going to trade Cole Hamels here, would be off-limits unless he (1) slid all the way to Philadelphia on AL-then-NL waivers (absolutely no chance) or (2) were optioned before Tuesday afternoon and included as a player to be named later, prohibited in the meantime from returning to Arlington.
The purchase of Olt two nights ago, then, basically takes him off the table as far as any August trade talks are concerned. And that’s completely OK with me. It just changes the landscape for Philadelphia, and changes the talking points if the Phillies and Rangers find out at noon today that they have Lee to talk about.
Could Perez, Martin, Grimm, Font, and the others on the roster be traded? Sure, but none would get all the way to the Phillies on waivers, and if included as players to be named later they’d be prohibited from joining the Rangers the rest of the year. Would Texas accept not being able to bring Martin back to the bench in September, when an extra baserunner or defensive replacement on the expanded roster could be useful? Take Perez and Grimm out of the equation the rest of the year? I suppose if it were the only thing standing between adding Cliff Lee and not, the club would get over it.
Most expect Lee to clear waivers today. The contract is just too big for teams to risk being forced by Philadelphia to absorb it. In that case, the Phillies will be able to discuss a trade with all 29 teams.
But Lee can block trades to 21 of them.
And even the other eight, which reportedly includes Texas, would have difficulty getting a trade done, not only because Philadelphia has apparently shown almost no interest in kicking in at least $7-8 million per year (ESPN’s Buster Olney said the Phillies refused to eat any of the money in July and were nonetheless demanding blue-chip prospects) but also because any player going the other way would have to get to the Phillies through waivers if on the 40-man roster, and kept in the minor leagues all season if included as a player to be named later.
Would a package of non-roster players – a universe that includes the untouchable Jurickson Profar, Cody Buckel, Rougned Odor, Jorge Alfaro, Luis Sardinas, Jairo Beras, Ronald Guzman, Nomar Mazara, Luke Jackson, Jordan Akins, Barret Loux, Victor Payano, Drew Robinson, and plenty others (this year’s draft class is ineligible, even as players to be named later) – be enough to get a deal done, assuming the bigger question of the cash subsidy got worked out?
I would guess so, in a vacuum. Especially if someone like Perez or Martin were included as a player to be named later.
But then there’s the money. Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) writes this morning that Lee for Olt and Buckel is a trade that “should have happened [in July] but didn’t.” But there’s no mention in his analysis of the cash that the Phillies would have had to put into the deal to make it palatable for Texas, and the cash remains the much bigger issue than any prospects involved, and perhaps the biggest reason that the idea of Cliff Lee being traded before this season ends is such a longshot.
The part about which team or teams Philadelphia is permitted to have that conversation with should now be defined, as of the last few minutes.