Every year, major sports media outlets make a huge deal out of the MLB trading deadline. But is the coverage of the deadline overblown? Once July 31st passes, teams officially are no longer allowed to make formal trades with other clubs; however, every front office is well aware of the month of August, also known as Waiver Wire month. We are more than half way through the waiver wire period, and have already seen some high-profile names added to the list, including the always vocal Gary Sheffield.
If you play fantasy games, then there is an easy way for you to understand the waiver wire. It is basically the same as listing your players on the trading block. A team may determine if other clubs are interested in its players that it puts on the wire, but is not committed to giving up the rights to said players if, in fact, other teams want to claim them. In this type of system, with absolutely no negative consequences of putting players on the waiver wire (other than potentially upsetting said players, because they may feel the team is not committed to them), teams often put many players on the wire. The maximum number of players that any one team can place on waivers at one time is seven.
Once a player is placed on waivers, there is a forty-eight hour window for other organizations to express interest in acquiring said player. If the player is not claimed off of waivers, then he has cleared waivers, and the team can do anything it likes, including moving him to the minors, releasing him or trading him. If another team is interested in claiming said player, the original team can either pull him off waivers (making him stay with the team that originally placed him on waivers), trade him to the interested team (trade waivers), or just allow the interested team to pick him up without anything in exchange (outright waivers). The original team may only use its right to pull the player off of waivers once and once pulled off, the player cannot be traded for at least another month.
If more than one team is interested in claiming the player off waivers and the original team has no intention of pulling him off, then the team with the worst record in the same league as the original team will have priority. Example: The Marlins put Hanley Ramirez on waivers. The Mets are interested and so are the Mariners. Even though the Mariners have a worse record, the Mets would have priority in signing Hanley due to the fact that they are in the NL, like the Marlins, and the Mariners are in the AL.
If two teams in the same league are interested in the player, he will go to the team with the worse record. Additionally, if multiple teams wish to claim a player off of waivers in the first month of the season, the team with the worst record will be determined based on the previous year’s win-loss record.
The actual waiver wire was originally in the form of a bulletin, sent to the front office of every organization daily. With today’s technology, this bulletin has been changed to an email that is sent to each club at the same time, daily. Only a few people in each organization are privy to the daily emails. Lynn Henning of The Detroit News believes that the wire is a top-secret computer file controlled by MLB and accessible only by way of passwords and codes available to a tight circle of general managers and front-office assistants, but from my research, this does not seem to be the case. Anyway, the purpose of limited access is to protect the confidentiality of those who are listed on the waiver wire. So much for keeping the confidentiality of Gary Sheffield’s placement on the wire.