Not long ago, every August at MLBTR kicked off by reminding longtime MLB fans (or explaining to new fans) how the dizzying rules regarding August trade waivers worked. It was a convoluted process — one that saw nearly every player in the league placed on revocable trade waivers at some point (heavy emphasis on “revocable”) — but one that front offices increasingly used as creative means to pull off significant acquisitions after the supposed “deadline.”
In reality, under the old rules, the first “trade deadline” was never the actual deadline — it just wasn’t as catchy to use the full term, “non-waiver trade deadline.” As time progressed, the month of August increasingly served as a means of swapping out higher-priced talents in waiver trades that were still quite noteworthy. If you’re seeing Justin Verlander, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson and others change hands in late August, just before the deadline for postseason eligibility, then was the non-waiver deadline really a trade “deadline” at all? Not so much.
Back in 2019, Major League Baseball opted to quash the ever-growing process of August roster reconstruction. The league put an end to waiver trades that often served as a means of teams hitting the “eject” button on notable contracts and saw larger-payroll clubs take on those deals simply because they possessed the financial wherewithal to do so. MLB implemented a more concrete “true” trade deadline that prohibited players on Major League contracts — or any who had previously been on Major League contracts earlier in the season (i.e. since-outrighted players) — from being traded after the deadline.
Does that mean teams can no longer acquire new players or address injuries as they arise? No, but their avenues to do so are substantially narrower. Here’s a look at how Major League front offices can still augment their roster now that the “true” trade deadline has passed:
Wait, what? I thought we just–
Yes, we did. But it turns out that the “true” trade deadline is really only the “true” trade deadline for Major League players! Fun how that works, right? In all likelihood, you’ll still see several players change hands this month, they just won’t be very exciting. But, veterans who’ve been playing the entire season on a minor league contract and haven’t at any point been added to the 40-man roster or been on the Major League injured list are still fair game to be traded.
Will you see any huge, blockbuster names flipped? Of course not — but there are still some recognizable names eligible to be traded. The Tigers have Matt Wisler (4.40 ERA, 25.2% strikeout rate, 12.4% walk rate in 47 Triple-A innings) and Johan Camargo (.263/.346/.456) in Triple-A. Matt Adams is hitting .280/.336/.488 with 13 homers against right-handed pitching for the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate. Looking for some outfield defense and speed off the bench? Bradley Zimmer is with the Red Sox’ Triple-A club and hasn’t yet been on a 40-man roster this year. Those veterans — and many others — are eligible to be traded, so long as any player(s) going back the other way have also not been on a 40-man roster or Major League injured list. Of course, it’s common for August deals to be simple cash swaps, as well.
Last August didn’t feature much in the way of trades, though the Giants did acquire Lewis Brinson and quickly give him a big league look. The Phillies picked up right-hander Vinny Nittoli in a trade as well, and he pitched a pair of shutout innings for them in September. A year prior, the slate of trades saw a handful of recognizable names dealt: Delino DeShields (twice!), Brad Peacock, Dustin Garneau, Mallex Smith, John Axford and Andrew Vasquez were all on the move for either marginal prospects or cash.
Just to speculate a bit — and we haven’t really seen this in the past, but it’s technically possible — teams technically can engineer minor league trades, so long as the players involved have not been on the 40-man roster at any point in a given season. It’s doubtful we’ll see any top prospects change hands in this regard, but it’s not expressly forbidden, either.
And, just to rain on your parade, no — teams cannot game the system using players to be named later. The rules pertaining to the “true” trade deadline made sure to include the following language:
“The Commissioner’s Office will prohibit any transaction (or series of transactions) that, in the judgment of the Commissioner’s Office, appears (or appear) designed to circumvent the prohibitions of Rule 9(b).”
Nice try, folks, but don’t get your hopes up.
Just remember, anyone acquired after Aug. 31 isn’t postseason-eligible with his new club, so minor swaps of any relative note will likely take place before the calendar flips to September.
It won’t lead to any exciting trades, but we’ll likely still see some trades this month. You’ll just have to wait until the offseason for the chatter on Dylan Cease, Salvador Perez, Corbin Burnes and others to fire back up in earnest.
2. Outright and Release Waivers
Revocable trade waivers are no longer a thing, but regular old outright waivers and release waivers are alive and well. Any time a player is designated for assignment now, the team’s only recourse will be to place him on outright waivers or release waivers. At that point, the other 29 teams will have the opportunity to claim that player … and the entirety of his remaining contract. Of course, a team doesn’t need to announce a DFA or even announce that a player has been put on waivers. It’s fairly common for a team to just announce that a player cleared waivers and was outrighted to a minor league affiliate without ever publicly declaring a DFA.
An important reminder on waivers now that it’s the primary means of acquiring talent from another organization: waiver priority is determined based on overall record (worst record to best record) and, unlike the now-retired “revocable trade waivers,” is not league-specific. If the A’s want right-hander Joe Barlow, whom the Rangers designated for assignment upon acquiring Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton, they’ll have first dibs. The Royals would be up next, followed by the Rockies, then the White Sox, then the Nationals, Cardinals and Tigers — and so forth.
Teams who didn’t find sufficient interest in veteran players prior to the trade deadline and thus held onto them could eventually place those players on outright waivers in August, hoping another club will claim said player and simply spare the waiving team some cash. This is likelier to happen late in the month — when there’s less cash owed on those veteran contracts. For instance, in 2022, the Giants claimed Jose Quintana from the Angels and the Reds claimed Asdrubal Cabrera from the D-backs. This could also be viewed as a means of granting a veteran player on a non-contender the opportunity to join a postseason race.
As with any minor league trades, players claimed off waivers will only be postseason-eligible with their new club if claimed before 11:59pm ET on Aug. 31.
3. Sign Free Agents
Same as ever. Anyone who gets released or rejects an outright assignment in favor of free agency will be able to sign with a new team and, so long as the deal is wrapped up prior to Sept. 1, they’ll be postseason-eligible with a new team. It’s certainly feasible that a once-productive veteran enjoys a hot streak with a new club or fills a useful part-time role.
No team is going to claim the remaining money on the contracts of Trey Mancini or Kolten Wong, both of whom were designated for assignment yesterday. But once the pair clears waivers and is inevitably released, a club looking for some second base depth could roll the dice on Wong, and a team that believes it can get Mancini back to form might be willing to take a shot on his right-handed bat. It’s a similar story with catcher Manny Pina and utilityman Josh Harrison. Willie Calhoun, who elected free agency earlier today, will probably land somewhere on a minor league deal before too long.
There will also be several veterans on minor league deals who trigger opt-out clauses and reenter the market. Dallas Keuchel, who’s pitched to a 1.13 ERA with a 61% ground-ball rate in 32 Triple-A innings for the Twins, just triggered such a clause in his deal yesterday. Minnesota has 48 hours from the time he exercised that provision to add him to the big league roster, and if not, he’s a free agent. Some other veterans will likely force teams into this same decision throughout the month.
The same postseason eligibility date applies to incoming free agents as well.
4. Scour the Independent Leagues
Roll your eyes all you want, but the Atlantic League, Frontier League and American Association (among other indie circuits) are all teeming with former big leaguers. Need a speedy fourth outfielder who can provide some late-game defense and baserunning during September roster expansion? A platoon bat off the bench? An extra southpaw to stash in the bullpen? There will be experienced names to consider.
Former Guardians top prospect Bobby Bradley has 22 homers and a .923 OPS with the Atlantic League’s Charleston Dirty Birds. Jose Marmolejos and Alex Dickerson have similarly impressive numbers with the Atlantic League’s Spire City Ghost Hounds and Long Island Ducks. Mickey Jannis, who chatted with MLBTR readers earlier this year, has a 3.55 ERA and is still chucking knuckleballs for the High Point Rockers. The Red Sox signed one of his teammates, former big leaguer Kyle Barraclough, earlier this summer.
It’s unlikely anyone finds a true impact player on the indie scene, but then again, people cracked jokes when the 2015 Red Sox signed then-35-year-old Ducks lefty Rich Hill, who’s less than 24 hours removed from being traded to his 13th big league club and is gearing up for a 20th season in the Majors next year. He’s earned nearly $80MM and tossed more than 900 innings in the Majors since joining the Red Sox under similar circumstances to the ones described here.
5. Look to Foreign Leagues
We don’t often see players return from the KBO, NPB or CPBL to sign with big league clubs midseason, but there’s precedent for it happening. There are also quite a few former big leaguers playing down in the Mexican League, creating another area for front offices to scout as they mine for depth options. Interest won’t be limited solely to former big leaguers, either. Last year, the Mariners signed lefty Brennan Bernardino after a strong nine-start run in Mexico, watched him dominate through 12 2/3 innings in Triple-A Tacoma, and selected him to the Major League roster by the end of July. He made his MLB debut with Seattle last July, was claimed off waivers by he Red Sox earlier this year, and has a 2.50 ERA in 36 frames for Boston this season. You never know.