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How Major League Baseball Waivers and Waiver Trades Work

Is it just me, or is the waiver process confusing as hell?  I thought I understood it, I really did.  Then yesterday a friend asked me to explain the process and I realized I had no idea how it really worked.  So I checked out a recent Peter Gammons column, and he didn't explain the process at all.  He just threw around the names of tons of players who "cleared waivers."  Thanks Pete.  I feel like Gammons is getting less coherent and relevant as he gets older.

Infinitely more helpful was "Making Waiver Trades" by former Mets GM Steve Phillips.  I'd link to it, but you need to be a paid ESPN subscriber.  Instead, I'll just summarize the main points and steal a few excerpts.  Most of this is straight from his article.  Here's the deal:

Any player can be put on waivers by his team, and the player does not need to be informed.

Other teams have the chance to make a claim on the player during a 47 hour window.

If the player is claimed, the team that placed him on waivers has the option of pulling him back.  If the team pulls him back they can't trade him for 30 days.

If his team decides not to pull him back:

Option 1:  His team can work out a trade with the team that claimed him.  Any player involved in the trade who is on a 40 man roster must go through waivers first.

Option 2:  His team can just dump him and his salary on the team that claimed him, getting no player in return.

Option 3:  No one claims him, and his team is free to trade him to any team.

If more than one team places a claim on a player, the winning claim is awarded based on worst record or the league the claiming team is in.

And that's basically the gist of it.  Some guys that cleared waivers and are free to be traded, according to Gammons: 

Mike Sweeney
Sammy Sosa
Ken Griffey Jr.
Mike Piazza
Derek Lowe
Tom Glavine

Todd Walker

And here's an excerpt from Gammons's column that makes no sense to me and is not explained adequately:

"Hundreds of other players who never would be traded cleared waivers, such as Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Russ Adams, Aaron Hill, Brandon Webb, Tim Hudson, Andruw and Chipper Jones, Matt Clement, Johnny Damon, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek, David Wells, Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Rickie Weeks, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia and Scott Podsednik. Waivers or no waivers, as Bob Dylan would say, they ain't goin' nowhere."

What??  Why were they placed on waivers?  Huh??  Can the average baseball fan explain why these guys were placed on waivers with no intention of being traded?  There must be some rationale here.  Gammons, I'm calling you out.  That column was nothing but name-dropping.  To the extreme.  We know you like to show us what an insider you are, but telling us that superstars Pedro Martinez and Bobby Abreu cleared waivers and offering no explanation is just poor journalism.  Props to Steve Phillips for writing something useful.


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I agree, that's Gammons and ESPN for you. I can see why a team would put every player on waivers; it doesn't hurt to have every option open. But I don't see how those guys wouldn't get claimed. Then again I believe Gammons is the guy who said the Mets put Kaz Matsui on waivers, had him claimed and then pulled him back. That makes a lot of sense...

Gammons is fun to read for rumors, but I don't take anything he or Stark say seriously anymore.

I think Gammons took his Hall of Fame induction as license to totally give up. I fully expect him to post a column at some point this year which is nothing more than a Red Sox lineup with smiley faces after guys like Manny and Big Papi.

the smiley face column idea made me laugh. glad to see i'm not the only one disappointed in recent gammons.

and also gammons needs to give the music references a rest. the last thing i need is peter gammons telling me how fantastic the new coldplay CD is. then again, i like to recommend music here. oh well.

But Gammons is like 100 years old. I'm surprised he even knows what CDs are.

he probably just heard about CDs from one of this sources on the inside.

I tried to understand the waiver process alst year (with little success - thanks for the explnation). Anyway, I recall hearing that teams put every single player through waivers (1) to disguise any true intentions and (2) to maintain maximum flexibility.

hey man, don't thank me, thank steve phillips. any elaboration on the disguising concept? do the other teams know who's been placed on waivers, or do they just claim blindly?

phillips described it as a "fashion show" where guys who had been put on waivers are put on display. damn, i'm still confused.

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