Of all the players traded in Monday's flurry of moves, it was a player who didn't get moved who may have drawn the most headlines. After the 4 p.m. ET deadline passed, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was not on the team's flight to Denver, having "stormed off" from Dodger Stadium and effectively gone AWOL when informed that he would be either traded or sent to the minors if the team acquired an upgrade in rightfield—which it did, in the form of Oakland's Josh Reddick. Rosenthal was soon forced to amend his report and apologize to Puig when Puig's agent explained that the mercurial 25-year-old had complied with the team's instructions to not even come to the ballpark in the first place, given the expectation that he would be changing addresses one way or another. Long story short, it would appear that the Dodgers view Puig as expendable, making him a candidate to be dealt during the August waiver period.
The rules for waiver trades are different than during the non-waiver period (this year's non-waiver deadline was moved to Aug. 1 from its traditional July 31 date so as not to conflict with Sunday's slate of 14 day games.) Between now and 11:59 p.m. ET on Aug. 31, teams can trade players only if they pass through waivers, a situation that allows for deals both big and small. Throughout the majors, teams place the overwhelming majority of their players on revocable waivers at some point as a means of determining the market for future deals. If a player goes unclaimed, he has then cleared waivers and can be dealt to any team. The situation gets tricker if a player is claimed.
Let's use Puig as an example. If and when Los Angeles wants to trade him before month's end, it will place him on waivers, giving every team a chance to put in a claim. If only one team claims him, that club will get him. If multiple teams put in a claim, the priority goes in reverse order of record, first within the same league (NL, for this example) and then the opposite league. In this case, the Braves (37–68, .352) would have first crack, followed by the Reds (42–62, .404) and so on up to the league-leading Cubs (64–41, .610) before the AL's worst team, the Twins (41–64, .390), and the rest of the Junior Circuit clubs get their chance.
Given Puig's immense talent (he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013 and made the All-Star team the next year) and modest contract (he's got two years and $14 million guaranteed remaining on his deal after this season), he will be attractive to any of those basement dwellers. Let's assume Atlanta claims him. The Dodgers then have three choices: They could pull him back and not deal him anywhere for the remainder of the season; they could trade him to the Braves within 48 hours, with all other players in the deal who are on 40-man rosters similarly having to go through waivers (this is why players to be named later are sometimes used as proxies); or they could simply give him to Atlanta for a $20,000 transaction fee, with the Braves assuming the entirety of his remaining contract.
The system is subject to manipulations within the rules; teams can try to block one another by putting in claims, but they then run the risk being stuck with players they don't really want.
What follows here is a less-than-comprehensive look at a handful of players who are candidates to be dealt this month. Some have expensive contracts that will scare off all but the most earnest suitors. Others are making far less money and may be easier to move. For purposes of this exercise, I'll assume that the players involved are due exactly one-third of their full season salary for the rest of this year. After Puig, whose situation bears more explanation, the players are listed alphabetically.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers
Puig's overall performance at the plate has been disappointing (.260/.320/.386, 93 OPS+), but it has actually been on the upswing since he returned on June 21 from a 19-day DL stint for a left hamstring strain (.308/.390/.440 in 105 plate appearances). His defense has been strong and at times spectacular all year (+6 Defensive Runs Saved), and his behavior has generally been good too, with none of the reports of tardiness or intramural friction that dogged him during his first two seasons (which is why Rosenthal's erroneous report was potentially so damaging).
At the same time, it’s clear that something has been lost in translation between the player and the team. While the Dodgers once had an engaging, marketable superstar in Puig, they've now got an enigmatic mediocrity. They bear some responsibility here, as does Puig, whose career has clearly reached a crossroads. When healthy, he’s a five-tool talent, but getting his health, his ability to punish fastballs and his charismatic swagger back to where they were in 2013 and '14 will apparently be some other team's task. Any general manager who doesn't leap at the opportunity to do that is committing malpractice; the real question is whether L.A.'s asking price in return would be too high, thus preventing a move before the off-season.
Clay Buchholz, RHP, Red Sox
Speaking of enigmas, the 31-year-old Buchholz has been dreadful this year, pitching to a 5.79 ERA and a 5.69 FIP with a mere 5.8 strikeouts per nine. He’s lost his spot in the rotation and owed at least another $4.83 million, including this year and a $500,000 buyout for next year’s $13.5 million club option. But particularly in this year’s ultra-thin starting pitching market, it’s not too difficult to envision that another team—contender or pretender—would be willing to take a flyer on fixing him up in hopes that he can be either fill their rotation next year or be flipped again for someone who can.
Keep an eye on the Pirates and the Marlins. Pittsburgh's successful fix-it pair—pitching coach Ray Searage and “Pitcher Whisperer” Jim Benedict—were split this past off-season when Benedict agreed to become Miami’s vice president of pitching development. The Marlins reportedly pursued Buchholz at the deadline, but Boston's asking price was too high.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
I’ve been Boldly Predicting that the Rockies would move their CarGo for years now, and I’m going to continue operating on the theory that if you go to the barbershop every day, sooner or later you’ll get a haircut. Colorado (52–53) has been surprisingly competitive this season, which is one reason why it didn’t trade the 30-year-old slugger, who’s hitting .317/.369/.551 with 21 homers and a 124 OPS+. The Rockies aren’t likely to remain in the postseason chase, however, and with Gonzalez having at least hinted that he’s open to being dealt, it does seem like an inevitability. He’s owed about $25.7 million through next season but could provide a contender’s lineup with a boost and bring back some talent in exchange.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Phillies
Hellickson (3.70 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 7.5 strikeout-per-nine rate) has been a surprisingly solid contributor for the rebuilding Phillies, and it’s something of a surprise that he didn’t get moved before Monday’s deadline. That said, the Phillies were said to be asking for a top prospect in return; even in the current market, that was too high a price for a pending free agent whose previous three seasons produced an 81 ERA+. Look for a team that didn’t land a rotation upgrade such as the Rangers or Tigers, or one that suddenly takes an injury hit over the next couple of weeks, to keep him in mind.
David Robertson, RHP, White Sox
After bursting to a 23–10 start, the White Sox have gone 28–44. Robertson has been a part of that slide, pitching to a 4.15 ERA (his highest since his 2008 rookie season) with career-worsts in FIP (4.10) and home run rate (1.2 per nine) as well as his lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.3) since 2010. He’s owed $31.7 million through 2018—money Chicago would probably love to get out from under. Honestly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Yankees—who traded relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller before the deadline and brought back Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard—went for another familiar name in Robertson, which would allow them to return Dellin Betances to the setup role from which he has made three AL All-Star teams.
Edinson Volquez, RHP, Royals
At 50–55 and hit hard by injuries and underperformance, the Royals don’t look as though they’re going to make a run at a third straight AL pennant. The 30-year-old Volquez has a $10 million mutual option after this season, but he isn’t likely to pick it up because he could be in line for the winter’s top pitching contract in a weak free-agent class. Volquez has been far from brilliant (4.70 ERA, 4.25 FIP) this year, but his 55% quality start rate is solid, as is his recent track record (119 ERA+ for playoff-bound Pittsburgh and Kansas City teams in 2014 and '15).
As the Royals fall further from contention, they could look to save some portion of the $9 million Volquez is making this year and to pick up some kind of talent that would exceed a compensation pick in return. Keep an eye on the Rangers (who signed and developed him) and the Astros especially; he won’t pass through the AL unclaimed.
Yankees ... so many Yankees
Pushed into rebuilding mode for the first time in his 19 seasons as a general manager, Brian Cashman stole the show in the days leading up to the deadline. He not only added two former top-five draft picks (outfielder Clint Frazier from the Indians in the Andrew Miller deal and pitcher Dillon Tate from the Rangers as part of the Carlos Beltran package), but he also got players who now rank as three of the team's top seven prospects (Frazier, Gleyber Torres from the Cubs and Justus Sheffield from the Indians). He even got two players to be named later from the Pirates in exchange for the dreadful Ivan Nova.
Now Cashman can look to pare salary and perhaps add a bit more talent to the system, as no team has more big contracts that will pass through waivers than the Yankees do. They’re unlikely to find takers for outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, designated hitter Alex Rodriguez or starter CC Sabathia. But third baseman Chase Headley has been solid following an awful April; outfielder Brett Gardner remains very affordable; catcher Brian McCann is a good two-way contributor; and any sign of life out of pending free agent first baseman Mark Teixiera might convince a team to take a flyer on an extra bat as September approaches.