Trade deadline spotlight: waiver period prospects
While the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline passed with much noise but little action, teams aren't necessarily done dealing. The rules are different for trades in the waiver period (which has an August 31 deadline), but they leave open the possibility of swaps both big and small for contenders and non-contenders alike. Any player acquired before the deadline is eligible for the postseason.
A look back to last August shows an assortment of players dealt to contenders, including back-rotation Joes (Blanton and Saunders), fringe relievers (J.C. Romero and Jesse Chavez), previously injured lineup regulars (Stephen Drew) and role players (Jeff Baker), not to mention the expensive stars sent by the Red Sox to the Dodgers in that late-season blockbuster.
The mechanics of August deals are worth reviewing. All around the league, teams place the overwhelming majority of their players on revocable waivers sometime during the month, generally as a way to gauge their market regards to future deals, some of which may not transpire until the winter. Once a team puts Player X on waivers, every team in the majors is given a chance to put in a claim, with the priority for awarding that claim going in reverse order of record, first within the same league and then in the opposite league. If the Mariners wanted to explore the market for Raul Ibanez, the Astros would have first crack, and the Red Sox would be in line before the Marlins. If a player is claimed, he can either be pulled back and not dealt for the rest of the season, traded within 48 hours to the team putting in a claim (only for other players who have cleared or will clear waivers, or those not on the 40-man roster; this is why players to be named later are sometimes used as proxies), or given away to the claiming team for a $20,000 transaction fee, with the new team assuming the entirety of his remaining contract. If a player is unclaimed, he clears waivers and can be dealt to any team.
The system can be manipulated in ways that are within the rules. Suppose the Phillies negotiate a deal that would send Michael Young to the Red Sox in exchange for Will Middlerooks. If the Yankees and Red Sox both put in claims while maintaining their current places in the standings, the Yankees would be awarded the claim, and the Phillies would then have 48 hours either to work out a deal with them instead, drop him and his $5.3 million remaining salary burden in the Yankees' lap, or pull Young back and hold onto him for the remainder of the year. Keep in mind that the Yankees may have put in the claim only to prevent Boston from getting him; the prospect of assuming his contract is the poison pill they face.
As for which players we could see traded this month, many are names we kicked around during July, and by now some of them seem like overripe produce at the supermarket — and expensive, overripe produce at that. Rather than beat to death each player's credentials, I'll elaborate only on the ones who have received less discussion, and focus on the remaining money on all of these players' their contracts, assuming that they're still due one-third of their full-season salary. The players are listed alphabetically.
Cliff Lee, Phillies SP
He's due around $71 million including a steep $12.5 million buyout of his 2016 option, and the limited no-trade clause that he can use to block deals to 21 teams is still applicable. Given that, Amaro faces no risk in putting him through waivers; he's given no indication he'd let Lee go merely for salary relief, and under no obligation to make a deal.
Michael Morse, Mariners OF/1B
Whereas Jack Zduriencik expressed (or implied) his desire to hold onto Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, he was said to be talking to the Orioles about Morse and lefty reliever Oliver Perez, though a deal ultimately fell through. Part of that may have had to do with Morse playing just two games and going 0-for-9 since returning from a nearly six-week absence due to a quad strain. If he demonstrates his health in the coming days and weeks, somebody — Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh, Texas — will be willing to take on the $2.2 million or so he'll be due.
Justin Morneau, Twins 1B
If he rebounds from July's disastrous showing (.175/.266/.330 in 109 PA), he'll likely be on the go to a team such as the Orioles, Pirates or Rangers still in need of first base or DH help, with the Twins able to get some relief on some fraction of his remaining $4.7 million salary.
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies RP
Due over $30 million through 2015, not including a $13 million vesting option for 2016, he's unencumbered by the no-trade clauses held by some of his high-profile teammates. With the market for expensive closers collapsing and his own strikeout rate dipping, he'll likely move only if the Phillies want to get him out of town and are willing to eat salary.
Placido Polanco, Marlins 3B
Aged, largely unproductive, and making less than $1 million for the remainder of the year, Pierre (.241/.283/.296) and Polanco (.256/.311/.298) are the type of players who could be awarded outright via an initial claim without anyone getting too excited. For a team like the A-Rodless Yankees, Polanco may still be preferable to Brent Lillibridge or Luis Cruz, at least as the short half of a platoon. Another contending team might find Pierre a worthwhile late-inning bench weapon simply for his speed (19 steals in 25 attempts this year, and 610 steals lifetime). Stranger things have happened.
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox SS
The Cardinals showed interest in the 31-year-old Ramirez, who's owed just under $22 million through 2015, and they didn't fill their need at shortstop, so it stands to reason that they could put in a claim and try again. It would help Chicago's return if he could rediscover his power; after averaging 16 homers with a .409 slugging percentage (.123 isolated power) over the previous five years, he has one homer and a .351 slugging percentage (.071 isolated power) this year.
Aramis Ramirez, Brewers 3B
Limited to just 54 games thus far due to a left knee sprain, Ramirez has been on the disabled list since July 6. The injury has sapped his power; after hitting 27 homers and slugging .540 last year, he's at five homers and a .271/.359/.414 line this year. In addition to the $3.3 million he has remaining on this year, he's owed another $20 million through 2014 (some of it deferred); if the Brewers want to shed that salary — and if he's able to start a rehab assignment soon (something that's not yet the case) — they could pursue a deal, and perhaps hook the A-Rodless Yankees.
Joe Saunders, Mariners SP
As noted above, Saunders is no stranger to waiver-period deals, having been dealt from the Diamondbacks to the Orioles in one last August 26. With a 4.65 ERA and 5.3 strikeouts per nine, he's not much more than an innings-eater, but he's a battle-tested one making around $2.2 million the rest of the way. If contending team loses a starter due to injury down the stretch, his number could get called.
Josh Willingham, Twins LF
The Twins were dealt a blow when Willingham went on the disabled list retroactive to July 1 due to a tear in the medial meniscus of his left knee, and underwent surgery soon afterwards, as they had been looking to move the 34-year-old slugger. He'll start a rehab assignment this weekend, and could be back in the majors soon. Hitting just .224/.356/.398 with 10 homers, he's been well off last year's 35-homer form, but if healthy, he could provide some pop, particularly if limited to a DH role. On Wednesday, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan specifically suggested that he's a player the Rangers would keep an eye on, and one who's cheaper than Rios; he's owed another $2.3 million this year plus $7 million next year.
Michael Young, Phillies 3B
Having indicated that he would waive his no-trade clause to accept deals to the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees, his availability will be watched closely, particularly if and when Alex Rodriguez is suspended.