While discussing Johnny Damon's decision to veto a waiver-wire trade to the Red Sox, Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis chuckled and dismissively said, "The waiver wire's a crazy thing anyway."
It's certainly complicated. Section 10 of the Major League Rules -- occupying pages 58-71 of the rule book -- governs all forms of waiver transactions, including the waiver trades baseball fans are accustomed to seeing each August.
While the end result -- players changing teams -- might be commonly understood, the process of how that happens in August is anything but. To simplify it somewhat, SI.com consulted the rule book and someone with direct experience with the process in J.P. Ricciardi, who served as Blue Jays general manager for eight seasons from 2001-2009 and is now an analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." In Aug. 2009 Ricciardi and the Blue Jays completed one of the more significant salary dumps in recent years, when it placed right fielder Alex Rios, who was in the second year of a seven-year, $69.8-million contract, on waivers.
1. When can waiver trades be made?
According to Rule 10(b)(1), "Trade assignment waivers are required for any assignment of a player from a Major League Club to another Major League Club during the period commencing 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time on July 31 and ending at the close of the championship season."
Though "trade assignment waivers," as the process is formally known, is most closely associated with the month of August on the baseball calendar, the period actually begins at 4 p.m. Eastern time on July 31 -- i.e. the commonly accepted trade deadline -- and extends through the close of the World Series.
So, why then, is August 31 thought of as the waiver-trade deadline? That's the last day a player can be added to a club's roster and be eligible for the postseason, and often waiver trades are a chance for contending teams to add any last pieces to their roster while downtrodden clubs purge some unwanted salary.
2 What happens if a player on waivers is claimed?
The team that placed him on waivers can do one of three things: 1) Try to make a trade with the team that claimed him; 2) Pull the player back and keep him; 3) Let the claiming team take the player at full salary but without any compensation. (As happened with the case of Damon, if a player has a no-trade clause, that takes precedence over a team's ability to simply deal him to whichever team claimed him.)
If a player is not claimed by any team, he can be traded freely.
3. How long do teams have to decide whether to claim a player?
Teams have just less than two days to deliberate -- unless a player is placed on waivers on Thursday or Friday. Officially, the claim period is 47 hours, starting at 2 p.m. Eastern on the day a player is placed on waivers and ending at 1 p.m. two days later.
The one exception is that, though baseball games are played seven days a week, waiver claims take a weekend hiatus. If a player is placed on waivers on Thursday, the deadline is Monday at 1 p.m.; similarly, a player waived on Friday can be claimed until Tuesday at 1 p.m., as outlined in Rule 10(c)(3)(A).
4. How many teams can put in a claim on a player?
All 29 other teams in the majors can claim a player during the 47-hour period, as claims are made secretly, though only the team with the highest priority (see below) will have a chance to acquire the player.
"It's a silent, non-physical auction," Ricciardi said. "Think about this -- if you're going to auction a car off, but have to put in your bid through email. It's the same with the waivers. You put your claim in, and then you'll know at the end of that 48-hour period if you got them."
5. Who gets priority for a claim?
If only one team makes a claim, then it's easy -- that one team gets the player, unless he is pulled back by his original team.
If multiple claims are made, Rule 10(d)(4)(B) takes precedence, with priority given to 1) a team in the same league as the player and 2) the team with the worst record.
In other words, if, say, the Angels place a player on waivers, the Orioles would have first dibs as a fellow American League team with the worst record. The Rays and Yankees, meanwhile, despite sharing the best record in baseball would still have priority over the Pirates, who have the worst record in the National League. The Padres, owners of the NL's best mark, would have the lowest priority on any player waived by the Angels.
For teams who, in the course of a two-day waiver claim period, may switch order in the standings, what matters is the record at the end of the period. If the player is placed on waivers on a Tuesday, priority is dictated by the record of the teams at the completion of play Wednesday night in advance of the end of the period Thursday afternoon.
6. How long do teams have to negotiate a trade or decide to withdraw a player from waivers?
On this count, teams have just more than one day to decide. They'll be notified of a claim at 1 p.m. Eastern time, two business days after waiving the player, and have until 1:30 p.m. two business days after that, according to Rule 10(d)(3)(A).
If a player is placed on waivers at 2 p.m. on Monday, he has to be claimed by Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. His original team will have to make a decision on his future by 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
7. When during this period are players placed on waivers?
Players could be placed on waivers on Aug. 1 -- or sometime in September. There's game theory strategy of when players are placed on waivers, depending on how close teams are to a playoff berth.
Struggling teams may want to waive a high-priced player on Aug. 1, so it wouldn't have to pay most of that month's salary, but it's also less likely a club will claim that player for the same reason and for the increased doubt about whether it'll be in contention by the end of the month.
The only stipulations in the rule book are that a team can only waive up to seven players per day and that a player withdrawn from waivers can't be placed on waivers again until 30 days have elapsed, per Rule 10(e)(1) and Rule 10(e)(3).
"If you're a team that thinks you're quasi-'in it' in the beginning of August, you may not put that guy out there," Ricciardi said. "Then you watch how you play, and you might by the middle of the month be really in it, and now you're a buyer instead of a seller. You look at teams like the Giants, Padres, Reds, Cardinals, Rays -- they're right there. As it gets later they might be swayed to possibly grab a guy, even for a pinch-running role or a pinch-hitting role or something like that.
"But if you're like the Dodgers and you've kind of fallen out it, you may start putting some guys on waivers that you didn't think you'd have put on waivers at the start of the month."
8. Who can be placed on waivers?
Any member of a club's 40-man roster who is not suspended or on the disabled list can be placed on waivers, per 10(e)(7) and 10(e)(8), unless the minimum amount of time of a player's D.L. stint has elapsed.
Also, as noted by a major-league source, "Sometimes a 40-man minor-league player who is a component in a trade will simply become a player to be named later if he gets blocked [on waivers] during August."
9. Why do star players who will never be traded still pass through waivers?
There seem to be two primary reasons for stars to be placed on waivers -- to mask another player a team hopes to go unclaimed, or to gauge interest for future transactions.
"Even [Cardinals first baseman] Albert Pujols and guys like that get run through waivers," Ricciardi said. "You find out who has interest in players. At the time that team might be in contention and think they could use a player because their ownership is really gung ho on winning and we're willing to take this salary for this year and next year. But then that team might not make the playoffs and over the winter if you call them and try to talk to them, they may say, 'We're going to go a cheaper way this year. Last year we had an opportunity to jump on it, but this year we're going to go cheaper.'"
10. Why do teams claim a player?
The most obvious answer is that clubs want to acquire that player, either by simply assuming the remainder of his contract if the club lets him go or by making a trade with players who have cleared waivers.
But often a team with no interest in a player will claim him just so a competitor with lower priority doesn't get him. This concept of blocking a trade can, of course, backfire.
The most famous example of this came in 1998 when the Padres claimed Blue Jays reliever Randy Myers, who had two years and $12 million remaining on his contract. The Padres had no need for Myers with closer Trevor Hoffman already in the bullpen but made the claim to block Myers from going to the Braves. Toronto, however, did not withdraw the claim and San Diego was stuck with an expensive, superfluous player. In what turned out to be his final season, Myers struggled the rest of the year, posting a 6.28 ERA in the regular season and a 12.00 ERA in the postseason, when the Padres advanced to the World Series -- ironically, by beating the Braves in the NLCS.