WARNE: August Trades and You -- A Primer

Colon is making his second start at Target Field and fourth overall with the Twins.

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is pretty straightforward — you’re either traded, or you aren’t. It’s after that where it gets a bit….complicated. In fact, players can technically be traded up until the end of the regular season, but they must be in an organization and on the 40-man roster on Aug. 31 to be eligible for postseason play.

In short, that’s why you might see some trades that happen between Aug. 1 and the end of the month.

The Twins have been no stranger to these types of trades. Don Baylor came over in 1987, and despite not doing much down the stretch for that season, was instrumental in October with seven hits in 21 postseason plate appearances, including a home run in the World Series. In 2003, the Twins picked up 46-year-old Jesse Orosco from the New York Yankees to get the last 14 outs of his storied 24-year career. The next year, the Twins acquired catcher Pat Borders for the stretch run from the Mariners with Joe Mauer on the shelf. Two years later, the Twins traded for Phil Nevin.

You get the point.

So what makes these deals different from those consummated before the July 31 deadline? Well, waivers comes into play. Any player not on the 40-man roster can be traded at this time — which is often why you’ll see big leaguers moved for low-level or low-end prospects and/or cash — without any special qualification, but a player on a 40-man roster must first be put on what is called revocable trade waivers.

Here’s a hypothetical, not because it would happen, but because it’s relatable:

Let’s say the Twins put Mauer on trade waivers. We’re assuming he doesn’t have a no-trade clause in this case, or that he’s told the Twins he’d waive it to play for a contender. Mauer has somewhere in the vicinity of $30 million owed to him for the rest of this season and all of next season. The other 29 teams have the opportunity to place a claim on Mauer, and if he goes unclaimed, he has cleared waivers and is thus eligible to be traded to any team.   

The other 29 teams have to weigh whether or not they want to make a claim, and there’s some strategy to that as well. For instance, if Cleveland’s first baseman suffers a season-ending injury and they need a first baseman, might they make a claim? Possibly. If they’re awarded that claim, they could then attempt to work out a deal with the Twins. But if a team ahead of the Indians on the waiver priority list submits a claim, that team has then in theory “blocked” Cleveland from the opportunity to acquire a player they could use.

This isn’t without risk, however. If the Indians were to place a claim on Mauer and the Twins say “OK, he’s yours,” then Cleveland is saddled with the rest of the first baseman’s contract. That’s right, the Twins would just simply wash their hands of it. Now, this wouldn’t work because Mauer, in fact, does have a no-trade clause, and that overrides a waiver claim in this instance, but this sort of thing has actually happened.

On Aug. 10, 2009, the White Sox were awarded the rights to Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios. Rios, who had signed a six-year, $64 million deal just 16 months earlier, simply switched uniforms and became a member of the White Sox with over two-thirds of his deal left amidst a tough season (.744 OPS with the Blue Jays) that only got worse (.530 with the White Sox the rest of the season) down the stretch.

The blocking strategy has also come back to bite teams.    

In August 1998, Blue Jays closer Randy Myers was placed on trade waivers in the first year of a big three-year deal he’d signed the previous offseason. The San Diego Padres claimed Myers, and were saddled with his prohibitive contract which paid him the rest of a prorated $4.416 million that season and more than $6 million in each of the next two seasons, despite the fact that Myers only threw three innings that postseason for the NL Champion Padres (four earned runs) and never again pitched in the big leagues after the 1998 season.

The trouble is — and this is why the Twins under Terry Ryan stopped putting Mauer on waivers in the first place — that fans don’t understand the different types of waivers

To hear then-Padres general manager Kevin Towers tell the story, the team wanted Myers to bolster their bridge to Trevor Hoffman. However, the widespread belief was that the Padres wanted to block Myers from getting to the Braves, who won an NL-best 106 games that season but were bounced from the NLCS — incidentally enough, by the Padres. Myers had previously been a devastating closer, saving as many as 53 games in 1993 with the Cubs and even 45 games in his final year with the Orioles in 1997, but by 1998 had posted a 4.46 ERA in his first year with the Blue Jays and was even worse (6.28) in his 14.1 inning stint with the Padres.

So there is risk — on both sides, really. If a player is claimed, the original team can pull the player back — but only on the first occasion. If a player is put back on waivers, they are not revocable, and that player becomes a member of the claiming team.

The trouble is — and this is why the Twins under Terry Ryan stopped putting Mauer on waivers in the first place — that fans don’t understand the different types of waivers. A lot of times this information gets leaked in August, despite the fact that it isn’t supposed to, and it can cause more trouble than it’s worth when it reaches the eyes and ears of the casual fan not aware of this transactional wrinkle.

But now, you can say that you understand the August trade/waiver process. With that said, who are some Twins that might end up moved this month? Let’s take a look:

  • RP Matt Belisle – His season numbers are starting to look better (4.20 FIP), he’s only signed for the rest of the season and he’s been great since mid-June (0.44 ERA, .553 OPS against and 17-5 K/BB ratio in 20.2 innings). Don’t be surprised at all if he’s flipped for cash in the next few weeks.
  • SP/RP Dillon Gee – Looked solid in his Twins debut on Thursday night (three scoreless innings with four strikeouts) and could give a playoff team some swingman depth. This is less likely, but not out of the realm of possible.
  • SP Hector Santiago – Santiago was getting absolutely peppered earlier in the season — among the highest exit velocities in MLB among SPs — but has enough of a track record that some team might like to have him eat innings over the final 4-to-6 weeks of the season if he proves he’s healthy.
  • SP Bartolo Colon – Each start has gotten progressively better, and let’s not forget he’s just one year removed from a 3.43 ERA and nearly a plus-3.0 fWAR. If there’s interest at all, the Twins will move him to a contender to eat some innings.
  • C Chris Gimenez – This would not be a popular move, but if a contender needs catching depth, this would open the door for Mitch Garver to come up. Gimenez is adored in the Twins clubhouse — something playoff teams value more than you’d think.
  • DH Kennys Vargas – Maybe not likely, but he’s out of options next year, hasn’t hit this year and could be someone’s reclamation project. It’s not completely unlikely that Falvey and Levine might like the open 40-man spot more.

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