If the Seattle Mariners want to cut payroll by unloading Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez, they'll have to wait until next season.

As a first step toward any possible trade after Major League Baseball's July 31 deadline, the team placed the two superstars on waivers, making them available to any other major league team willing to assume their contracts, said baseball executives familiar with the process.

If they weren't claimed by another team, the Mariners could have traded them. But they were claimed, prompting Seattle to rescind the move before they lost either one without compensation.

Players can't be traded after the July 31 trading deadline without first clearing waivers. Baseball executives once allowed their colleagues to make trades this way, although recently they've begun blocking most post-deadline agreements by claiming the players involved on waivers.

"There are guys out there now who just block for the sake of blocking so you can't do anything after the deadline," said former Los Angeles Dodgers executive vice president Fred Claire, who had served as the team's general manager for 12 seasons until he was fired last year.

Other players who were claimed included pitchers Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees and Chuck Finley of Anaheim, the executives said.

Still, several star players cleared waivers, including Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Albert Belle and Mo Vaughn, the executives said. Even so, the chances of a blockbuster trade before the end of this season are slim, general managers said.

"I can't recall a flurry of big multi-year contract guys being traded after July 31st," said Anaheim vice president Tim Mead. "If teams want guys badly enough, they'll get them when there's still time."

The Mets and Yankees would appear to have no interest in moving Piazza and Clemens, pivotal players on teams in pennant races. And even though the New York franchises put their superstars on waivers, they could rescind the move as the Mariners did if they were claimed.

Club officials are reluctant to talk about waivers because the process is confidential and they're subject to substantial fines from Major League Baseball for divulging such information.

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, who acquired Clemens from Toronto in February, wouldn't discuss the waiver status of any of his players. Neither would officials from the Mariners, Angels, Mets and Orioles.

Griffey and Rodriguez were claimed because they were more likely to be traded than other top players, baseball executives said.

Mariners officials have said unexpected expenses on their new stadium, $517 million Safeco Field, might prevent them from keeping both stars when they become eligible for free agency after the 2000 season. Griffey has turned down an eight-year, $135 million contract from the team, the Seattle Times reported.

Some baseball executives have speculated that Griffey and Rodriguez could command more than $20 million a season. Rodriguez, who is making $3.1 million this year and can be a free agent after the 2000 season, has said he wants the Mariners to upgrade the team before deciding whether to sign a long-term agreement with them.

The Orioles and Angels, meantime, might let Belle and Vaughn go if they were claimed. Both carry expensive contracts that make the underachieving players less attractive, some executives said.

Belle is in the first year of a five-year, $65 million contract with Baltimore that includes a no-trade clause. Even if the Orioles want to trade him and Belle agreed to it, another club would be hesitant to assume his contract.

Vaughn is in the first year of a six-year, $80 million contract, and has struggled offensively after spraining his left ankle on opening day.

Since Belle and Vaughn are in the middle of multi-year agreements, they would have a right to demand a trade this winter if they were exchanged.

"No one is going to claim players like those guys," Claire said.