In the immediate aftermath of each year’s nonwaiver trade deadline fury, a new form of speculation percolates. That speculation centers on the oft-forgotten possibility for teams to use the waiver wires to make trades in August. It swirls when big-name stars appear on waivers, and no one knows quite what to make of it all.
August is halfway gone now, and trade rumors linger, though few — if any — involve the Nationals. Regardless, a quick look at the process — and the Nationals’ approach to it — felt like a worthwhile use of time.
In order for a player to be traded after the nonwaiver trade deadline, he must pass through waivers — or the complete list of big league teams in reverse order of their current standings — without being claimed. These waivers are revocable. In other words, if the Nationals were to put Bryce Harper on waivers and someone claimed him, they could pull him safely back into their clubhouse without any problem. They could also let that team have him and his entire salary — though of course they would never do that — or work out a trade with the claimant. Most of this example is entirely hypothetical. Harper is not going anywhere.
But according to reports and a person familiar with their plans, the Nationals did place Harper on waivers this August. No one is supposed to know who teams place on waivers and who they don’t. But as with most things, word often leaks anyway. When it does, and people hear that Harper, Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton or other all-stars have cleared waivers, some fall into frenzy. How could any team place Bryce Harper on waivers?! Are they trying to trade him? If not, why would he be there at all?
Often, teams place almost everyone on waivers. The Nationals are one of those teams.
In the case of a highly paid player such as the Marlins’ Stanton, the move is sometimes made with an intent to deal. Teams must be cautious in claiming higher-priced players because a team shedding salary could simply say, “Take him,” in which case the claiming team would be stuck with the salary regardless of whether they were seriously committed to him. That is part of the reason the Nationals would not claim Stanton, who reportedly cleared waivers earlier this month.
In the case of Harper, or most of the Nationals’ stars, the move is strategic. If they place a player such as Harper, or a relatively cheap star such as Anthony Rendon, on waivers, only the Nationals can see which teams claimed him. In that way, they get a sense of which teams like which players, just in case they aim to deal one day. None of that is to say the Nationals are trying to deal Harper or Rendon. They are not. But if they ever do, they will have a few extra data points of information with which to work.
The other advantage to putting almost everyone on waivers is that it prevents opponents from discovering which players a team actually would rather be rid of. If the Nationals put only a handful of players on waivers, other teams would know exactly who they like and who they don’t, which obviously reduces their leverage in any future trade negotiations. Again, the effect of that kind of leverage could be minimal and is often entirely irrelevant since the Nationals are not exactly shopping stars these days. But when everyone is hunting minimal advantages, minutia matters.
The same principle applies to claiming players. One could safely bet on the Nationals to claim most affordable young stars with plenty of service time left. Why not?
But more often than not, most August waiver-wheeling is procedural — done just to be safe, for the sake of due diligence, without much intent. The Nationals could still deal for a reliever. They once acquired Kurt Suzuki to serve as their backup catcher in August. Deals like that could still come. Whatever the waiver wires say, a deal including Bryce Harper will not.
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