Cliff Lee is still with the Philadelphia Phillies, having survived the non-waiver trade deadline this week, but that doesn’t mean he’s there to stay. Players can still be traded through the waiver process, though it’s much more difficult.
To explain the Wonderful World of Waivers, it easiest to use a hypothetical scenario, so I’m going to use Lee just for fun.
So, let’s say the Phillies place Lee on waivers, which is pretty much guaranteed to happen sometime this month (if it hasn’t already). That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re interested in getting rid of him, just that they’d like to put a feeler out and see what they could get.
Once placed on waivers, other teams would have 47 business day hours to put in a claim on Lee. If no one claims him, Lee would pass through waivers and could be traded to any team. The only tricky part is the Phillies could only trade for either other players who passed through waivers or players not on a 40-man roster.
Now let’s say Lee is claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Toronto Blue Jays. Waiver priority is based partly on record, but it also factors in leagues. Even though the Blue Jays have a worse record, the Dodgers would be awarded the claim since they’re in the same league Lee currently plays in. Weird, right?
The Phillies would then have 47 ½ business day hours to decide what to do. A player can only be placed on waivers once, but they’re revocable, so Philadelphia could pull Lee off the wire and keep him. Or, if they were just looking to dump salary, the Phils could let Lee and his contract go for nothing. The other option would be Philly could try to work out a trade with the Dodgers.
There’s the waiver process in a nutshell. A really big, convoluted, complicated and confusing nutshell. The waiver period extends through the rest of the season, but players acquired after Aug. 31 cannot play in the postseason.
Lee is a particularly intriguing waiver trade candidate because his contract is big enough that the bad teams won’t claim him and risk being on the hook for his salary, but he’s certainly good enough that competitive teams will want to claim him and see if a trade can be worked out. Plus, the Dodgers actually claimed Lee early last August.
Some other waiver trade candidates include guys who weren’t healthy when the non-waiver deadline went down, like Michael Morse, Josh Willingham or Aramis Ramirez. It’s also very possible some of the names that were floating around during the deadline talks (Alex Rios, Michael Young, Alexei Ramirez, Justin Morneau, Kevin Gregg, Javier Lopez) could be traded through waivers.
Last year’s waiver period was highlighted by the huge trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox to the Dodgers. With the non-waiver deadline being so quiet, it’s possible we see on of the most active Augusts ever as more teams decide to sell.