Waive Bye-Bye

I promised you all another baseball post “towards the end of the month” and here it is, just in time. Happy July 32nd, everyone!

Jokes aside, I wanted to hold the post until after the so-called “Trading Deadline” so I could try and put the activity in some kind of context.

For the record, I spent a chunk of time writing this post in the context of a holiday, but it just didn’t work. The Trading Deadline isn’t a holiday, it’s just a mile-marker somewhere between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Chronologically, it’s probably closest to Labor Day, but let’s face it, Labor Day isn’t really much of a holiday these days (though that may change around here depending on what happens with BART and the Bay Bridge; that’s a topic for another day, though).

So what is the Trading Deadline, anyway? From the name, you might think that it’s the last chance for teams to trade players. You would be wrong. Oddly enough though, this isn’t one of those “religious weirdities” like the timing of the All-Star Break. It’s actually a symptom of peoples’ inherent laziness. July 31 is really the “Non-Waiver Trading Deadline”. Up until 4:30 Eastern time yesterday, if teams wanted to trade players, they could just work out the details of a deal and do it. From now until the end of the season, though, the players have to clear waivers.

Um, what?

Waivers basically means that every team in baseball gets to meddle in the dealmaking. This gets ugly to talk about in the abstract, so let’s use an example to make it concrete.

The Mariners desperately need a pitcher. In a fit of insanity, they call up the Giants and say they’re interested in Barry Zito*. The Giants, no fools they, agree that sounds pretty good. They’d love to get rid of him and get something in return, but since it’s July 32, they can’t just cut a deal. Instead, they put Barry on waivers. Now every team in the major leagues (including the Mariners) can say “Sure, we’ll take him.” In this case, since the Mariners and Giants are in different leagues, all 14 National League teams and five American League teams would have a chance to speak up before it got to the Mariners. The Mariners are probably out of luck; even if nobody in the National League wanted him, somebody would probably claim him just to prevent the Giants from getting something good in trade. The Rockies are division rivals with the Giants, and they’re thinking that if the Giants get rid of Zito and possibly pick up a decent hitter, they’re going to be serious trouble. So the Rockies make a claim on him.

Now the Rockies have two days to arrange a trade. They’re not really interested in Zito, and they’re certainly not interested in picking up the rest of his contract (around $7,000,000 for the rest of this year and $18,000,000 for next year, or $7,000,000 to make him go away). So they don’t offer much, and the Giants say “screw it.” They can either pull him back off waivers, or they can wash their hands of him. If they wash their hands, the Rockies pay the Giants a nominal fee ($20,000) and they’re stuck with Zito. If they pull him back, they can always put him on waivers again–but if they do, they can’t pull him back a second time: they have to either work out a trade with the claiming team or just give him up.

* In reality, the Giants would be more likely to just put Zito on waivers to see if there’s any interest, rather than waiting for someone to come to them with a deal. But it’s funnier this way. And “it makes a better story is why.

As I said, that’s a mess. You can see why people just call July 31 the trade deadline and let it go at that. Surprisingly enough, trades do happen after the non-waiver deadline, but they’re not as common as before. Incidentally, there’s another trade deadline as well: any player traded after August 31 cannot play in the playoffs. Naturally, trades are even rarer in September than in August.

So what did all of this mean for Our Team (the Mariners)? Absolutely nothing. The Mariners are apparently following Polonius’ advice (“Neither a borrower nor a lender be…to thine own self be true”). They neither traded away Rauuuuuuuul (or anyone else) for prospects nor sacrificed prospects for a player who might help them now.  Well, OK, they traded Robert Andino to the Pirates for the famous “Player To Be Named Later” or cash.  But that hardly counts as Andino has been in the minors since late May and most people had forgotten he was even with the Mariners.

That discussion of hope from a couple of weeks ago still applies. Where are we with that? Well, they came up a little short on continuing the hot streak after the All-Star Break; rather than being no worse than four games under .500 at the end of July, they’re actually seven under and will need to go 31 and 24 the rest of the way to reach respectability. Not impossible, but not likely either. So what do we hope for now?

Well, we can watch Rauuuuuuuul go after that over-40 home run record (though it should be noted that he hasn’t hit one since the All-Star Break). We can continue to enjoy the development of their infield; their hot bats may have cooled off a little, and they’re having a few off days here and there, but still a big step up from recent memory. We continue to keep our fingers crossed for the young pitchers developing in the minors. We start thinking about possible trades next winter. And we keep waiting for a miracle.

10 thoughts on “Waive Bye-Bye

  1. Well, thanks. For all I’m a baseball fan, my fandom had not reached the level of understanding what it meant to be “put on waivers”. Or waiver. What a nutty system.
    Re, Zito: someone could write a classic tragedy about the man- this noble pitcher of baseballs who, but for one flaw, coulda been one of the greats. Maybe two flaws, or three; who knows? Anyway, he’s, by all accounts, a hell of a nice guy, a stand up guy who keeps a good attitude and works hard at it. This occasionally results in flashes of brilliance. Unhappily, for 126 million dollars, the Giant’s baseball team’s owners want consistency. Not unreasonable, I think.
    If the Z-Man is offered to the world at large, it will be very, very interesting to see who will take a chance on him. If I were writing the script, he would be picked up by…. Oh, let’s say…. what the hell. Let’s say the Dodgers, who have been throwing their money around, lately. Now, the Dodgers, along with a very expensive Beverly Hills therapist, and maybe a no less expensive North Hollywood call girl with a heart of gold, find a way to unlock the man’s true potential. Cut to the deciding game of the 2014 Playoffs, Giants and Dodgers, and out of the bullpen comes Barry Zito, and he’s on a mission from God. Pence whiffs. Sandoval falls down, striking out. Posey bursts into tears of frustration on National TV: Barry Zito is The Man! Nobody can hit him. Three up and three down for nine innings; twenty seven pitches and out! NOW, what do you think of your blue eyed boy, Mister Sabean!
    There is absolutely no reason it couldn’t happen just like that. That’s what I love about baseball.


      • Hey, 27 pitches could happen. As long as every batter swings at the first pitch and makes an out…

        For what it’s worth, Baseball Almanac says that the least number of pitches thrown in a nine inning game was 58 in Red Barrett’s 1944 two-hitter (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/boxscore/08101944.shtml)

        They also say that the least number of pitches in a perfect game was 74: Addie Joss in 1908 (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/pitching/piperf.shtml). For comparison, last year it took Philip Humber 96 pitches, King Felix 113, and Matt Cain 125 (the most ever!). Obviously the quality of pitchers is declining. 😉


      • I’m guessing that he’s on the waiver wire now, but nobody will make an offer compelling enough, and the Giants will pull him back. But yeah, it could be interesting. I could see Houston or Milwaukee taking a flyer on him. Why not? It’s only money, they can’t do much worse than they have been, and who knows but a change of scene might be just what he needs to get his act together.


  2. The Zito story fascinates me, as a Shrink. The guy was a Monster, over in Oakland. A rising star, destined to be one of the greats. The Giants lure him across the Bay with a ridiculous amount of money, and suddenly he’s Prince Hamlet, regarding his Father’s skull on the mound. Will he kill Claudius (currently batting .327) today, or will he throw three balls in the dirt and then hit the batter? It’s like watching a speeding train (to nimbly switch metaphors), heading toward a possible wreck, unless it switches to the alternate track that leads to safety. What happened to the guy? W (as the kids say) TF? Just fascinating.


    • And where’s the guy who can flip the switch?

      It’s the stories that make baseball great. No other sport offers so much scope for the improbable, the impractical, and the phenomenal. It has always attracted more than its fair share of characters, and the 162 game season gives them plenty of scope to exercise that character.


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