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August 1, 2014

BP Unfiltered

Professional Courtesy, and How August Works

by Sam Miller


As the waiver-trade period begins, I thought it might be useful to bring this back up, as a refresher on why good players somehow don't get claimed in August. Originally ran in 2012, the day the Dodgers claimed Adrian Gonzalez.

This is the thing that was confusing to me about August waiver claims. Take the Adrian Gonzalez situation. He was claimed by the Dodgers, but the consensus among writers etc. is that the Dodgers will have to give the Red Sox something good to convince the Red Sox to let him go. This means that

1. Every American League team, and most of the National League teams (who had waiver priority before the Dodgers), passed on Adrian Gonzalez. By the letter of the rules, each of these teams could have claimed him, and the only risk would be that they could get stuck with Adrian Gonzalez's contract if the Red Sox decided to let him go nothing. Some teams, surely, wouldn't have much use for him, but a bunch of others -- Rangers, Jays, Orioles, por ejemplo -- would. Therefore, we would assume no team in the AL, or most of the teams in the NL, thinks Adrian Gonzalez is worth his contract.

2. The Dodgers, by contrast, think he is worth that risk, so he is (at the least) worth taking on for nothing; and, if they engage in trade talks, they think he is worth taking on and giving something valuable up for. They think he is worth at least his contract.

3. The Red Sox definitely think he is worth more than his contract, because given the opportunity to shed it, they instead are asking for more incentive.

4. And even if a team didn't want Gonzalez and his contract, they would presumably be able to trade him to the Dodgers just as easily as the Red Sox can, which means Gonzalez has some value. So why not put in the claim anyway? So why did teams pass on Adrian Gonzalez if he (and his contract) are so valuable?

I hope you followed that. It's kind of a mess, but moving on.

All of this means that, if everybody behaved according to the letter of the waiver rules, we would conclude (wrongly, as you'll see) there is a massive spread of opinions on what Adrian Gonzalez is worth, just massive massive, and the Red Sox are way out of touch with almost every other team in baseball. But after a bit of reporting this afternoon, here's what I've learned.

It doesn't work that way. Hypothetically, let's say Evan Longoria were put on waivers. Every team in baseball would love to have him; every team would find a way to pay his contract. You would expect the Twins would put in a claim immediately and that would be that. But -- and this is hypothetical; I don't know what Longoria's actual status is -- almost every team would actually let him go through waivers without putting in a claim.

The August waiver period runs smoothly partly because of professional courtesy, and mutually assured destruction. If a team doesn't think Longoria is actually going to be traded to them, they won't put in a claim. This is especially true for non-contenders, who mostly sit on the sidelines during August. That's because they want their players to go through waivers without getting frivolously claimed. If a team starts claiming everybody, even with a) little chance of landing the player and b) no intention of putting together a trade package to make it happen, then its own claims will start getting blocked, in retaliation.

In fact, before a club puts a claim in, a socially astute GM will reach out to the waiving team to ask about their intentions. Are they really looking to move the player? What sort of return are they looking for? And so on. So while it's true that it doesn't mean a ton when you hear that your favorite team claimed [Star Veteran X], it does mean at least a little something. These claims are, for the most part, made in good faith.

The exception: The block, which is all part of the game. The Twins, as non-contenders, would likely not be blocking. But if a contending GM thinks his rival will try to claim or trade for a player, he might put in a claim to prevent the rival from having that chance. It wouldn't be in good faith, in the sense that that team might not have interest in adding that player; but it is, at least, relevant to the competition.

As you probably know, nearly every player on a 25-man roster will be put through waivers this month. But one estimate I heard is that only about 20 percent or so are actually claimed.

So it is not necessarily the case that the Rangers, Blue Jays, Orioles and the rest of the AL crunched the numbers and found Adrian Gonzalez's contract an albatross they were unwilling to take on. It could just mean that they didn't think they had a realistic chance of trading for him this month, and they didn't want to be that guy.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Dodgers,  Red Sox,  Adrian Gonzalez

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

hessshaun

Going to have to read this again tomorrow, without a drink in my system. Looks fascinating, but the scotch prevents absorption.

Aug 24, 2012 17:08 PM
rating: 1
 
frampton
(870)

I have heard that it used to be even more of a "gentlemen's agreement", that claims wouldn't be made in order to forestall those other teams claiming players in "retaliation". Of course, the fact that these waivers are revocable is another reason for teams to be a little wary -- might be a little consternation in the clubhouse when it leaks that a team claimed him, especially for the first baseman . . .

I do think that part of the Dodgers' claim of Gonzalez was to keep the Giants from getting him. (Fleecing the Red Sox, as I think this trade does, is just a bonus.) But otherwise, I agree that there's no reason that lots of other teams shouldn't have claimed Gonzalez; even with his contract, he'd make an awful lot of teams better.

Aug 24, 2012 19:26 PM
rating: 0
 
SaxonB

How did this trade "fleece" the Red Sox? They got some good, promising talent and were able to free up a ton of payroll. Meanwhile the Doyers weakened their farm system even more for a has-been pitcher, an injured outfielder, a nobody IF and a great first base man.

Aug 29, 2012 09:13 AM
rating: 2
 
SaxonB

I also think its flawed to think the dodgers did this to just block the Giants. SF doesn't have the payroll flexibility of LA.

Aug 29, 2012 09:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Stoney18

Thanks for the analysis. I hadn't thought about waivers in these terms.

Aug 24, 2012 19:37 PM
rating: 0
 
smallflowers

"the only risk would be that they could get stuck with Adrian Gonzalez's contract if the Red Sox decided to let him go nothing"

Just so I understand this properly - the Dodgers couldn't, in this case, get "stuck" with Gonzalez, right? You seem to imply that the claiming team runs the risk of the waiving team simply sticking the player to them. My understanding is that there is no risk at all in the Dodger's clame and that the entire process had to be mutual. When Rios, for example, jumped to the W.Sox with no other exchange, that was something that was agreed to by both sides. Am I wrong?

Surely if what you say is true they would have just gladly dumped Beckett and Crawford on the Dodgers and asked for nothing in return.

Aug 25, 2012 09:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

The Dodgers didn't necessarily claim Beckett and Crawford.

Aug 25, 2012 13:22 PM
 
smallflowers

The Dodgers were awarded a waiver claim on both Gonzalez and Beckett. I'm unsure of Crawford. Presumably he passed through waivers earlier this month. Still, my question stands.

Aug 25, 2012 16:23 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Don't know. My understanding is the Dodgers could have been "stuck" with Gonzalez and, if indeed there was a claim, Beckett. However, it's possible trade talks had already begun/progressed by the time the claim was put in, and there was an understanding that the Red Sox wouldn't stick the Dodgers with Beckett. That's just me speculating.

Aug 25, 2012 19:21 PM
 
jrmayne

Sam is correct on the main question - the Red Sox could have walked away and left the Dodgers with those the Dodgers had claimed. See, for instance:

http://www.purplerow.com/2009/2/19/762532/mlb-transactions-part-thre

The Red Sox thus could have left the Dodgers with Beckett, but it appears roughly certain (as Sam surmises) that they were in advanced trade talks and the Sox had agreed to pull back Beckett if they didn't make a deal involving Adrian.

Aside: Does anyone have a reliable figure on the amount of salary offset the Red Sox sent over? I heard it was $10 million, in which case this deal seems like a great opportunity for the Red Sox to reboot - that's Hamilton+Greinke money off the books.

Aug 26, 2012 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
smallflowers

My understanding is that it is $12M in cash, plus Loney's remaining money.

Aug 26, 2012 20:21 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

There is certainly risk in claiming a player. The Red Sox could pull back anyone they put on waivers, or they could work out a deal with the claiming team. They could also let a player go, and he becomes the claiming team's responsibility without any requirement that they negotiate further.

Aug 25, 2012 19:22 PM
 
Tim Carvin

Very simple, to the point, and informative articles like this are why BP is great. I learned more reading this than I would spending a day reading stuff at other sites. Awesome stuff Sam, so glad you are a regular here now.

Aug 26, 2012 03:36 AM
rating: 2
 
hamiltito

Another possible part of the decision for the Blue Jays and Orioles - it's unlikely Boston would want to trade Gonzalez within the division - therefore if they put in a waiver claim he is likely to be pulled back, but if they don't there is a chance he could be traded away from the AL East.

Aug 26, 2012 06:26 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Oooh, that's an interesting theory! The flip side, though, is that they might have also assumed that whatever the Red Sox did with Gonzalez would benefit the Red Sox' interests, and that by allowing Gonzalez to go unclaimed they actually gave the Red Sox the flexibility to improve the team outlook.

Aug 26, 2012 14:11 PM
 
Behemoth

Is it possible that other teams miscalculated here, in that they were told Gonzalez would only be moved if the team took on Beckett/Crawford as well, and assumed that there was no need to block because nobody would do such a thing?

Aug 27, 2012 03:48 AM
rating: 2
 
Michael
(736)

I don't know whether point #4 in the article is correct. Could a player acquired through this waiver process then be traded? If so, would he have to go through the waiver process again?

Aug 31, 2012 08:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Matthew Trueblood

Don't know who might be interested, but I wrote this last August, about the erosion of the old gentleman's agreement, and why anyone *does* get claimed in August (they never used to):

http://armsiderun.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-gentlemens-agreement-on-waivers-in-baseball-and-the-modern-august-trade-market/

Aug 01, 2014 15:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Very good! Thanks, Matt

Aug 01, 2014 15:26 PM
 
Mike V.
(596)

I made it through about half the comments before I realized they were all from 2012 as well. They all did feel a little off.

Aug 01, 2014 15:23 PM
rating: 1
 
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