How To Acquire Players After The Trade Deadline

Not long ago, every August at MLBTR kicked off by reminding longtime MLB fans (or explaining to new fans) how the dizzying rules regarding August trade waivers worked. It was a convoluted process — one that saw nearly every player in the league placed on revocable trade waivers at some point (heavy emphasis on “revocable”) — but one that front offices increasingly used as creative means to pull off significant acquisitions after the supposed “deadline.”

In reality, under the old rules, the first “trade deadline” was never the actual deadline — it just wasn’t as catchy to use the full term, “non-waiver trade deadline.” As time progressed, the month of August increasingly served as a means of swapping out higher-priced talents in waiver trades that were still quite noteworthy. If you’re seeing Justin Verlander, Andrew McCutchenJosh Donaldson and others change hands in late August, just before the deadline for postseason eligibility, then was July 31 (or, in the case of this year, Aug. 2) really the trade “deadline?” Not so much.

Back in 2019, Major League Baseball opted to quash the ever-growing process of August roster reconstruction. The league put an end to waiver trades that often served as a means of teams hitting the “eject” button on notable contracts and saw larger-payroll clubs take on those deals simply because they possessed the financial wherewithal to do so. MLB implemented a more concrete “true” trade deadline that prohibited players on Major League contracts — or any who had previously been on Major League contracts earlier in the season (i.e. since-outrighted players) — from being traded after the deadline.

Does that mean teams can no longer acquire new players or address injuries as they arise? No, but their avenues to do so are substantially narrower. Here’s a look at how Major League front offices can still augment their roster now that the “true” trade deadline has passed:

1. Trades!

Wait, what? I thought we just–

Yes, we did. But it turns out that the “true” trade deadline is really only the “true” trade deadline for Major League players! Fun how that works, right? In all likelihood, you’ll still see several players change hands this month, they just won’t be very exciting. But, veterans who’ve been playing the entire season on a minor league contract and haven’t at any point been added to the 40-man roster or been on the Major League injured list are still fair game to be traded.

Will you see any huge, blockbuster names flipped? No, but could you see the Rays trade Chase Anderson (4.38 ERA in 74 Triple-A innings this season) or the White Sox trade Dan Winkler (3.60 ERA, 39 strikeouts but also 19 walks in 30 Triple-A frames)? Yes! It just can’t be in exchange for anyone who’s been on the 40-man roster or Major League injured list at any point in 2022.

Last August’s slate of trades saw a handful of recognizable names dealt: Delino DeShields (twice!), Brad Peacock, Dustin Garneau, Mallex Smith, John Axford and Andrew Vasquez were all on the move for either marginal prospects or the ever-popular “cash considerations.”

Just to speculate a bit — and we haven’t really seen this in the past, but it’s technically possible  — teams technically can engineer minor league trades, so long as the players involved have not been on the 40-man roster at any point in a given season. It’s doubtful we’ll see any top prospects change hands in this regard, but it’s not expressly forbidden, either.

And, just to rain on your parade, no — teams cannot game the system using players to be named later. The rules pertaining to the “true” trade deadline made sure to include the following language:

“The Commissioner’s Office will prohibit any transaction (or series of transactions) that, in the judgment of the Commissioner’s Office, appears (or appear) designed to circumvent the prohibitions of Rule 9(b).”

Nice try, folks, but don’t get your hopes up.

Just remember, anyone acquired after Aug. 31 isn’t postseason-eligible with his new club, so minor swaps of any relative note will likely take place before the calendar flips to September. (MLBTR has confirmed with a source that despite Opening Day being pushed back and the trade deadline falling two days later than usual in 2022, the postseason eligibility deadline remains 11:59pm ET on Aug. 31.)

It won’t lead to any exciting trades, but we’ll still see some trades this month. You’ll just have to wait until the offseason for the Shohei Ohtani, Pablo Lopez, Sean Murphy, Bryan Reynolds, etc. rumors to fire up.

2. Outright and Release Waivers

Revocable trade waivers are no longer a thing, but regular old outright waivers and release waivers are alive and well. Any time a player is designated for assignment now, the team’s only recourse will be to place him on outright waivers or release waivers. At that point, the other 29 teams will have the opportunity to claim that player … and the entirety of his remaining contract. Of course, a team doesn’t need to announce a DFA or even announce that a player has been put on waivers. It’s fairly common for a team to just announce that a player cleared waivers and was outrighted to a minor league affiliate without ever publicly declaring a DFA.

An important reminder on waivers now that it’s the primary means of acquiring talent from another organization: waiver priority is determined based on overall record (worst record to best record) and, unlike the now-retired “revocable trade waivers,” is not league-specific. If the Nationals want Dinelson Lamet, whom the Brewers designated for assignment this week, they’ll have first crack at claiming him off waivers; if they pass, the A’s are up next. Then the Royals. And so on and so forth.

Teams who didn’t find sufficient interest in veteran players prior to the trade deadline and thus held onto them could eventually place those players on outright waivers in August, hoping another club will claim said player and simply spare the waiving team some cash. This is likelier to happen late in the month — when there’s less cash owed on those veteran contracts. We did see a handful of these moves just last year. The Giants claimed Jose Quintana from the Angels. The Reds claimed Asdrubal Cabrera from the D-backs. This could also be viewed as a means of granting a veteran player on a non-contender the opportunity to join a postseason race.

As with any minor league trades, players claimed off waivers will only be postseason-eligible with their new club if claimed before 11:59pm ET on Aug. 31.

3. Sign Free Agents

Same as ever. Anyone who gets released or rejects an outright assignment in favor of free agency will be able to sign with a new team and, so long as the deal is wrapped up prior to Sept. 1, they’ll be postseason-eligible with a new team. It’s certainly feasible that a once-productive veteran enjoys a hot streak with a new club or fills a useful part-time role. Some team with suspect outfield depth and/or defense is probably going to sign Jackie Bradley Jr. for his glove alone once he inevitably becomes a free agent in a few days (no one is claiming the remainder of his $9.5MM salary and the $8MM option buyout on his contract). Didi Gregorius was just cut loose by the Phillies. Others will follow suit.

One key name to consider: former Mets All-Star Michael Conforto. The 29-year-old didn’t sign a contract last offseason after rejecting a qualifying offer, and it was eventually revealed that a shoulder injury sustained during MLB’s lockout period ultimately required surgery. Now that the amateur draft has passed, a team would no longer need to forfeit any draft picks to sign him. Agent Scott Boras said back in May that there was a chance Conforto could be Major League-ready by September, and Boras said after the draft that he’d heard from four clubs regarding Conforto. Whether a team actually signs Conforto, of course, will be dependent on the state of that surgically repaired shoulder.

Outside of Conforto it might be unlikely that this avenue results in acquiring an impact playoff contributor — but it also can’t be ruled out. The Braves’ acquisition of Eddie Rosario at last year’s trade deadline isn’t directly analogous, but Rosario was effectively dumped in the Braves’ lap for salary relief after hitting .254/.296/.389 in Cleveland. He spent several weeks on the injured list, then returned with one of the most torrid heaters of his notoriously streaky career, culminating in NLCS MVP honors.  Yes, that’s a trade, but we’ll still see teams hoping to “salary dump” veterans in similar fashion.

Point being: just as Rosario did, a veteran hitter who has underwhelmed elsewhere can still play a key role in a postseason push and even in a playoff series. Cody Ross can probably still eat and drink for free in San Francisco for the rest of his life.

4. Scour the Independent Leagues

Roll your eyes all you want, but the Atlantic League, Frontier League and American Association (among other indie circuits) are all teeming with former big leaguers. Need a speedy fourth outfielder who can provide some late-game defense and baserunning during September roster expansion? A platoon bat off the bench? An extra southpaw to stash in the bullpen? There will be experienced names to consider.

Matt Adams has 21 homers in 306 plate appearances with the Kansas City Monarchs. His teammate, former Tigers/Red Sox lefty Matt Hall, has a 1.24 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 51 innings. Fellow lefty Tyler Webb has had similar success with the Long Island Ducks.

Granted, teams aren’t likely to find a true impact player on the indie scene, but then again, people cracked jokes when the 2015 Red Sox signed then-35-year-old Ducks lefty Rich Hill. Seven years, 737 Major League innings and nearly $70MM later, Hill has the last laugh.

5. Look to Foreign Leagues

We don’t often see players return from the KBO, NPB or CPBL to sign with big league clubs midseason, but there’s precedent for it happening. There are also quite a few former big leaguers playing down in the Mexican League, creating another area for front offices to scout as they mine for depth options. Interest won’t be limited solely to former big leaguers, either. Back in June, the Mariners signed lefty Brennan Bernardino after a strong nine-start run in Mexico, watched him dominate through 12 2/3 innings in Triple-A Tacoma, and selected him to the Major League roster by the end of July. He made his MLB debut with Seattle on July 31. You never know.

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