We Will Not Waiver

Posted on 05 September 2012 by Dennis Lawson

President Selig

President George Bush said this.  Actually, he said something slightly different, and he was not speaking about baseball or revocable waivers.  However, he had a good idea, if you change the words and apply them to MLB.

“We will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.” -George Bush in 2001

MLB’s revocable waiver period represents a rather illogical extension of the non-waiver trading period.  Teams play a rather ridiculous game of cat-and-mouse using this period after the pseudo-trade deadline expires to dangle players, rid themselves of bloated contracts, or just tease opposing teams with a glimpse at what could be.  The travesty of this lies in the way teams play this demeaning game and in doing so also game the system.

Consider first a scenario in which a team has already concluded that contending for a playoff spot falls into the realm of “pipe dream”.  The team has a few high-profile players signed to deals that run for another 3-4 years.  If they make overtures to trade said players, they risk offending the players as well as the fan base.  If they try to quietly make it know that players “A” and “B” could be had for the right price, someone will inevitably let that information slip to some media person who will tweet the information before concluding the conversation with the “high-placed, reliable source within the organization”.  Get the drift?

Then contemplate a second scenario in which the same team waits until past the trade deadline to make a few calls (or send texts/emails/candygram).  Both players “A” and “B” get quietly placed on revocable waivers.  When someone finally realizes that both players have hit the waiver wire, the GM or a patsy acting on behalf of the GM can always say the move was a strategic one to smoke out potential buyers and better assess weaknesses other teams have.  Also, the team owns some oceanfront property in Arizona and a bridge that it deems fit for sale.

Of course, the waiver process involves teams making claims (or not) which get prioritized from the bottom of one league to the top and repeated from bottom to top in the other league, if no team makes a claim.  This highly sophisticated form of calling “dibs” on a waived player amounts to a lot of sound and smoke that typically signifies absolutely nothing.  Some teams simply use the opportunity to cast off roster fodder in hopes someone else will pick up the tab.  Other teams scour the waiver wire for a guy like Randy Wolf who can handle giving the team a good 6-8 losses by the end of the season.  Then you have what the Dodgers and Red Sox pulled off recently.  Almost a quarter of a billion in payroll changed from one set of books to another.  No issue with that here, but it merits mentioning that under a slightly different system of rules, that deal may have been put together sooner.

That’s not to say that the Dodgers “deserve” to have the services of one Adrian Gonzalez for an extra month, but for another team in another time a similar deal could make a huge difference.  Why not consider either pushing the non-waiver trade deadline back, or changing some of the trading rules to make the waiver period much longer and easier to navigate?  Make this whole process a bit more exciting by making a few not-so-subtle changes, too.

  • All players without no-trade or limited no-trade protection clauses get to create 3 tiers of trade preferences.  Each tier consists of 10 teams.  If the player gets traded to a team in the 1st preferred tier, he gets a pat on the back and plane ticket out of town.  If the player gets traded to a team in the 2nd preferred tier, he gets a bonus equal to 10% of his base salary for the season.  If the player goes to a team in the 3rd preferred tier, he gets a bonus of 20% his base pay and a coupon to 20% off his next meal at Olive Garden.
  • Either the trade deadline gets moved to the end of August, or the entire period from opening day to August 31st becomes a really long, revocable trade period.  Move the trade deadline back, and teams can push off the “fight or flight” decision about playoff legitimacy until the races really take shape.  Go with the waiver plan, and teams have more flexibility to be active without inviting public relations nightmares to surface.

Why all the trouble?  Legit question.  The current system worked fine for a while, and few would complain about keeping it a while longer.  However, the addition of 1 more wild card spot in each league completely changes things.  Maybe the first wild card spot projects in mid-July to go to a team that hits 91-92 wins.  Under that condition, a lot of teams hovering close to a .525-50 winning percentage have to seriously consider whether to buy, sell, or hold.  Let us then say that the 2nd wild card spot projects to go for around 88 wins.  That brings a lot of potential contenders back into the conversation.  Unfortunately, mid-July and early October are separated by an awful lot of games on the schedule.

What if a team decides on August 1st that it can really make a run with just a little added help?  The current system makes it very difficult for that team to finagle a #3 starting pitcher or a middle infielder who can hit .270.  Seems like a real shame to me.  Give the waiver/trade system more flexibility, and maybe the redistribution of talent will increase the number of games that “count” later in the season as more teams than ever before consider themselves contenders.  What is there to lose?  Sure, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” could widen at first, and the 2012 Dodgers might be the case study for that happening.  However, the 2015 Dodgers might produce the case study for how talent redistribution via the exchange of bloated contract obligation tranches brings down a franchise for years.

Let the big money players make the same moves big money players have always made, but give the small market teams more chances to dump contracts onto them.  It could help effectively level the playing field without altering the luxury tax system or the revenue sharing process.  Think about it.

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