Welcome to August. It’s a new world out there.
In years past, the July 31 Trade Deadline was important, but not the final opportunity for clubs to acquire talent for the stretch run. Justin Verlander’s Aug. 31 trade from the Tigers to the Astros in 2017 stands out as the most impactful post-July move we’ve seen in quite some time -- or ever? -- but as recently as last year, players including Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen and Gio Gonzalez were moved in the regular season’s penultimate month.
But as of 2019, that has changed, and teams cannot trade Major Leaguers from Aug. 1 through the World Series. However, that doesn’t mean players can’t change teams again this season.
How can that happen? Let us explain.
MINOR LEAGUE TRADES
Under the new rules adopted this season, no player that has been on a Major League contract at any point in 2019 may be traded until after the World Series, meaning only players on Minor League deals who have not been promoted to the big leagues this year can be dealt.
“The only way I think you’ll see moves this month is if there’s an injury and someone needs depth,” one NL general manager said. “Those 4A guys will move if someone has a really rough injury and is stuck.”
Teams often need extra catching depth -- they could target a backstop with MLB experience like Carlos Perez (in the Orioles organization), Jett Bandy (Rangers) or Rene Rivera (Mets). Pitching depth is always a concern, too -- a starter like Hector Noesi (Marlins) or a lefty reliever like Fernando Abad (Giants) would be options. Maybe someone needs an emergency shortstop -- Alcides Escobar (White Sox) and Pete Kozma (Tigers) are out there. And speed/defense specialists are valuable in October -- someone like Shane Robinson (Phillies), maybe.
These are all players with Major League experience who are on Minor League deals, not on 40-man rosters, and have not appeared in the Majors this year. We’re not saying these guys are going to be traded or even rumored to be traded, just that these are the types of players who might be dealt in August.
Note that a player who has been in the Minors all season but signed a Major League contract -- Rusney Castillo of the Red Sox, for example -- may not be traded. Players on the 60-day injured list are also ineligible to be traded.
Trades could still take place that see clubs swap prospects, and it would be bold if, say, one team traded for a good prospect near the Majors (perhaps for lower-level prospects) in hopes of promoting them for the stretch run. But as an NL general manager said, “Prospect for prospect deals are hard to do any time.”
So don’t hold your breath on that front.
WAIVERS AND FREE AGENCY
As always, teams will designate players for assignment, which means they have 10 days to run them through waivers, then either trade them or outright them to the Minors. Only now that July 31 has passed, the trade option is gone.
That means DFA’d players will be put through waivers and, assuming they clear, outrighted to the Minors. Players with five-plus years of service time -- Asdrubal Cabrera, for example, who will reportedly be DFA’d by the Rangers on Friday -- can refuse an assignment to a Minor League club and elect free agency instead.
Outrighted players who become free agents will still have the opportunity to sign with a new team in August. Don’t be surprised if that happens with Cabrera.
Of course, players don't always clear waivers. Teams can claim them. That's another way to add talent in August.
Under the old August rules, revocable trade waivers allowed a team to place a player on waivers while keeping the option of “pulling him back” if a trade could not be reached with the claiming team. The original team could also just let the claiming team have the player and his remaining contract, or trade him to any team if no one claimed him.
(Remember how you used to hear stories every August about famous players getting placed on waivers and people freaking out? That was revocable trade waivers; there was no risk of a team losing its star for nothing. But it's also how Verlander ended up getting traded in 2017.)
Now, teams placing a player on waivers will likely do so with the hope that another team will claim him -- along with the entirety of whatever is left on his contract.
So will we see high-priced players DFA’d in August in hopes that someone else might take on the salary?
“It will be like trade waivers; guys with big expiring contracts will get run through waivers,” the NL GM said. “But if you weren’t going to assume a contract in other years, you’re still not going to assume a contract. The new rules won’t change that.”
Any player who might receive a Qualifying Offer is unlikely to be set free on a waiver claim, because his team would lose the opportunity to recoup a Draft pick this winter if he signs elsewhere. That probably takes the likes of Madison Bumgarner (if the Giants fall out of the race) and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu off the table.
But for teams out of the race looking to save a few bucks, impending free agents who don’t fit that description could find new homes via waiver claim. Among non-contenders, some candidates include Justin Smoak (Blue Jays), Ivan Nova (White Sox), Martin Prado (Marlins), Starlin Castro (Marlins) and Francisco Cervelli (Pirates).
OTHER LONGSHOT OPTIONS
Teams are still free to pursue players from other international leagues in places such as Japan or Korea, or in North American independent leagues. The Long Island Ducks, for instance, currently have 13 players on their roster that have Major League experience. Should a team get desperate, perhaps somebody like Ezequiel Carrera or T.J. Rivera gets another crack at the Majors?
As always, Aug. 31 is the final day to add a player who will be eligible for postseason play, but unlike recent years, you won’t see teams making last-minute moves to pry away a pinch-runner or extra relief arm.