Friday, August 02, 2002

Clearing waivers complicates post-deadline trades

By Mel Antonen

        Baseball's trade deadline has come and gone, but that doesn't prevent a team from making a trade during August. It's just tougher to do.

        Wednesday was sort of a deadline. Now, a player involved in a deal has to clear waivers, a process that allows a team to claim players and block trades to contending teams.

        “If you wanted for sure to make a deal, you needed to make a move by now,” Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said.

        Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro said teams are going to be “very careful in waiver trades,” to keep from getting stuck with a big-money contract.

        Here's how it works: Let's say Seattle, a team in search of a starting pitcher and a hitter before Wednesday, agrees on a deal with Kansas City for pitcher Paul Byrd.

        The Royals would have to seek waivers on Byrd. If he is not claimed in a 48-hour span, the deal goes through, just like before Wednesday. If a team, say Oakland, claims Byrd, the Royals have 48 hours to make a choice: Let Byrd go to the Athletics or pull him back and keep him.

        Byrd, 31, the market's hottest pitcher with a chance to win 20 games, has an $850,000 contract, so it wouldn't be much of a gamble for the A's to claim Byrd and keep him from going to Seattle and get a good pitcher to boot.

        But if the Mariners worked a trade with Cleveland for outfielder Ellis Burks, the A's, even though Burks could boost their run production, might not claim Burks because he's on a $6 million contract for this year and next.

        So, what are the Mariners and Royals to do?

        “Pick and choose on the players that get through,” Mariners GM Pat Gillick said. “If you want to take on an obligation (financially), it's going to be easier to make a trade. Players on short-term contracts are going to be more difficult.”

        The Mariners, leaders in the American League West, were interested in Byrd (14-7, 3.49 ERA), but didn't have a match for the Royals. The Mariners were talking to Tampa Bay about Randy Winn and to Toronto about Jose Cruz Jr.

        “We weren't a call away,” Gillick said. “We were in the ballpark, but nothing close.”

        While the Mariners have to think about taking on salary, the out-of-contention Royals are working on the opposite angle of the waiver rule and trying to cut salaries.

        Royals GM Allard Baird didn't like any of the offers he was getting for Byrd, and he said it wasn't accurate to assume Byrd wasn't going to sign to stay in Kansas City after 2002.

        Instead of low-level prospects, Baird was looking for young players that would be big-league ready for next season. Now, Baird isn't sure how many of his players will be moved in August.

        Byrd is not likely to clear waivers, but closer Roberto Hernandez ($6 million), shortstop Neifi Perez ($4.1 million) and pitcher Jeff Suppan ($3.8 million) have big enough contracts that could keep teams from claiming them.

        For a long time, waivers were a formality. In recent years teams have been using them to block trades to first-place teams. The labor uncertainly and teams' tight budgets likely will mean that less waiver claims will be made, especially on expensive players.

        Players used to be judged on ability alone.

        Now, they have to pass ability and budget tests.

        “Budgets are so tight,” Anaheim GM Bill Stoneman said. “Guys who are high-priced and not high impact are going to get through.”


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