The 2020 MLB season is in the stretch run and the. More than I expected following the COVID-19 shutdown, I'd say. , and there were several smaller trades as well.
Next Tuesday, Sept. 15, is the postseason-eligibility deadline. Players must be in the organization by 11:59 p.m. ET that night to be eligible for the postseason roster and that is a hard deadline with no loopholes. The player doesn't have to be on the active MLB roster, he can be at the alternate site, but he has to be in the organization.
Previously, teams could complete trades after the deadline through trade waivers. MLB did away with trade waivers last year, so now players can only change teams via free agency and waiver claims after the deadline. With no trade waivers, teams completed "trades" via waiver claims last year. The two sides agreed to a claim ahead of time and essentially made a salary dump trade.
Last year there were 22 waiver claims in August, including recognizable names like Kevin Gausman, Freddy Galvis, and Jared Hughes. In 2019, the final year of the waiver trade system, there were only 12 claims in August. Claims definitely picked up following in the first year without waiver trades. They are pretty much the only way to add players now.
For the team giving up the player in one of these "waiver claim trades," there are two motivations to make the deal:
- Dump salary, which has taken on increased importance following the shutdown.
- Open a roster spot for a younger player, even if only for a few weeks.
As a reminder, when a team claims a player on waivers, they get him and his entire contract. Shin-Soo Choo is in the final year of his contract and the Rangers would surely love to unload him, but he's still owed approximately $2.6 million this season, and there's no chance another club will take that on that money.
The best "waiver claim trade" candidates are impending free agents with small contracts. That means you can still pick up role players, but not impact guys who fit near the top of the rotation or in the middle of the lineup. With that in mind, here are 10 candidates to change teams via waivers prior to the Sept. 15 postseason-eligibility deadline.
Approximate remaining salary: $1 million
The Red Sox traded away several impending free agents (Mitch Moreland, Kevin Pillar, Brandon Workman) plus two others under team control beyond 2020 (Heath Hembree, Josh Osich) at the deadline. They held on to Jackie Bradley Jr., however, even though he is a free agent to be. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom recently told reporters, including MassLive.com's Christopher Smith, they would "love to have him for a long time." Bradley responded by saying he hasn't heard anything about a contract extension and is looking forward to testing the free agent waters. As an elite center field defender who will chip in offensively, Bradley figures to generate interest on waivers, though the seven-figure price tag will give teams pause.
Approximate remaining salary: $371,000
A toe sprain has limited veteran swingman Jesse Chavez to a handful of mostly ineffective innings this season, but he is cheap and he has experience in every role imaginable. The velocity is still there and I suspect teams will remember his dynamite work for the contending Cubs down the stretch in 2018. The last-place Rangers sold at the trade deadline (Robinson Chirinos, Todd Frazier, Mike Minor) and there's no real reason to keep Chavez these last few weeks. Save that money and give the innings to a younger pitcher who may be part of the solution going forward.
Approximate remaining salary: $602,000
This is just not the Nationals' year. They are firmly in last place despite getting MVP caliber performances from Juan Soto and Trea Turner, and while Sean Doolittle is beloved in the clubhouse and in the community, he is an impending free agent and this is a business. Washington may want to give his innings to someone else and save that money for a rainy day in the post-pandemic world. I know $602,000 doesn't seem like much to a baseball club, but it's a lot of money in the real world. Doolittle has struggled around a knee injury this season but has championship pedigree and lefty relievers are always popular waiver targets.
Possible fits: Every contender. Every team in the race has room for Doolittle in their bullpen
Approximate remaining salary: $510,000
The Reds acquired Galvis in a waiver claim last August and he's been largely solid with Cincinnati, though youngster Jose Garcia has taken over as the full-time shortstop these last two weeks, leaving Galvis as an overqualified utility infielder. He has power and is still a very good defender. Infield depth is hard to find and Galvis is about as good a middle infielder as you can acquire this time of year. With the Orioles and Jose Iglesias surprisingly in the postseason race, any team that loses an infielder to injury these next few days figures to call the Reds about Galvis and try to arrange a claim.
Approximate remaining salary: $148,000
Potentially a sneaky-great pickup. The Mariners traded away several relievers at the deadline (Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, Taylor Williams) but hung on to Yoshihisa Hirano, who started the season on the COVID-19 injured list and didn't return until late last month. The righty has late-inning experience and a great splitter that allows him to shut down righties and lefties alike. Hirano is an impending free agent -- although he does not have the necessary six years of service time to qualify for free agency, MLB teams routinely allow Japanese league veterans to become free agents when their contracts expire as a courtesy -- and very low cost. Seattle can better use the $148,000 and roster spot elsewhere, and a contender could surely use Hirano in their bullpen.
Possible fits: Astros, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Yankees
Approximate remaining salary: $116,000
The last time Derek Holland appeared on these pages, it was because he allowed four home runs within his first 11 pitches. He has not been good this year, there's no doubt about that, but that's largely because the pitching-needy Pirates used him as a starter, a role he is not suited for at this point. Holland still has value as a left-on-lefty matchup guy though. He held lefties to a .192/.286/.242 batting line last year and has been even better against them this year. A contender that is looking ahead to a postseason series with, say, the Athletics (Matt Olson, Tommy La Stella) or Dodgers (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, etc.), and has a manager deft enough to navigate the three-batter minimum rule, could target Holland as a late-season bullpen addition.
Possible fits: Brewers, Cleveland, Phillies, Twins, Yankees
Approximate remaining salary: $116,000
Kansas City did well to cash in Trevor Rosenthal as a trade chip, but the club hung on to Greg Holland, who is a Royals legacy player. That said, the 34-year-old is unlikely to part of the next contending Royals team, and it seems his roster spot and remaining salary can be better used elsewhere. I don't expect the Royals to let Holland go on a waiver claim at this point -- they weirdly kept Ian Kennedy last year despite his rebuilt trade value -- but it wouldn't be a bad idea to explore the market prior to Tuesday.
Possible fits: As with Doolittle, Holland is a fit for every contender
Approximate remaining salary: Pro-rated league minimum
Matt Kemp's best days are behind him, that's no secret, but he remains a useful bench bat. Kemp has hit .283/.336/.511 against lefties since 2018 and is on a similar pace this year. You don't want him playing the outfield and you don't want him hitting against right-handed pitchers. In the 28-man roster and universal DH era though, surely there is a place for Kemp on a contender's bench. The Rockies themselves are in the postseason hunt and will likely keep Kemp unless they suddenly fall out of the race prior to the postseason-eligibility deadline next Tuesday.
Possible fits: Braves, Brewers, Cleveland, Cubs
Approximate remaining salary: $579,000
A World Series hero last year, Howie Kendrick is among the many underperforming Nationals who are responsible for the club being in last place this year. The 37-year-old Kendrick remains a pro's pro at the plate, and he proved he has big game chops last October. Kendrick was placed on the 10-day IL earlier this week with a hamstring strain, but if he can come back healthy enough to DH or pinch hit, he could fit on almost any contender's bench. No team wants to dump a franchise legend -- Kendrick is absolutely a Nationals legend after last postseason -- but in the cold, calculated world of baseball decisions, it makes sense. Fellow veteran Nationals infielder Asdrubal Cabrera is possible waiver claim fodder as well.
Possible fits: Just about every contender, particularly the Athletics, Brewers, and Yankees
Approximate remaining salary: $278,000
The Giants were surprisingly quiet at the trade deadline -- they neither bought nor sold -- and hey, it seems to have been the right move. They're playing well and fighting for a postseason spot. Should things go sideways the next few days, there would be interest in Tony Watson on waivers given his effectiveness and cheap salary. He can match up against lefties or pitch full innings, and he's pitched in high-leverage spots for years. The guess here is San Francisco will keep to Watson and try to sneak into the postseason. For them, opening the roster spot and saving that money doesn't have as much value as Watson pitching important innings down the stretch.
Possible fits: Brewers, Phillies, Yankees