Most baseball fans are vaguely familiar with Major League Baseball’s waiver system. It’s not a consistent system, with several waiver periods throughout the year. The most publicized waiver period takes place around the month of August, when teams can make trades via waivers. The waiver order is determined in two ways during that time period. The order is based on the current season’s standings, although priority is given to the leagues, which means that if an American league team waives a player, that player would have to pass through every AL team before any National League team could claim him.
Because the August waiver period is so publicized, it leads to the belief that this is how waivers work all of the time. That’s not the case. MLB has three waiver periods, and the period that includes the August waiver rules ended yesterday. Today starts a new waiver period, which runs through February 15th. The new waiver order is based on the results from the previous season, although unlike the August waiver period, preference isn’t given to the individual leagues.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have the eighth waiver pick, based on their rankings last year. Under the new waiver period, they will have the eighth priority on any player that is placed on waivers, regardless of what league that player came from. This is unlike the waiver period which ended yesterday. If a player being waived by an American League team would have been claimed yesterday, the Pirates would have the 18th priority. They would have had to wait for the player to pass by all 14 American League teams, plus the three National League teams that are infront of them (Houston, Chicago, and San Diego).
During the off-season players are placed on waivers all the time, as teams make room for new additions, protecting Rule 5 players, and other various roster shuffling. The important dates are as follows:
-November 18th: The deadline for clubs to set their 40-man rosters and protect players from the Rule 5 draft. This results in a lot of players being placed on waivers. The Pirates claimed Chris Jakubauskas two years ago during this period of roster shuffling.
-December 1st: Last date to request waivers on a player to clear space in order to select a player in the Rule 5 draft.
-Any time a player signs: When a team signs a player, they usually have to create space on the 40-man roster, especially after November 18th, when most rosters will be filled up. Last year the Pirates claimed Aaron Thompson in late December, after Washington waived him to create a 40-man spot for Rick Ankiel. They claimed Brandon Jones off of waivers in 2010 after Atlanta waived him to create a spot for Eric Hinske.
Overall the expectations shouldn’t be high for players on the waiver wire. These are usually the 39th or 40th best players on a team’s 40-man roster. It’s highly unlikely that any team’s 40th man would make an impact on any other team. Normally these guys are projects, like Chris Leroux, who was a late season waiver claim in September 2010. But for every Leroux, you’ve got several Justin Thomas, Brandon Jones, and Chris Jakubauskas type waiver claims.
The Pirates have made waiver claims in each of the last four years during this waiver period, and that’s not uncommon, as most teams make a waiver claim during this period. However, none of the claims have really made an impact, outside of added depth for the bullpen. I would expect the same result this year.