Waiver Wire Primer

Well, the trade deadline has passed which means that teams can no longer exchange players and that players cannot change teams from here on out. Or wait, nevermind, they still can, just not through conventional methods. Players can still switch sides for the next month through the magical waiver wire. Everyone has heard the term “waiver” tossed around with cavalier delivery but its actual meaning and implications are not necessarily known by most fans. If you have ever been confused with regards to its exactitudes, do not worry because you are not alone.

For starters, what is the waiver wire? Essentially, the waiver wire is used to gauge interest in certain players of a team as well as make moves when the trading deadline has passed. If a team puts a player of theirs on waivers it does not mean they are steadfastly interesting in moving him; instead, it could mean they are curious as to what could be obtained for his services or perhaps how many teams show interest.

This leads into a bit of “waiver theory.” Teams will put many of their players on waivers, even if they have no intention whatsoever of even listening to offers or taking notice of piqued interest. This occurs because the team in question wants to disguise the players they are actually offering. As a pure hypothetical, a player placed on waivers with an OPS of, say, .760, might look more enticing when surrounded on the waiver wire by teammates with much higher or much lower marks. This same player might not catalyze much discussion if placed by his lonesome.

A player is placed on waivers at 2 PM on day one and has until 1 pm, two business days later, to be claimed. If nobody made a claim for him, and the team doesn’t want his services anymore, they can either send him to the minors, release him, or even work out a trade. If a player is claimed prior to this deadline, the owning team can either pull their man off of waivers, work out a trade, or do nothing and let the claiming team receive the player. Once a player is pulled off of waivers he cannot be traded for another month. Additionally, you can only be pulled off once; if pulled off and placed back on, the player is fair game.

What happens if there are multiple claims? The team with the worst record in the same league gets precedent. If nobody in the same league makes a claim this same rule reverts to the opposite league; the team with the worst record has first dibs, so to speak. For the first month of the season, the previous year’s W-L records are used to gauge these dibs. After that, current season records come into play. This again leads into some waiver theory or strategy, in that some teams will put in a claim simply to block another team from getting a certain player. If the Red Sox want a relief pitcher on waivers, and make a claim for him, the Yankees, who have a worse record, may also make a claim in the hopes that their rivals cannot improve their team.

Then again, if the team owning the relief pitcher doesn’t pull him off of waivers, the Yankees would then be stuck with him whether they like him or not. I hope this cleared up some confusion relative to the inner workings of the waiver wire because, over the next month, it is safe to say we are not going to be at any type of drought of waiver-talk.

The information in this article was derived from an old Jayson Stark article, an older Steve Phillips article, and Tim Dierkes’ post from 2006. Thanks also to Keith Law for further clarifications.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

11 Responses to “Waiver Wire Primer”

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  1. Larry Seltzer says:

    What form does the “wire” take? Is it somehow computerized or are faxes sent to the teams or what?

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  2. Stephen says:

    I’ve always had the same question, Larry. I’m curious about that also.

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  3. Shizane says:

    I asked the same question over on Paul DePodesta’s blog…..we’ll see who responds first. I want to know as well.


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  4. Eric Seidman says:

    Shizane, I apologize, I just started a new job that requires about 12 hrs a day for the first few weeks. As far as I know, the waiver wire is some sort of fax that goes to every front office at the same time (likely from a relative standpoint) to give everyone equal opportunity.

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  5. Dave Cameron says:

    It’s email now.

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  6. Bob says:

    My question is if a player is claimed and a trade is worked out, do the players from the “claiming” team also have to be put on waivers also. In addition, if other players were to be included say bench players or minor league players (say a 4 for 2 deal), do they also have to placed on waivers? Thanks

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  7. PressBias says:

    What if 2 teams claim a player, if the first one can’t work out a deal does the 2nd one still have to wait a month or do the 48 hours allow them to claim the player?

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  8. Mike Emeigh says:


    If two teams claim a player, only the one that has priority gets to negotiate; the second team is SOL.

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