MLB Trade Deadline FAQ: What It Is, What It Means, And Why It's Awesome

ARLINGTON TX - JULY 10: Pitcher Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers throws against the Baltimore Orioles on July 10 2010 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The 2010 MLB trade deadline is fast approaching, and though some big deals have already been swung, rumors of several other deals remain as deadline enthusiasm nears a fever pitch. Here, SB Nation's Jeff Sullivan answers some trade deadline FAQ to get the less familiar reader up to speed on just what's going on.

Hello there, dear reader! You're looking good today. You may have noticed that, lately, we've been flooded with MLB trade deadline coverage. By this point in the season, talking about the deadline is all the rage, as fans of good teams like to talk about which players they can pick up to improve, and fans of bad teams like to talk about which players they can sell off for young prospects. Though there are still games going on - like literally every day - right now, a lot of the fan attention is focused on ideas and rumors of moves to be made.

Now, for most fans, thinking and talking about the deadline is just standard operating procedure come the middle of July or so. But not every fan is accustomed to deadline season, or what it means, or how to behave. And for those fans, it can be difficult to speak up and ask a question in fear of embarrassment. Nobody likes to feel stupid, after all. It's for those fans that I am writing this article. Are you new to the game? Do you feel like you're missing something about the whole deadline build-up? For you, I will do my best to answer the big questions. But only for you. You, and you only.

WHAT IS IT?

The Major League Baseball trade deadline marks the end of the period during which teams may freely trade players to one another. It's more formally referred to as the non-waiver trade deadline, as just calling it the "trade deadline" is kind of misleading, for reasons I'll get to in a moment.

WHEN IS IT?

The non-waiver trade deadline falls on July 31 at 4pm EDT. By this time, the commissioner's office must have received all necessary information and paperwork for a trade to get pushed through. It's unclear whether there are a few minutes of wiggle room, but if there are, there aren't many.

WHAT COMES AFTER?

The reason the trade deadline should really be referred to as the non-waiver trade deadline is that trades can still be made after the July 31 deadline passes. However, in order for these trades to take place, the players involved - if they're on a team's 40-man roster - must first clear waivers. To clear waivers, a player must be offered to every other team in baseball in reverse order of the standings. If no team puts in a claim, the player has cleared. However, if the player is claimed, then the original team may either pull him back off waivers, or simply give him to the claiming team, with his entire contract. If a player is pulled back from waivers, he cannot be put on again.

Waivers are complicated, and one of the reasons so many trades get made before the non-waiver deadline is because many tradable players simply will not clear. Generally, the players you see clear waivers and get traded in August are decent players with big contracts that most teams don't want to assume.

The next deadline after July 31 is August 31 at midnight EDT. After this point, trades can still be made, but players acquired will not be eligible for the playoffs.

DO TEAMS TRY TO BLOCK OTHER TEAMS BY PLACING WAIVER CLAIMS?

They can, and they have, but it's risky, because - remember - if you claim a player on waivers, and the other team elects to give him to you, you're responsible for his entire contract. The famous example of a waiver block backfiring came in 1998, when the Padres claimed Blue Jay reliever Randy Myers in an attempt to keep him away from the Braves. The Blue Jays gave Myers to San Diego, where he threw all of 14.1 innings in 1998 and zero innings in either of the next two years despite being under contract for $13.6m through 2000.

BACK TO THE JULY 31 DEADLINE. HOW CAN YOU FOLLOW ALONG?

I'm glad you asked! There are a million different ways. SBNation.com will keep you up to date - you may have noticed our trade rumors StoryStream, and our StoryStream of potentially available players on the market. Our vast network of team and regional blogs will offer discussion and analysis related to rumors and trades that go down.

If you find yourself going outside of the network - and I don't know why you would - MLB.com has a trade deadline central page. Rotoworld is up-to-date and thorough. And then there's Twitter, if you really want to get yourself immersed and crave news and rumors the instant they pop up. Some people to follow would be @jonmorosi, @Ken_Rosenthal, @JeffFletcherAOL, and @SI_JonHeyman. There are, naturally, countless others. I won't even try. Rotoworld does a good job of collecting stuff from everywhere.

As for the television, Sportscenter and Baseball Tonight will hit on a lot of the stuff going around, and come Saturday, MLB Network will be airing a Trade Deadline Special from 11am-4:30pm EDT.

CAN TEAMS TRADE DRAFT PICKS?

No, they cannot. This may change eventually, or it may change soon, but I'm guessing it hasn't changed between when I wrote this article, and when you read it.

CAN YOU TRADE A PLAYER ON THE DISABLED LIST?

You can! You just need to get approval from the commissioner. This doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

WHAT IS A PTBNL?

You could see this abbreviation a lot in the coming weeks. We saw a PTBNL go from Anaheim to Arizona in the Dan Haren trade. ‘PTBNL' stands for ‘Player To Be Named Later.' This means what you would think it means - it refers to a player whose specific identity will be determined at a later date. Sometimes, what happens is that the two teams will agree to a list of potential players, from which one player will later be selected. Other times, a PTBNL may end up being a player who was recently drafted, as once a player signs his first professional contract, an entire calendar year must pass before he gets traded.

A PTBNL must be identified within six months. Between the trade and the date of transaction completion, the player may not have played in the Major Leagues.

OKAY, SO LET'S TALK 2010. WHO ARE THE BIG PLAYERS AVAILABLE?

We did our best to compile a thorough list, going position by position, just the other day. Even though Cliff Lee and Daren Haren have already been dealt, some big-time players remain, including:

Corey Hart
Roy Oswalt
Prince Fielder
Jose Bautista
Adam Dunn
Matt Capps
Ted Lilly

WHICH TEAMS ARE LOOKING TO BUY?

Pretty much any team in or near contention is looking to add. The Padres and Giants, for example, have been looking at outfielders. The Red Sox have been looking for relief. The Phillies, Dodgers, and Cardinals have been looking for starting pitching. The White Sox and Tigers have been looking for a bat. And so on.

WHICH TEAMS ARE LOOKING TO SELL?

And on the other hand, most of the teams who're out of contention are looking to shed a piece or two and either dump salary or bring in some prospects. The Brewers and Nationals in particular are dangling some considerable talent. The Astros have been talking about trading Roy Oswalt for weeks, if not months. The Diamondbacks and Mariners already traded their biggest assets, but both still have some role players they could move.

ARE PRE-DEADLINE TRADES REALLY WORTH IT?

Well, that all depends. I mean, mathematically, we can break this down. The absolute, absolute best players in baseball are worth something like 8-10 wins over a full season above what you could get from some AAA guy. The best players available around the deadline are generally worth more like 3-5. By July, you're already more than halfway into the season, so, on average, you're talking about a fraction of that improvement. Ehh. I don't want to get too much into the numbers.

What it comes down to is that deadline trades are a gamble. Any trade is a gamble, but a deadline trade can be a bigger one because there's so little time left in the season, making the performance you get from the player you acquired less predictable. Who knows what any player is going to do over two months?

The idea behind a deadline trade is, typically, to improve the team in the short-term, either by addressing the starters or adding to the depth. For a team in contention, every little improvement is magnified, because that improvement could end up making the difference in advancing to the playoffs. And of course, a team that makes a move is looking to get better once it's in the playoffs as well. Maybe Player X will help a team win the World Series. Maybe, without Player X, the team wouldn't have advanced as far.

On average, a deadline trade won't mean very much. The chance that it will, though, is what drives teams to keep sniffing around and looking to pull the trigger. Some trades, teams will regret. Some trades, teams won't.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST PRE-DEADLINE MOVES THAT'VE BEEN MADE?

Well, me, I really liked Texas getting Cliff Lee and Anaheim getting Dan Haren. But if you're talking more historical, last year, the Phillies got Lee and he helped preserve their division lead down the stretch while pitching them into the World Series. The Brewers landed CC Sabathia for the stretch run in 2008 and rode him like a horse into the postseason. David Justice posted big numbers for the Yankees after coming over from Cleveland in 2000, and added a memorable playoff home run. Jermaine Dye went crazy for the A's back in 2001, posting a torrid second half. This isn't intended to be a ‘top deadline trade' list. These are just some of the big ones that came to mind.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WORST PRE-DEADLINE MOVES THAT'VE BEEN MADE?

This is hard to say, because deadline deals are usually about going short-term over long-term. The Tigers, for example, traded John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander in 1987, and Smoltz turned out to be amazing, but at the time, he was just a 20 year old struggling in the minors, and Alexander went 9-0 for Detroit the rest of the way. That's one that looks awful now, but still helped at the time.

However, we know that, say, Montreal's acquisition of Bartolo Colon in 2002 was a mistake. The Expos were five games out of the Wild Card and were looking for a jolt, but they wound up gutting their farm system completely. Desperate for a reliever, the 1997 Mariners surrendered Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb. The 2007 Braves gave up Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Felix for Mark Teixeira, who did well but couldn't get the Braves into the playoffs. As a lower-profile example, the 2007 Red Sox gave up two useful players and a prospect for Eric Gagne, who posted a 6.75 ERA the rest of the way.

Again, this isn't a ‘worst ever' list. These are trades that didn't work out and hurt the team that thought it was getting better.

WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF AUGUST WAIVER MOVES?

Last August was a busy one, as a matter of fact. The White Sox claimed and added Alex Rios, who's been a big part of their success so far in 2010. Carl Pavano wound up joining the Twins. Scott Kazmir went from the Rays to the Angels. Billy Wagner landed with the Red Sox. August doesn't come with the same July frenzy, but deals do get done.

THANK YOU, VERY THOROUGH. SO THE DEADLINE - IT'S FUN, EXCITING, AND MEANINGFUL?

It can be. It isn't always. One time I took the day off work so I could follow from home, and nothing really happened. On the other hand, last July 31 saw Jake Peavy, Scott Rolen, Nick Johnson, Adam LaRoche, and Orlando Cabrera get traded, among others. July 31, 2008 had Manny Ramirez go to Los Angeles, Jason Bay go to Boston, and Ken Griffey Jr. go to Chicago. July 31, 2007 saw the Mark Teixeira blockbuster. July 31 - the non-waiver trade deadline - is busy.

And even when it turns out that few rumors come to fruition and little of significance goes down, just the act of immersing yourself, tracing rumors all over the place, and imagining various possible scenarios can be a delight. You don't necessarily need the satisfaction of a trade getting made. Just the idea of potential satisfaction can be enough. Think of it like a movie, or going to the arcade. Not much has changed when you leave, but for a few hours, you were entertained. Ultimately, entertainment is really all we want.

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