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Why are there MLB trades in August?

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The July 31 trade deadline is dead. Long live the August 31 trade deadline.

St Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is over. And in the next three or four weeks, there will still be a bunch of trades. Probably because someone is sleeping on the job over at the league office.

Unless ... this is allowed? Every year? Because the trade deadline isn’t really a deadline at all, but rather a cutoff point after which trades involve a lot more red tape?

It’s true! The world of August trades is vast and wonderful, even if it doesn’t get the same kind of hype that the July 31 deadline gets. Trades can still happen after the deadline. They can be important, shocking trades that can define a franchise for the next 20 years, even.

And they can absolutely help teams win the World Series.

So let’s dig into the history and wonder of August trades with an explainer, which is the informational leaflet of the modern era. Pretend like you picked this up at the information desk in the lobby of baseball.

You have questions about August baseball trades. Hopefully, we have answers.

Wait, baseball teams can still trade after the July 31 trade deadline?

They can. It’s just a lot more complicated.

Pretend that you’re a GM. Look at all the fancy pens on your desk! It’s July 31, and someone calls you to offer a trade. Someone from their big league roster for someone on your big league roster. You accept. It’s done. Unless you have to deal with no-trade clauses or something similar, that’s it. Easy.

But if you want a player after July 31, those major leaguers will have needed to pass through revocable waivers first.

What are revocable waivers?

They’re waivers that a team can take back. We’ll use two players as examples.

Let’s say Cody Bellinger won’t stop picking his nose and eating it, and it’s causing such distress in the Dodgers clubhouse that the team decides that he has to be traded. Because the non-waiver trade deadline is over, the Dodgers would put him on revocable waivers, which allows any team to claim him and work out a trade.

The Phillies would get the first chance to claim Bellinger because they have the worst record in the National League, which is the league of the team placing him on waivers. After the Phillies, the Giants would have the second chance to submit a claim because they have the second-worst record. This would repeat through the rest of the NL if no one claims him, and then it would start over again with the White Sox, who have the worst record in the American League.

The Phillies would definitely claim Bellinger, considering he’s one of the most valuable players in baseball. They would be the only team allowed to talk trade with the Dodgers at that point. If the Dodgers decide they don’t want to make a trade with the Phillies, they would pull Bellinger off waivers. That’s it. No trade. No repercussions. No consequences for either team.

By contrast, the Angels will put Albert Pujols and the remaining four years, $114 million of his contract on waivers. All 29 teams will pass on him, and they will mutter incantations in dead languages while they do it.

After every team passes on Pujols, the Angels can call any of these teams and ask things like, “Would you trade for Albert Pujols if we sent $100 million along with him?”

If the other team is amenable to that idea, a deal can be struck. Pujols can be traded anywhere. The trade deadline doesn’t apply to him anymore because he cleared waivers.

What happens if a team doesn’t work out a trade with the claiming team, but it doesn’t want the player back?

The team that put the players on waivers can just give the player — and his contract — away. You claim it, you buy it.

The most famous example is when the Blue Jays put their closer, Randy Myers, on waivers in 1998. Every AL team passed on him because he was owed $13,327,348 for the next three years, which was big money for a reliever at the time.

The Padres claimed Myers, ostensibly to block the Braves (a likely postseason opponent) from claiming him. But instead of pulling him back, the Blue Jays giggled a little bit and let the Padres have him. Myers threw 14 bad innings for the Padres and battled shoulder injuries for the next two years, never pitching again.

Be careful of which players and contracts you claim, then.

On the other hand, the Marlins wanted to deal outfielder Cody Ross in 2010, and they put him on revocable waivers. The Giants claimed him, ostensibly to block the Padres from claiming him. The Marlins talked trade with the Giants and then decided to just ditch the contract and hand him over.

Ross ended up being a postseason hero for the Giants.

I can’t begin to describe how Padres it is for them to get hosed by the same strategy that hosed them years before.

What happens after August 31?

Teams can still make trades, but any player acquired is ineligible for the postseason. Never forget the sad, strange tale of the Red Sox and Bruce Chen in 2011.

What are some of the biggest trades that happened in August?

Just in terms of major leaguers, and not prospects, there are a couple of stunners that went down weeks after the trade dust was supposed to have settled.

The most famous in recent history is the Nick Punto Trade, which is the official name of the deal that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and cash from the Red Sox to the Dodgers for Ivan De Jesus, James Loney, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Jerry Sands. While none of those prospects worked out for the Red Sox, the money they saved directly led to their 2013 World Series championship. By contrast, the Dodgers will pay Carl Crawford nearly $22 million this year.

The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Larry Walker in an August deal with the Rockies, and he helped his new team with two fine seasons that led to two postseason berths. Two years before that, the Padres acquired Brian Giles, who had several fine years with them. The only problem is that Jason Bay and Oliver Perez were the players traded away, and both of them could have helped the Padres just as much, for a lot less money.

Years before, the Padres traded Woody Williams to the Cardinals, where he enjoyed a career renaissance and ... look, I don’t want to keep picking on the Padres, but they need to stay away from August for a little bit. It’s not you. It’s them.

In 1992, the Mets blew the baseball world up by trading David Cone to the Blue Jays for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. It was a shock that the Mets would give up on a hypersuccessful partnership with Cone, but they were scared that they weren’t going to get a chance to sign him after the offseason. A couple of months later, the big-market Royals swooped in and signed him back.

For my money, though, the biggest holy-grawlix trade in August history was the one that sent Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell, Bobby Witt, and cash from the Rangers to the Oakland Athletics for Jose Canseco. Sierra was a 26-year-old three-time All-Star. Witt was a 28-year-old with a fastball from the heavens and control from hell. Russell was a veteran closer in the middle of his third straight strong season.

And Canseco was a 27-year-old demigod who had finished fourth in the MVP voting the season before.

My stars, what a fascinating deal. It happened because teams used to not claim players on August waivers. It was against the unwritten front office rules. Now it’s accepted skullduggery. And because of teams leaving Canseco and Sierra alone, it led to one of the most compelling trades in baseball history, even if it flopped for both sides.

Who are some of the best prospects to get dealt in August?

1B - Jeff Bagwell
2B - Jeff Kent
SS - Jose Bautista
3B - Phil Nevin
C - Chris Hoiles

OF - Jason Bay
OF - Jeromy Burnitz
OF - Moises Alou
OF - Kevin Bass
OF - Ben Gamel

SP - John Smoltz
SP - Jason Schmidt
SP - Tim Belcher
SP - Oliver Perez

RP - Pedro Strop
RP - Michael Blazek

Bautista was a third baseman, so I’m sure his new team could have slid him over to shortstop. C’mon, work with me, here.

For the most part, though, the legacy of August trades are hundreds and hundreds of prospects who didn’t do much. That’s true of most trades, but it’s especially true of August trades.

Has any team actually won a championship with the help of an August trade?

Plenty. We mentioned Cone up there, and he helped the Blue Jays win the 1992 World Series. Mike Fontenot was worth a half-win for a Giants team that won its division on the last day of the season. Jeff Conine returned to the Marlins and helped them win the 2003 World Series. Luis Sojo got what turned out to be the game-winning RBI for the Yankees in Game 4 of the 2000 World Series.

So, yes, it’s rare, but it happens. Cone in 1992 was probably the best example, though.

Are there more trades in August than there used to be?

Over the last few years? No. Compared to the ‘60s and ‘70s? Oh, yeah.

Baseball-Reference.com

The max was 17 in both 1995 and 1997. The low in the last 20 years was just five in 2001.

Which teams are the most active in August?

You can’t possibly want to know this. This seems like a question I would ask myself and spend way too much time answering just because I hate myself. But, OK!

Over the last 20 years, we have ...

Number of August trades by team, 2007-2016

Team No. of August trades
Team No. of August trades
Dodgers 15
Diamondbacks 14
Red Sox 14
Cubs 12
Mariners 12
Twins 11
A's 10
Mets 10
Orioles 10
Rangers 10
Blue Jays 9
Braves 9
Indians 9
Nationals 9
Phillies 9
Angels 7
Pirates 7
Reds 7
Tigers 7
White Sox 7
Royals 6
Astros 5
Brewers 5
Giants 5
Rockies 4
Marlins 3
Padres 3
Rays 3
Cardinals 2
Yankees 2

Gimme some weird stuff

Now you know a little bit more about August trades. You can expect at least a few in the coming month. Will another team be tempted by Pujols and swing a deal with the Angels*? I guess only time will tell.

* No.