Welcome to the week leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline, a typically crazy week for baseball. Rumors fly, and most of them either don’t happen or are unfounded in the first place. Many reports filed this week will feature the Yankees, since not only are they perennial buyers, but are also used in many instances to drive up prices for other teams. They do have a couple of weaknesses to shore up, all in the pitching department. It’s not a requirement, but it sure would be nice to add another arm, whether a starter or reliever, in the next five days.
Do they have to necessarily make a move this week? According to Brian Cashman, there will be increased activity after July 31 this year because many teams will not be willing to put in waiver claims. For the uninitiated, after July 31 teams can still trade, but the players in question must either clear waivers or be claimed by their destination team. For example, if the Yankees want Jarrod Washburn, he’d either have to go unclaimed by all 29 teams, or else be claimed by the Yankees. The Yankees and Mariners could then talk trade, but only for players who either clear waivers or are not on the 40-man roster.
The reason Cashman believes there will be more post-July 31 action is that teams will be less willing to risk putting in a claim. The team placing the player on waivers can opt to foist a player and his contract on a claiming team. This is how the Yankees got stuck with Jose Canseco in 2000. They put in a claim to block other teams, and the Rays said, “you can take him and what remains of his $3 million salary.” There was nothing the Yankees can do. Cashman believes that fewer teams will make waiver claims with the intent to block, fearing a similar maneuver.
In the Yankees case, that might be of little consolation. Their list of targets is concentrated to a few high-profile starting pitchers and a number of relief pitchers, all of whom could be claimed before they make it to the Yankees. This is mostly a product of the standings. Because the Yankees are ahead of the Red Sox, the Sox will get first dibs. Their payroll is relatively low, so they could risk taking on payroll, especially if it means keeping certain players from the Yankees.
Let’s take a quick look at the Yankees potential targets and see which ones, if any, could possibly pass through waivers.
Jarrod Washburn: He has about $3.5 million left on his contract for 2009. That might scare some teams away, but there are enough teams looking for pitching help that they might risk a claim. Plus, the Mariners know they have a valuable asset in Washburn. He can fetch them a decent prospect before the deadline, and chances are if they want to move him they will prior to Friday. Still, he could clear. The biggest threat, the Red Sox, might not want to take on a fly ball lefty. Those usually don’t go over well in Fenway.
Cliff Lee: There is no chance that Lee and his team-friendly contract makes it through waivers. Not even close. If the Yanks want him they’ll have to get it done this week. Chances are, though, that they’ll continue to balk at the asking price.
Roy Halladay: His contract might be prohibitive to some teams, but the Red Sox are not one of them. If placed on waivers, the Sox would certainly put in a claim. The Phillies would, too, but the AL gets first crack. The Tigers could even put in a claim, too, as could the Angels. Zero percent chance of the Yankees acquiring him after July 31.
Ian Snell: He’s been dominating AAA, but there are still concerns about him. After his career year in 2007 he signed an extension, and has bombed ever since. The problem, it seems, is his control, as the walks have jumped. In any case, Snell is owed about $1 million for the remainder of this season, $4.25 million in 2010, and has two team options for 2011 and 2012 ($6.75 and $9.25 million). The Yankees have been scouting Snell, though there’s little urgency to get a deal done. Considering his major league performance over the past two seasons, he’d likely clear waivers.
Scott Downs: Questionable whether he passes through. He has about $1.25 million on his contract for this year, plus $4 million last year. He’s lights out, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox and Angels put in a claim before the Yanks have a chance. Detroit and the ChiSox could also put in a claim.
Chad Qualls: Almost certainly would be claimed. He has under a million left on his contract this season, and has one arbitration year left before free agency. Even if a team didn’t want to take on his potential 2010 salary, they could dish him or non-tender him. Little to no chance he makes it to the Yanks.
Jon Rauch: Tough to say on Rauch. He has under a million left on his deal this season (about $660,000), and has a $2.9 million club option for 2010. That could lead to a few claims ahead of the Yankees, especially by a bullpen-starved team like the Angels. Again, don’t count out the Tigers. In fact, because of bullpen needs, I wouldn’t expect many, if any, decent relievers to be available to the Yankees after July 31.
Surely there are at least a few more names the Yankees are targeting, but these are the guys we’ve talked about for the past few weeks. And while it’s true that more players will pass through waivers this year than in the past, the players the Yankees are targeting right now most likely will not. This could put a greater onus on getting a deal done this week. Afterward, they might not have the same number of players available.
Just to spin this on its head, it could also open up new possibilities, players who pass through waivers who aren’t really being mentioned in trade talks right now. But chances are that the Yankees will lose out on unacquired targets on Friday at 4 p.m. EDT.