The trade deadline came and went on July 31 with the Royals acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, but "trade deadline" is a bit of a misnomer. Already we've seen the Rangers acquire Mike Napoli, the Blue Jays acquire Cliff Pennington, and the Braves and Indians swap bad contracts. Here's a complete August trade tracker. So how exactly are teams trading in August after the so-called trade deadline?
The July 31 trade deadline is the last day to make "non-waiver trades." These are trades that can be done without the players having to clear waivers. If two teams want to make a deal, BOOM, they can, with no impediment. After July 31, things get a bit trickier. For a player on the 40-man roster to be traded, he first must "clear waivers", meaning every team in baseball gets a chance to claim him for a nominal waiver fee and take on his contract. Waiver order is in reverse order of the current standings.
These waivers are "special waivers" or "revocable waivers" and are different from the waivers players are generally placed on. Typically if a player is placed on waivers, the team has done so to try to send the player to the minor leagues, and if he is claimed, the original club loses that player. With "revocable waivers", a team is trying to trade a player after the July 31 deadline, and if the player is claimed, the original club has the option of "revoking waivers". Revoking waivers means the player cannot be claimed, stays with the original club and cannot be traded. Typically, most every player is placed on "revocable waivers" this time of year as a formality. The Royals aren't REALLY looking to trade or release Lorenzo Cain, they just want him to clear waivers in case some magical deal is offered that they have to jump on.
If a player is claimed, the original club and the claiming club can try to work out a deal within the next 48 hours. In some rare cases, the original club has simply let the claiming team win the claim without any compensation. Alex Rios was famously let go by the Blue Jays to the White Sox due to his large contract back in 2009.
If a player has not been claimed by any clubs within 48 hours, he has "cleared waivers." Once a player clears waivers, he can be traded to any team. The players traded during this time period are usually players with bad contracts (like Nick Swisher), or players not valuable enough to be claimed (like Cliff Pennington). Last year the Royals acquired Josh Willingham after the July 31 trade deadline. No minor leaguers that are not on the 40-man roster need to clear waivers to be traded.
The Royals could still add a backup catcher, perhaps a utility infielder, and a starting pitcher is not out of the question. The names that will be available won't be great, but every little bit of depth helps in October.