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Major League Waivers Explainer

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The rules governing Major League Baseball's transactions are very complex and is hard for any fan to understand the nuance of all of them. Especially difficult are the concept of waivers in baseball. Here we try to summarize Rule 10 of the Major League Rules, which governs how waivers work.

Waivers are simply permission slips that the other 29 clubs give in order for a particular club to make an assignment. Essentially, for a club to make certain transactions (at certain times), they will need all the other clubs to waive their right to intercept in order to proceed.  Not all transactions require waivers--for example, two clubs can trade players without permission before July 31 (which is why it is called the non-waiver trade deadline).

There are four type of waivers with four different functions that are summarized in the table below.

Type Function Revocable? Price Periods Available Period Effective Ineligible Players
Trade Assignment Waivers To assign a player on the 40-man roster of one MLB club to the 40-man roster of another MLB club. Y* $20,000 4:00 pm ET on July 31 through the last day of the season Rest of period Disabled†, Military, Ineligible, Voluntarily Retired, Bereavement, Restricted, Suspended, or Disqualified Lists
Outright Waivers To remove a player from the 40-man roster and assign him to a minor league club. N $20,000 (1) Nov 11 - Feb 15
(2) Feb 16 - 30th day of the season
(3) 31st day - July 31
(4) Aug 1 - Aug31
(5) Sept 1 - Nov 10
(1,2,5) Rest of period or 7 days (whichever is first)
(3,4) Rest of period
Disabled†, Military, Ineligible, Voluntarily Retired, Bereavement, Restricted, Suspended, or Disqualified Lists
Optional Waivers To assign a player to an optional assignment in the minor leagues (without being removed from 40-man roster). Y* $20,000 (1) Feb 16 - 30th day of season;
(2) 31st day - July 31;
(3) Aug 1 - Oct 1
Rest of period Players on lists above†, plus ones who are less than three years removed from the date of first reporting to an MLB team (optional waivers not required).
Unconditional Release Waivers To terminate the relationship between an MLB player and the club and make him a free agent. N $1 All times Immediate Military List, Ineligible List

* When a player that was previously pulled back from revocable waivers is placed on the same type of waivers during the same waiver period, that waiver request becomes irrevocable. That is, a player who is placed on waivers may only be pulled back once.

† Outright, optional, and trade assignment waivers can be obtained for players on the disabled list only if: a) the minimum period of inactivity (15 or 60 days) has elapsed; b) the assigning club guarantees the player is well enough to play.

Procedure to Obtain Waivers
  1. Club registers a request for waivers with the Office of the Commissioner
  2. Notice of waiver request is given out on a private channel to all major league clubs
  3. Other clubs have two days to submit a claim
  4. If a club claims a player on revocable waivers, the Commissioner will automatically revoke the waiver request unless the club notifies his office that they do not wish a withdrawal.
  5. If there is no claim, then after two days, the player "clears" waivers and can be assigned or released. If there is a claim, the player is granted to the team with the highest claiming priority.
Note: a club cannot request waivers on more than seven players on any single calendar day.

Waivers Claim Priority Order

For trade assignment waivers:

Team with the lowest winning percentage from the current season gets the claim; however a claiming team from same league (ie. American or National) as the assigning team always gets priority over a claiming team from the other league, regardless of winning percentage. This is why, in August, interleague trades are more difficult than intraleague trades. Overall, all trades are more difficult after July 31 because teams can prevent trades that might bolster their rivals by claiming the players that are being traded to their rivals.

For outright, optional, and unconditional release waivers:

Team with the lowest winning percentage from the current season gets the claim, regardless of league (unless two teams from opposite leagues are tied in winning percentage, then the team from the same league wins the claim). During the first 30 days of the season, the winning percentages from the previous season are used to determine priority.