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Watch now as teams do the waive

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 5, 2009

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The second trading season is underway.

On Monday, teams began putting veteran players on trade waivers and the process will continue throughout the month. Once players are put on waivers, teams have 48 hours to put in a claim.

Once claimed, players can be pulled back, though in some cases teams welcome a big-market club claiming an overpaid veteran just to take the salary off their hands. There also will be many veteran, high-salaried players who won’t be claimed, making them eligible to be traded.

There’s a psychology involved in the process.

Teams will put players out there to gauge the interest. On Monday, for instance, the Red Sox put Jason Bay on trade waivers. Obviously, they aren’t looking to get rid of Bay, but what would be telling to the Red Sox would be the teams who put in a claim for him; it could be an early sign of the competition for his services in the offseason. If Bay gets claimed, the Sox would surely pull him back (and once a player is pulled back, waivers cannot be sought on him again for 30 days).

There are other complexities.

First off, if multiple teams put in a waiver claim on a player, he is awarded to the claiming team in his league with the worst record. For instance, if Aubrey Huff, who was placed on trade waivers by the Orioles, were claimed by two teams - let’s say Detroit and Cincinnati - then the Tigers would be awarded the claim. If all American League teams passed on Huff, then he would go to the National League claiming team with the worst record.

Once a team is awarded the claim, the waiving team can try to work out a deal or just let the player go; if it pulls him back, no trade is allowed.

There also will be a lot of blocking among contenders.

If there’s a pitcher that the Sox or Yankees could plug in as a fourth or fifth starter, would, for instance, a team like Tampa Bay put in a claim to block their rivals? The only problem with blocking is that sometimes you get the player.

Bronson Arroyo might be a good example this year.

The Reds put Arroyo on trade waivers yesterday. He would appear to be a starter that would interest both New York and Boston and perhaps a bigger-market NL team like the Dodgers. The Giants, who are below the Dodgers in the standings, could claim Arroyo just to ensure that Los Angeles doesn’t land him. But the Giants would run the risk of winding up with Arroyo, who is owed a pro-rated portion of the $9.5 million he makes the rest of this season, plus $11 million in 2010, and then there’s an $11 million option for 2011 with a $2 million buyout.

On Monday, the Red Sox put John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Manny Delcarmen, and Ramon Ramirez, in addition to Bay, on trade waivers. Yesterday, they added Rocco Baldelli, Daniel Bard, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Mike Lowell, and Jed Lowrie. There will be more today and in the days to come.

Of the players on the list, who would not be pulled back? The guess is all of them would be pulled back, but the issue is not black-and-white with Smoltz and Lowell. Smoltz has had limited success so far. You wonder whether a National League team would figure Smoltz could give it five or six decent innings as a starter in a less-demanding league for pitchers.

Smoltz isn’t cheap. He has a $5.5 million salary and can earn another $5.5 million in bonuses. He made $125,000 the first day he was active (June 25) and gets $35,000 a day from June 1-Oct. 3 and then a $500,000 bonus Oct. 4.

Lowell obviously can still hit, but his range at third base has been diminished with his hip surgery. It seems far-fetched that a team would take on the remainder of his $12 million salary this year and $12 million next year. Lowell, in fact, could be a high-priced player who passes through trade waivers unclaimed.

Another would be Toronto’s Vernon Wells, who was put on the list yesterday. It would be a dream come true for Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi if a team claimed Wells and was willing to pay him $12.5 million, $23 million, $21 million, $21 million, and $21 million over the next five seasons. Of course, nobody would do that.

The Orioles have put out a bunch of guys, including Huff, Melvin Mora, and Ty Wigginton. They weren’t able to deal Huff or Mora before the deadline and would likely not pull either back.

The Royals have a couple of interesting pitchers out there in reliever Juan Cruz (3-4, 6.25 ERA) and lefty specialist Ron Mahay (1-1, 4.29). Cruz hasn’t had a good year and Mahay has been up and down, but either would seem to be appealing to a contender if they go unclaimed.

There was a variety of opinions on whether this waiver period will be fruitful or a bust in this economic climate.

After the Red Sox made their two deals at the trading deadline, GM Theo Epstein made the comment that he didn’t feel there would be any quality pitching available after the deadline. That could very well be true. Three other baseball officials asked about this period indicated there could be some action.

“Teams may leave a big-contract player out there and hope one of the big-market teams takes him off their hands,’’ said an American League personnel man. “There will be smaller-market teams hoping to get rid of a contract. I think there will be deals because a lot of teams are going to be reluctant to place a claim on a player because they don’t want to risk getting stuck with a contract. I think there’ll be less blocking than in past seasons.’’

Nevertheless, there’s always some blocking, especially among rivals. The Giants will likely claim a veteran starting pitcher knowing the Dodgers need one, and the Rays might claim a player they think the Red Sox want. The Brewers could block the Cardinals or the Cubs, The Red Sox might claim a player the Yankees want (Arroyo or Mahay).

It’s a game within a game.

And it has begun.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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