Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reports that an unknown American League team has placed a waiver claim on the Red Sox closer. But before you destroy your computer in disbelief, just know that this is standard procedure in baseball.
NOTE: ESPN’s Jayson Stark does a much better job of explaining the waiver process in this article, but I’ll try to do my best as it relates to Papelbon.
As Rosenthal notes, the majority of players are placed on waivers in early August. If a player passes through (meaning no Major League club claims him), he can be be traded to any team before the end of the month. In this scenario, the clock is essentially turned back to the rules which precede the July 31st trade deadline.
If he is claimed by another club, a trade can only be negotiated with that claiming team. At that point, the team who placed the player on waivers can work a deal or pull him back (which the Sox will more than likely do with Papelbon), making him ineligible to be traded until September.
The waiver claim process is conducted in reverse order based on the standings starting with the league in which that player resides (in this case, the American League). As a result, some players are “blocked” (claimed) by teams who want to eliminate the chance that a difference maker to joins a contender.
With Papelbon, it appears as though the Sox were merely keeping their options open. If Pap cleared waivers, the team would have had the flexibility to potentially deal him if they fell out of contention in the next month. However, Pap was claimed (likely blocked by another club with playoff aspirations), and can’t be dealt until September.
Whether the team actually wants to trade Papelbon is a debate for another day, but this news shouldn’t alarm anyone. If one had access to the list of players placed on waivers every year, there would be an abundance of far more attractive names.
All we know now, assuming the Sox pull Papelbon back and don’t trade him to this unknown AL squad, is that the Sox’ closer will be in Boston as the team’s playoff hopes rise, or more than likely fall.