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A Primer on Unconditional Release and Outright Assignment Waivers With TL;DR Bullet Summary

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Don’t be afraid. The core points are accessible for everyone!

San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

In Part I of this series, I discussed the history of trade deadlines and set forth a primer on the new rules concerning the trade deadline that is now firm for the first time. In Part II, I outlined the types of waivers that have been eliminated and gave some examples of Cardinal players that were affected by the old rules. You can find Part I here, and Part II here. In this final installment, I will tell you everything you need to know about the only types of waivers remaining: unconditional release waivers and outright assignment waivers. I’m going to try to offer a little something in here for everybody. If you are deeply interested in this subject, I’ve tried to include enough here with specific examples that you can make this article your one-stop shop. It’s probably more than the average fan would want to know. For those of you who are worried your eyes might start to glaze over, I promise you that if you like, you can skip to my bullet point summary at the very end, and you will get the stuff that really matters without all the history, examples and more obscure minutiae. If you want just the facts, ma’am, the ending is perfect for you.

The waiver rules have been described in the past as unnecessarily convoluted, and when you consider all the different types that existed in the past, together with revocability and the games surrounding trade assignment waivers, it is hard to argue with that characterization. Even Pittsburgh Pirates’ General Manager Larry Doughty, in his second year on the job in late August 1990 messed up the waiver rules and that was one of the reasons he was fired a year later, despite the Pirates winning back-to-back National League East titles. Not realizing that outright assignment waivers were irrevocable, he put two of the organization’s top prospects, outfielders Wes Chamberlain and Julio Peguero, on the waiver wire and they were claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies, forcing him to make an ill-advised trade to save face for declining veteran Carmelo Martinez.

With the elimination of trade assignment waivers beginning this season, however, the waiver rules are as simple as they have ever been. Let’s start with the basics.

What are waivers?

The Major League Rules define a waiver as “a permission granted for certain assignments of player contracts or for the unconditional release of a major league player.” That is tautological and unhelpful for someone who has no prior knowledge of the process. Perhaps a better way to think about it is that before a club may make certain transactions involving a player, it must first offer that player’s contract to all other clubs for a price. If no other clubs agree to take the player’s contract for that price, the player is said to have “cleared waivers,” and the requesting club may then make the transaction it wanted to make regarding that player.

Making waiver requests and waiver claims

The most important thing to remember is there is no such thing as revocable waivers anymore. Once the waiver request is made for either of the two types of waivers that remain in Major League Baseball, it may not be cancelled. In addition, once a club makes a claim, it may not cancel that claim. To put a player on waivers, the club must do so in writing or electronically. There is some sort of approved network that all clubs have access to that suffices for this purpose. To make a request, a club simply uses the network to notify the Commissioner’s Office that it is making a waiver request and what type of waivers the team wants to place the player on. Through that same network, the Commissioner’s Office notifies all clubs of the waiver request and what type of waivers is being sought.

Times to Request Waivers and Deadline to Make Claims

Requesting Period and Permissible Days to File Waiver Requests

The times to request waivers are divided into three different periods. Every day of the year is covered in one of the blocks, which you can call the requesting period. They are not overly important for the fan following transactions, but they make a difference to teams in two areas. First, the requesting periods determine what day of the week is a permissible day to request waivers, and once a waiver request is made, they determine how long a team has to make put a claim in. Both sets of procedural rules apply equally to unconditional release waivers and outright assignment waivers.

  • Spring Training/In-Season: This period runs from the Spring Training Voluntary Report Date (which under the Collective Bargaining Agreement can be no earlier than 43 days before the start of the regular season) until the end of the regular season, with a 4-day exception that constitutes the next period. Basically, you’re talking about the middle of February until the end of September, except for the short carve-out in the next period below.
  • End-of Spring Training Period: This period is a special period carved out from the first period that only lasts for 4 days and ends with the day on which the first regular season game is played, unless the first game is played on a Wednesday, in which case the period is 5 days instead of 4 days. This season that would have been March 25th through March 28th.
  • Off-Season Period: This period runs from the day after the regular season to the day before the Spring Training Voluntary Report Date.

For the Spring Training/In-Season requesting period, a club may make a waiver request on any day of the week, including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. For the other two periods, requests are not accepted on those days. For those two periods, any notices received after 2:00 p.m. EST on Friday are treated as if they were filed on Monday morning. Anything filed on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays are deemed to be filed on the morning of the next business day.

Claiming Period

The deadline to make a waiver claim is usually 47 hours. If a waiver request is made by 2:00 p.m. EST on Monday, teams must file a waiver claim by 1:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday, and so on. The difference comes when teams make a waiver request on Thursday through Saturday. For the latter two requesting periods in the list above, waiver requests may not be made on Saturdays and Sundays and the Commissioner’s Office is considered to be closed. For those two periods, if a waiver request is made on Thursday by 2:00 p.m. EST, teams have until 1:00 p.m. EST on Monday to make a claim. If the request is made on Friday by 2:00 p.m. EST, teams have until 1:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday to make a claim. But for the first period in the bullet list above, the regular 47 hour rule applies. Clubs in that period can make waiver requests on Saturdays and Sundays and teams must actually file claims on Saturdays and Sundays to meet the deadline.

Priority of Claims

If no claims are made on a request, the player is said to have “cleared waivers,” and the requesting club may make the transaction it wants to make with the player. If only one club makes a claim, that club obviously gets the player. But what are the rules if multiple teams claim the player? Long ago, Major League Baseball tried everything from a first-come, first-served system to drawing lots. But there has been a settled system for almost 100 years now.

If there are multiple claims, the club with the lowest winning percentage among the claiming clubs wins, without regard to league. The twist to this is that if the date that the time to claim the player expires is within the first 30 days of the regular season or in the off-season, you look to the prior season’s standings. At all other times, you look to the standings of the current season on the date that’s prior to the date of the expiration of the claiming period.

What if two or more clubs have made a claim and they’re all tied for the lowest winning percentage? In that case, first priority goes to the club in the same league as the club making the waiver request. If that doesn’t resolve the tie (meaning the tied clubs are in the same league as each other), you go back to the prior season’s winning percentage without regard to postseason results, and you keep going back to prior seasons until the tie is broken.

Application of the Rules

To show an example of how this plays out, let’s take the most recent example of LHP Adalberto Mejia, whom the Cards were just awarded on an outright assignment waiver claim from the Los Angeles Angels on July 30th. In this example, I am going to make a couple of assumptions, that I can’t prove to be true. The waiver process is actually supposed to be confidential. The only thing that is supposed to be publicly known is that a team was awarded a claim on a certain date or that a player cleared waivers and that the requesting club then took the action it wanted to take. But I think these assumptions are fair, and they will allow us to see the tie-breaking rules at work as well.

Mejia was awarded to the Cardinals on July 30th in the afternoon. July 30th was a Tuesday, and we’re in the period of time where teams can make waiver requests on a Sunday because it’s during the regular season. So let’s assume that the Angels made the waiver request for Mejia by 2:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, July 28th. That would mean that waiver claims on Mejia were due by Tuesday July 30th by 1:00 p.m. EST. If the Cardinals were the only team that claimed him, then Mejia would obviously just have been awarded to the Cards.

But let’s assume that multiple teams put in a claim. Because we’re past the 30th day of this regular season, the rule requires us to examine the current season’s standings at the end of July 29th, the day before the claiming period expired. At the end of that day, the Cards were tied with the Cubs for the 11th best record in baseball, but in the National League, only the Dodgers, Braves and Nationals were ahead. That means, at a minimum 10 clubs had no chance to beat the Cards for Mejia, 3 National League clubs and 7 American League Clubs. If we exclude the Cubs and the Cards, that leaves 18 teams that that had a worse record, and all passed on Mejia. That means that 10 out of 15 National League clubs passed on him, as well as 8 out of 15 American League clubs. If any one of those other clubs had put in a claim, they would have had priority over the Cards and would have been awarded the claim instead. If we assume that the Cubs passed as well, that would mean 19 total teams passed, including 11 out of 15 National League clubs.

Now suppose that the Cubs had put in a claim on Mejia. Because the Cards and Cubs had the same winning percentage at the target date, we would break the tie by going back to last season’s regular season results, where the Cubs had a better winning percentage (.583 to to .543). If it would have mattered, the Cubs’ 163rd game of the season that they had to play last year would have counted as part of the regular season. Since the Cards had a lower winning percentage last year, they would have had priority for Mejia over the Cubs.

THE TWO REMAINING WAIVER TYPES

Unconditional Release Waivers

The purpose of unconditional release waivers is simply like it sounds. Contrary to popular belief, if a club wants to release a player on its 40-man roster (waivers are not required to release non-40-man roster players), it can’t do so without putting him on unconditional release waivers. The papers would often call this by its longer name and say that a club placed a player on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. This process had its origin in a long-standing rule long ago that required clubs to give players 10 days’ notice prior to being released.

There are certain features of unconditional release waivers that made them unique, which I will discuss below

Placing a Player on Unconditional Release Waivers Removes Him from All Rosters

On the date of the waiver request, the club must notify the player that the club intends to release the player. When the Commissioner’s Office receives the waiver request, the player is immediately removed from all player limits. Thus, merely placing a player on unconditional release waivers removes that player from the 40-man roster immediately, as well as the 25-man roster if the player is on it. The player does not need to clear waivers to be removed from the rosters.

Waiver Price

One of the defining characteristics of unconditional release waivers for over 70 years is that the waiver price is only $1. Originally lumped in with the other types of waivers, the unconditional release waiver price was reduced to $1 in 1947 to try to make it easier for players to stay employed. The normal waiver price for other types of waivers back then was $7,500. Teams were reluctant, especially for seasoned veterans, to assume both the contract and the waiver price. This change made it easier for players to get signed and continue their careers.

Player’s Right to Reject the Waiver Claim

When the waiver price was reduced to $1 in 1947, players were also given additional rights that they did not have with other waiver types. These rules persist to this day. A player has the right to be notified if a club claimed him on unconditional release waivers. Upon receiving notice of the claim the player has 5 days to provide written notice to the club requesting waivers that he is terminating his contract effective on the date of the notice. If the player does not provide the notice within the 5 days, the claiming club is awarded the waiver claim. If a player provides the notice, his contract is terminated, he becomes a free agent, does not have to play for the claiming club, and is free to negotiate whatever deal with whatever club he pleases.

Salary Obligations

If there are no waiver claims, the player’s contract is terminated, he becomes a free agent and the club requesting waivers is responsible for paying the rest of the money owed under the contract.

If the player is claimed and he rejects the claim by providing the proper notice within the 5 days, his contact is terminated and he does not have to play for the claiming club. The club that put him on waivers is only responsible for his salary through the date he provided notice and not thereafter. He is then a free agent and free to negotiate with any club.

If he is claimed and does not provide notice within the 5 days, the claiming club is responsible for the rest of his contract that accrues after the date the claiming team is notified that it was assigned the contract.

Restrictions on Unconditional Release Waiver Requests

A club may not release a player on the Military or Ineligible Lists, unless the player is reinstated first. A club may not release a player on the Voluntary Retired List without the Commissioner’s prior permission.

Restrictions on Re-signing a Released Player

Not that this occurs with any regularity, but If a club releases a player, that club can’t put that player back on its 25-man roster for 30-days from the date of the waiver request, unless during the whole 30 day period the club had less than 25 players on the active roster during the entire time from the date of the waiver request through the date of the re-signing.

If a club releases a player between midnight August 31st and opening day of the next regular season, the club may not re-sign that player to a major league deal (i.e.-deal that places him on the 40-man roster) until May 15th of the next season, unless the player has signed a major league contract with another club in the interim.

Practical Application Today

Although the waiver price is only $1, players are rarely claimed on unconditional release waivers these days. If a team claims a player for the $1 waiver price and the player does not reject the claim, the claiming club has to pay the rest of the contract, regardless of its length. In the overwhelming majority of cases where players are placed on unconditional release waivers, they clear waivers, are actually released, immediately become free agents, and then negotiate a new deal with whoever wants to talk. Their original club that placed them on waivers still has to pay their contract. When they sign a new deal with a new club, it’s almost always for the pro-rated minimum major league salary for the rest of that season, and that is deducted from the balance of what the requesting club owes.

The last Cardinal player I can remember that was actually claimed on unconditional release waivers by another team was Felipe Lopez. The Cards placed him on unconditional release waivers in very late September of 2010 basically because of excessive tardiness. There were only 13 games left in the season at the time. His contract was a 1-year deal for $1 million, and the San Diego Padres actually filed a waiver claim because they were in a pennant race and thought Lopez could help them. Lopez rejected the waiver claim because he wouldn’t be eligible for the Padres’ post-season roster (with him not being in the organization by August 31st). He then signed a separate deal with the Boston Red Sox, who had 9 games remaining in the season, and actually played in 4 games for that club before the season ended. In Lopez’s situation the Cards were on the hook for his salary until he gave notice to the Cards that he was rejecting the Padres’ waiver claim. After that, Lopez was on his own.

Outright Assignment Waivers

An outright assignment is an assignment of a player to the minor leagues without a right of recall. An optional assignment, or option for short, carries with it the right of the club to recall that player to the 25-man active roster from the minor leagues. The outright assignment, or outright, does not. I will cover options in another article, but for now it will suffice to say that the overwhelming majority of players have what are known as 3 option years (some have a 4th option year in very rare cases). Once the player is added to the 40-man roster, the club then has 3 years within which to send him down to the minors and back up as much as it wants within the rules. Once those option years are exhausted, the player is said to be “out of options,” and if the club wants to send the player to the minors after that, it must attempt to make an outright assignment. An outright assignment takes the player off of the 40-man roster and places him on the reserve list (reserve list is the fancy name for the 40-man roster in MLB and similar rosters for the minors) of the minor league team. A club might also attempt to outright a player to clear space on the 40-man roster even if the player is not out of options. The last situation is if a Club has drafted a player in the Rule 5 draft that it does not want to maintain on its 25-man roster all season. Before a club can send a Rule 5 draftee to the minor leagues, it must first place the player on outright assignment waivers, have the player clear waivers, and then offer him back to his original club for half the Rule 5 draft price.

But before the club may actually outright the player and place him on a minor league reserve list, it must first put the player on outright assignment waivers.

Placement on Outright Assignment Waivers Does Not Remove the Player from Rosters

This is one critical difference between the two types of waivers. Merely placing a player on unconditional release waivers removes the player from all rosters. With respect to outright assignment waivers, however, the player must be placed on outright assignment waivers and clear waivers, and actually be outrighted before the player is removed from either the 40-man roster, 25-man roster or both. This is one of the main reasons why the designated for assignment rule (or DFA) exists, which I will cover at the end of this article.

Restrictions on the Placement of Players on Outright Assignment Waivers

  • A club may not place a player that it has selected in the Rule 5 draft on outright assignment waivers from the date of the Rule 5 selection through 25 days prior to opening day of the next regular season.
  • The next restriction applies to a class of players called Rule 6(e) “draft excluded players.” This type of player is one who has less than 3 years of major league service time, who was eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft and whom the club had, after the August 15th before the draft at which he could have been taken, placed on the Club’s 40-man roster and that player then stayed there through the draft. An example would be Memphis OF Randy Arozarena. He will be eligible for the December 2019 Rule 5 draft if the Cards don’t add him to the 40-man roster at the proper time. If the Cards add Arozarena to the 40-man roster after August 15th of this year and before the December Rule 5 draft, and he stays on it through the draft, the Cards will not be able to place him on outright assignment waivers from the period that starts 5 days after the last day of the World Series through 25 days prior to opening day.
  • A club can’t place a player on the injured list on outright assignment waivers, unless the player has spent the minimum amount of time required on the injured list AND the club guarantees the player has recovered from his injury and is capable of performing at his accustomed level.
  • A club can’t place a player on one of the other inactive lists on outright assignment waivers like the Military List, Paternity List, Suspended List, etc. The player must be reinstated from those lists before he can be placed on outright assignment waivers
  • From the Spring Training Voluntary Report Date through the end of the regular season, if a club claims a player on outright assignment waivers, it can’t place that same player back on outright assignment waivers within 48 hours of the time that club was awarded the player or until the player has spent 1 day on that club’s 25-man roster, whichever comes first. During all other times, a club can’t place a player it acquired on outright assignment waivers back on outright assignment waivers for 7 days.

Price of Outright Assignment Waiver Claims

Basically the price if a club is awarded a player on outright assignment waivers is $50,000. For Rule 5 draftees and Rule 6(e) “draft-excluded players” the price is defined as half the Rule 5 draft price. The Rule 5 draft price is currently $100,000, so claiming such players costs $50,000 also. The reason the price is defined differently is that the rule is written in such a way to increase the waiver price if the Rule 5 draft price changes.

Prohibited Transactions During a Pending Outright Assignment Waiver Request

The requesting club is prohibited from doing several things with the player while an outright assignment waiver request is pending:

  • It can’t actually outright the player until the player clears waivers
  • It may not send the player on an injury rehab assignment to the minor leagues. It can transfer an existing rehab assignment to another minor league affiliate.
  • It may not trade the player
  • The club can actually request unconditional release waivers on a player for whom it has already requested outright assignment waivers. In that case, the unconditional release waiver request trumps the other request and the situation proceeds as if it was an unconditional release request.

Restrictions on Actually Outrighting a Player that has Cleared Waivers

  • Even if such a player clears waivers, a club can not outright a player to the minors who has 5 years or more of major league service without that player’s consent. This is not the same thing as the right a player has to declare free agency upon an attempted outright. A 5-year man can declare free agency if he wants if a club tries to outright him, but he can also refuse the outright assignment without declaring free agency. Essentially, he can force the club to keep him, trade him, or release him, but in all instances he gets his salary paid. 3-year players, Super Two Players and players that have been outrighted previously in their careers can’t technically refuse the outright assignment. They must declare free agency, and in that case their contract gets terminated, with the club making the attempted outright no longer responsible for any remaining salary, and the player not being entitled to termination pay. The mechanics of all of that are beyond the scope of this article.
  • A player may not be outrighted to the minor leagues during the period from 5:00 EST of the 3rd day prior to the start of the Rule 5 draft until the draft is over.
  • A player still on a major league injured list may not be outrighted to the minor leagues.
  • There are special rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement regarding outrighting a player that is injured and not able to play, and they cover outrights in the offseason. Such a player can be outrighted during the period immediately following the season and before November 20th (the date to file 40-man rosters) if the player’s major league contract does not cover the next season. Such a player may also be outrighted between November 20th and up until the 15th day prior to the start of the next regular season but only if (1) the player has less than 3 years of major league service; (2) the player has not been outrighted before; (3) the player had no major league service the prior season; and (4) the player was not selected in the previous Rule 5 draft. It is because of this latter provision that the Cardinals could not outright Justin Williams when he injured himself in December 2018 by punching a televsion set. He had exactly one day of major league service in July of 2018.
  • Rule 5 draftees and Rule 6(e) draft-excluded players, even if they clear waivers, may not be outrighted until 20 days prior to opening day.
  • If a potential minor league free agent has not signed a major league contract for the next season OR has not signed a letter of agreement with the club describing the terms of a major league contract for the next season, then that player may not be outrighted on or after 5:00 EST on October 15th or on the 5th day following the last day of the World Series, whichever is later.

How Long are Outright Assignment Waivers Good For?

To ask the question another way, once a player has cleared outright assignment waivers, how long does the club actually have to outright him before it has to go through the process all over again? The answer to that depends on when during the year the club is notified that the player clears, i.e. when the claiming period expires.

  • If waivers are secured between September 1st and the 30th day of the next regular season, they are good for 7 days or until the 30th day of the season, whichever comes first.
  • If waivers are secured on and after the 31st day of the regular season and before the Trade Deadline (4:00 EST July 31st), they are good until 1 hour before the trade deadline.
  • If waivers are secured after the Trade Deadline, they are good until midnight on August 31st
  • Regardless of the above, if the player the club wants to outright is on optional assignment to the minors at the time, the waivers are only good for 72 hours after the expiration of the waiver claiming period
  • If waivers are secured on a player on the injured list who has spent the minimum time required on the list and whom the club guarantees has recovered from his injury and is capable of performing at his accustomed level, the club must outright that player within 72 hours if it doesn’t restore him to the 25-man roster.

A Couple of Last Features that Apply to Both Types of Waivers

Restrictions on Number of Requests

The old rule that was passed in 1947 that limited clubs to placing 7 players per day on waivers is still in effect now. A rule designed to make the trade assignment waiver process less chaotic, it is basically obsolete now, as it is hard to imagine that a front office staff would place 7 players on irrevocable waivers in one day.

Effects of Awarded Claims on Player Limits

The important thing to understand here is that if a club wants to claim a player on either type of waivers, it must find a 40-man roster spot to give that player. If the player is either out of options, or has more than 5 years of major league service and can’t be sent to the minors without his consent, the club also has to find a spot on the 25-man roster for the player. If the claimed player has minor league options remaining, the club can claim that player and immediately option him to the minors no problem. But the club still has to find a 40-man roster spot for that player in that case.

So what if the club has a full 40-man roster at the time it makes a waiver claim, and at the time it is awarded a player on a waiver claim? The Rules still allow the club to make the claim in the first place and ultimately be awarded the player, but they require the club to open up a 40-man roster spot. One way to do that is to either just place a player on the 60-day IL or transfer a player from the 15-day IL to the 60-day IL. This works because players on the 60-day IL are not on the 40-man roster. In fact, the Cardinals just did this on July 31st when they were awarded Adalberto Mejia on an outright assignment waiver claim. Mejia was out of options, so the Cards had to find both a 40-man spot and a 25-man spot for him. They optioned Daniel Ponce de Leon to create the 25-man spot. To clear a 40-man spot, they transferred Jedd Gyorko from the 15-day IL to the 60-day IL.

If a 60-day IL move is not available to the club, however, the claiming club only has one more choice. The Rules state that the club must “give notice of its intention to release or assign the contract of a player in accordance with Rule 2(k) (Designated Players). The club must designate a player for assignment, and this is the famous DFA rule.

THE DFA

Everyone knows about the DFA, even if they don’t know what it really means. People believe that a club has to DFA a player to get rid of the player, and if they want the player gone, they shout “DFA this guy” on Twitter and message boards. Rule 2(k), the designated player rule, is poorly worded and really should be re-written to reflect more modern conditions. The rule makes it sounds like you have to use the DFA procedure if the roster is full, but you do not, it’s optional. Basically what the rule does is to buy the club time and immediately clear a spot in the process. And it’s the fastest and safest way.

Suppose a club needs a 40-man roster spot or 25-man roster spot immediately. It has identified the player it wants to remove. But it isn’t sure what procedural move it wants to make with that player. Maybe it wants to try to work out a trade for the player. Maybe it wants to send the identified player to the minors, the player is out of options and it wants to outright the player to the minors. It’s not sure. Or suppose the club knows exactly what it wants to do with the player, but following that procedure would take too long and would not clear the roster spot in the time the club needs it. Rule 2(k) allows the club to notify the Commissioner’s Office that it is “designating the player for assignment.” When that is done, the designated player is removed from the 40-man roster immediately and the 25-man roster if he is on it. The club then has 7 days (time between Christmas and New Year’s Day inclusive doesn’t count towards the 7 days) to make the appropriate disposition of the player.

Let’s take the most recent example of Mike Mayers, who the Cardinals designated for assignment on August 4th. The Cardinals wanted to recall Ryan Helsley from AAA Memphis, and Mayers was the player they wanted to remove from the 25-man roster to make room. If Mayers had options left, they could simply have optioned him. But he did not. They had no intention of releasing him. But the only way to send Mayers to the minors was by outright assignment, and that required placing Mayers on outright assignment waivers. But placing Mayers on outright assignment waivers doesn’t remove him from any player limits. Only when Mayers clears waivers and is then officially outrighted is he removed from the rosters. It takes 47 hours for a player to clear if the claim is timely filed. But the Cards didn’t have time for that. They needed Helsley available for the August 4th game. The DFA rule allowed the Cards to designate Mayers for assignment, removing him from both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, which cleared the roster spot immediately for Helsley. The Cards were not necessarily trying to clear a 40-man roster spot, but that was the byproduct. The Cards will likely place Mayers on outright assignment waivers, and as long as they do so early enough to allow another team to claim him or outright him themselves within 7 days, the Cards complied with the rules.

When the 40-man roster is full, the Cards will DFA a player they perfectly intend on actually releasing. The Cards did that with Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland. If a club knows it wants to release a player to clear roster space, why don’t clubs just release the player instead of using the DFA? As we saw above, placing a player on unconditional release waivers removes the player from all rosters, and the club does not have to wait for that person to clear waivers to get them off the rosters. The answer is the rule on the timing of filing waiver requests. The request, to be considered timely filed, must be filed by 2:00 p.m. EST on any given day. If the club needs the roster spot after that time of day, the DFA is the club’s only option. The DFA saves the club from being late or making a mistake because the DFA is simply filed on the normal transaction wire just like optioning a player, and has no time restriction. For that reason, you will typically see a release without a DFA only in the off-season in situations where time is not of the essence.

In any event, when a club is awarded a waiver claim, its 40-man roster is full and it doesn’t have a 60-day IL move to make to clear a spot, the DFA clears the spot.

TL;DR: MOST IMPORTANT POINTS FOR THE CASUAL FAN!

  • The only types of waivers that exist are unconditional release waivers and outright assignment waivers.
  • Both are irrevocable. You can’t cancel waiver requests or waiver claims.
  • Unconditional release waivers are required before the club can release a player. Placing the player on unconditional release waivers removes the player from all rosters. The waiver price is $1. Players are typically not claimed, but if they are, they have 5 days to reject the claim, which makes them a free agent and lets the requesting club off the hook for any more money. If the player does not reject the claim, the claiming club assumes the rest of the player’s contract. If no club makes a claim, the player is a free agent, with the requesting club responsible for the rest of the salary. The player typically negotiates a salary for the pro-rated minimum for the club he wants to play for and his former club gets a setoff.
  • An outright assignment means an assignment to the minors without the right of recall to the majors. This is the only way to send a player to the minors who is out of options. The point of the outright assignment is that it removes the player from the 40-man roster. Thus, a team might outright a player that still has options, if the club just wants the player off the 40-man. Outright assignment waivers are required before the club can actually outright the player. Placing the player on outright assignment waivers does not clear the 40-man roster spot. It’s only after the player clears waivers and the player is actually outrighted that the spot is available. The waiver price is $50,000
  • During the season it typically takes 47 hours for a player to clear waivers. In the off-season and in the 4 days leading up to the regular season, neither waiver requests nor waiver claims can be made on Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays. So in those cases, it takes longer to clear waivers if the club makes the waiver request on Thursday or Friday.
  • If multiple clubs claim a player, the club with the lowest winning percentage in the standings wins the claim. You look to the prior season’s standings if the claiming period ends within the 1st 30 days of the regular season or in the off-season. At all other times, the current season’s standings control.
  • If there’s a tie in the standings, priority is given to the team in the league of the club requesting waivers. If that doesn’t break the tie, go back to prior seasons’ standings back to the beginning of baseball if you have to, and the club with the lowest winning percentage gets the claim.
  • A club requesting waivers must be careful that it doesn’t dilly-dally if they clear a player through outright assignment waivers, because the waivers are only good for so long, and how long they are good for depends on the time of year. If the club dilly-dallies, it has to start the process over.
  • A club that claims a player on waivers and wins the waiver claim has to, at a minimum, have a 40-man roster spot for that player at the time of the award. If the 40-man roster is full, the club has to clear a spot by moving a player to the 60-day IL, or if that’s not possible, designate a player for assignment (DFA). If the player the club claimed is out of options or can’t be sent to the minors without his consent, a 25-man roster spot must also be cleared.
  • In addition to clearing a roster spot immediately, the DFA buys the club time to either make the required roster move or figure out what it wants to do with the player. Basically, the only real options are trade, or put the player on one of the two waiver types (release or outright). On notice to the Commissioner, the DFA removes the player from all rosters, and the club has 7 days to make the actual roster move it decides on. If waivers are involved, the club must make the waiver request early enough that the move gets done before the 7 days.
  • The DFA is not required to get rid of a player, but is used when the club needs a roster spot immediately and either hasn’t yet decided what to do with the player, or knows what it wants to do, but it would take too long. It’s also the fastest and safest way to do it.