MLB waivers explained: How Angels’ salary dump could alter pennant race

First the Angels went for it at the deadline. Then they cratered in epic fashion. Now they may have one final say on baseball’s pennant races.

The Angels placed nearly a fifth of their roster on waivers on Tuesday, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, exploiting a rule — and roster management tactic — that was once more relevant before baseball consolidated into one trade deadline. The headliners include starter Lucas Giolito, relievers Matt Moore and Reynaldo López, and outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Randal Grichuk.

“You feel like there’s been occasional guys making money put on (waivers) but not a big (salary) dump like this,” an AL executive said Tuesday night. “I think it takes a bunch of crazy circumstances for this to happen. And the Angels are up there in terms of craziness.”

Other players placed on waivers, according to Rosenthal, include Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader, Mets starter Carlos Carrasco and White Sox starter Mike Clevinger. But the Angels’ maneuver — unexpected in its breadth and volume — offered plenty of intrigue as contenders across baseball pondered whether to poach the large influx of players on waivers.

Any players claimed on waivers will be awarded to their new team Thursday. Here’s a primer on what could happen.

Pitchers on waivers

Player Team Throws G/GS IP ERA









97 2/3





48 2/3





153 2/3










53 2/3


Position players on waivers

Player Team Pos. G Slash HR OPS+



















How do waivers work?

The system is simple. When a player is placed on outright waivers, all 30 teams have a chance to claim him. Waiver priority runs in reverse order of record; ties are broken by last year’s record. The team with the worst record that submits a claim will receive the player, add him to its 40-man roster and pay the remainder of his contract. If a player goes unclaimed, his original team continues paying his salary.

The implications, in this case, are widespread. Consider this: Prior to Tuesday’s games there were 16 teams over .500 and within 2 ½ games of a playoff spot, and another (the 69-63 Red Sox) 5 ½ games out. That means a majority of the league is licking its chops to add one or more of the impact players who hit waivers Tuesday — and all it’ll cost them is money.

But it’ll also take some good fortune, because they need that player to fall to them. Keep in mind: records are not locked. Waiver order is still in flux. It will be determined based on records through Wednesday’s games. As of Tuesday afternoon, the waiver order was [deep breath] Athletics, Royals, Rockies, White Sox, Cardinals, Pirates, Tigers, Mets, Nationals, Padres, Guardians, Angels, Yankees, Marlins, Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, Twins, Red Sox, Cubs, Blue Jays, Phillies, Astros, Rangers, Brewers, Mariners, Rays, Dodgers, Orioles and Braves.

So you’re saying the Mariners shot themselves in the foot with this hot streak?

I didn’t say that. You did.

Why is this happening now?

For a player to be postseason-eligible, he must be on a roster by Sept. 1. The waiver window is open for two days. That means players will be awarded to a claiming team Aug. 31. You see how these puzzle pieces fit, don’t you?

OK, but didn’t they get rid of this system?

A system, but not this one.

The old waiver trade system was scrapped in 2019, as was the stipulation that waiver order was determined by record and league affiliation. Before that, teams would dump almost everyone on their rosters onto revocable waivers, meaning they could be pulled back without being lost. Teams employed the tactic to disguise the players they actually wanted to trade, allowing them to see if they could sort out a deal on the other side. That’s how John Smoltz went to Atlanta, Jeff Bagwell went to Houston, Larry Walker went to Colorado, Bert Blyleven went to Minnesota and Justin Verlander went to Houston (the first time) all in August. Until Aug. 31, teams could trade for players on waivers and have them be eligible for postseason play, effectively creating two trade deadlines.

In a post-2019 MLB, revocable waivers no longer exist and there is only one trade deadline. Also, the waiver order is determined strictly by record. Though players can still be claimed off waivers after the trade deadline, they no longer can be traded in waiver deals. Their original team will only receive salary relief, not prospects or additional cash.

There has to be a catch, right?

No catch. What you see is real. There are a bunch of players filtering through waivers right now who were coveted trade targets just a month ago. Now they could play for your favorite team (unless you’re the Angels) for the low, low price of whatever it costs to employ them for a month. No prospects to part with. Just cash. It really is a good deal for a team, if you can get one of these guys.

What exactly are the Angels thinking?

They are thinking of cutting their losses. The Angels have been the worst team in baseball since the trade deadline, going 7-17, and, though not mathematically eliminated, their playoff odds on Fangraphs are 0 percent. They are toast, and shoving a sizable portion of their roster onto waivers can save some money while they wave the proverbial white flag.

They are thinking of taxes, and specifically of avoiding them. When the Angels went all in way back in the last week of July, it pushed their team payroll into the first tier of the competitive balance tax (CBT). Shedding some salary would drop them below the $233 million CBT threshold and avoid any associated taxes, penalties and ire from smaller-payroll owners.

And they are thinking about positioning themselves for the inevitability of Shohei Ohtani reaching free agency. If Ohtani declines the Angels’ qualifying offer this fall — which he will — and they are above the first CBT threshold, the compensation pick they receive will come after the fourth round. If they drop below the threshold, however, the compensation pick would come after Comp Round B, following the second round. That is no small matter. In this year’s draft, those two draft positions were between 60 and 70 picks apart.

So, for as much grief as the Angels will get for this desperation waiver dump, there are strategic decisions being made. They’re just overshadowed by the sad state of the club.

Where could Giolito end up?

With anyone who wants him. Giolito was acquired by the Angels before the deadline — along with the aforementioned López — in exchange for top catching prospect Edgar Quero and lefty Ky Bush. He’s posted a 6.89 ERA in six starts with the Angels, so the recent track record is spotty, but there’s surely a team out there who would buy his overall body of work.

The Twins, in particular, could use pitching and will be well-positioned in the waiver order compared to other contenders. This could be a second chance for the Reds, without Nick Lodolo, to make a move to add a veteran to their young starting staff. The Diamondbacks get a second crack at it, too. The Giants, after weeks of bullpen games and openers, are another team that could use a rotation boost, though they have an odd roster crunch as a parade of injured players return. The Red Sox could be in play for Giolito, if they believe they are still in the wild-card hunt. The Orioles could surely use a deadline do-over, as well, but will Giolito still be available when their (currently-second-to-last) turn comes around?

What about the other players?

As a general rule, contenders are always looking for another reliever. Left-hander Matt Moore appears to be a possible fit with the Astros, while reliever Reynaldo López could fit anywhere — even if it means finally saying goodbye to long-time teammate Giolito. The Rangers need bullpen help, though they’re low in the waiver order. Randal Grichuk has a history in Toronto, and the shorthanded Blue Jays are desperate for offense.

The whole exercise feels like a game on The Price is Right. (RIP, Bob Barker.)

Do you want Matt Moore or would you like to pass? You’ve got 10 seconds.”

Which contenders are best positioned to add real talent?

This really does scream opportunity for the first six contenders in the current waiver order, which, once you cut out sub-.500 teams, goes: Marlins, Reds, Giants, Diamondbacks, Twins, Red Sox. There are suddenly arms galore on waivers, at bargain-bin prices, and these teams are first in line (unless non-contenders play spoiler) to grab them.

Another team we haven’t mentioned: The Cubs, who are in the thick of the NL wild-card race and should be in decent position in the waiver order.

Which teams could be chaos agents?

There’s a long history of teams higher in the waiver pecking order (and lower in the standings) going out of their way to block a rival. The Yankees nabbed Jose Canseco for no reason. The Giants claimed Cody Ross to spite the Padres. The Padres blocked the Braves for Randy Myers, but it backfired when the Blue Jays went through with the claim and San Diego was stuck paying $13 million for an injured reliever.

There is no limit to how many claims a team can submit, so, in theory, the Athletics could use their No. 1 waiver priority to claim a quarter of the Angels roster on waivers, so long as they find the roster space to fit all of them. This is obviously an exaggeration. Why more could you need when you have Zach Gelof? But it does show that the door is open for ~chaos~.

“I think teams will definitely be putting in claims on players they don’t necessarily want for the sake of other teams not getting them,” the AL executive said. “Claim them all and figure it out later.” He added: “Chaos comes down to the current waiver order and individual teams’ appetites and creativity.”

Wonder where we could find a hungry and creative team right about now. OH NO, THAT’S A.J. PRELLER’S MUSIC. The Padres are toeing the line between cooked and, if you squint really hard, contender. They are all in, yet they are eight games under .500 and seven games out of a wild-card spot. Giolito could replace Rich Hill or Pedro Avila. Bader could start in center. The bullpen could use a restock. The more you think about it, the more you wonder whether this was the moment the Padres were waiting for, positioning themselves for, all this time.

Now that they’ve booted Noah Syndergaard from the roster, the Guardians might not mind another arm to eat innings in September. The Yankees have an opening to block the four teams ahead of them in the division, but it’d be a surprise to see them simultaneously feeding into waivers and pulling from it.

The true chaos could come from scoreboard watching. Waiver order won’t lock until after Wednesday’s games, which means there’s still time for some movement up and down the standings. Did I just hear a “Tank for Giolito” chant at Wrigley? Anyway, with a crop of waiver claims this intriguing, it could be a very silly 48 hours.

The Athletic’s Marc Carig and Evan Drellich contributed to this report.

(Top photo of Lucas Giolito making his Angels debut: Cole Burston / Getty Images)

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