We frequently hear about players getting “placed on waivers”, but that’s a deceptively simple phrase. It leads fans to believe that there’s only one type of waivers, and that all players go through the same process when placed on waivers. That’s simply not true: there are actually three separate types of waivers and each of them carries slightly different rules.

1) Unconditional Release Waivers: These are the waivers a team uses to get rid of a player they don’t want anymore. Think Oliver Perez or Luis Castillo with the Mets, or Pat Burrell with the Rays. Once placed on unconditional release waivers, the player can be claimed by any other team for $1, but the claiming team must then take on the remainder of that player’s salary. If the released player chooses to, they can instead become a free agent and sign with any team. In this case, the team releasing the player is still on the hook for the remainder of their contract.

Since players placed on unconditional release waivers are normally bad players signed to really large contracts, it’s rare that another team will claim them. Instead, the player typically chooses to become a free agent and signs with another team for at or near the league minimum.

2) Irrevocable Outright Waivers (AKA Special Waivers): This is the way that a team clears room on its 40-man roster. If a player is on a team’s 40-man roster but they wish to remove that player from the 40-man, the player must first be placed on irrevocable outright waivers. Any team can then claim the player for a modest fee ($20K). These waivers are non-revocable, meaning that if a player is claimed off waivers, the original team has no choice but to let that player go to the other team.

Also, this is the same process that a player must go through before being demoted to the minors if they are out of options. Players with options can be demoted and promoted easily, but once they are out of options, they must first pass through irrevocable outright waivers before being demoted again.

3) Revocable Major League Waivers: These are the waivers we hear about each season after the July 31st trading deadline has passed. After the July 31st trading deadline, players may still be traded through the end of the season: the only trick is they first need to pass through revocable major league waivers. If a player is placed on waivers and not claimed by any other team within 47 business-day hours, then that player can be traded to any club. However, if one team puts in a claim on that player, the original team has three choices: let the player go to the claiming team (at which point, the claiming team will take on the remainder of that player’s contract and salary), work out a trade with the claiming team within 48.5 business-day hours, or pull the player from waivers and keep him.

If a player has been placed on revocable waivers, claimed, and then withdrawn from waivers, he cannot be pulled from waivers again that season. In other words, if the team placed that player on waivers again that same season and he was claimed, they’d have to work out a trade or let the player go – they can’t pull him back a second time.

Not too confusing, right? It’s not the simplest process in the world, but it’s also not as confusing as it may seem.

Links for Further Reading:

Waivers – Biz of Baseball

Death, Taxes, and the Major League Waivers – Baseball Analysts

Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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