One week into the August trading period, it appears "blocking" may be on the wane.
Pete Schourek goes from the Astros to the Red Sox. Randy Myers goes from the Blue Jays to the Padres.Maybe the old gentlemen's agreement about waiver claims is back in force.
That could mean more deals are in the works. All those players who wound up staying put on July 31 (Brian Jordan, Robin Ventura, Bob Tewksbury, Tim Belcher, Jon Lieber, Ricardo Rincon, Jason Christiansen, Devon White, Mark Leiter, Mark Portugal, Reggie Sanders, Mike Remlinger, maybe even Roger Clemens) could still be moved.
Perhaps the biggest reason 45 players changed hands in 13 trades July 31, deadline day, was the increasing belief among general managers that no worthwhile players could pass through waivers.
"I don't think that in today's game, with what has happened over the last couple of years, that you can count on making a trade after July 31," Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski said on that date. "You may get lucky. But it's more fortunate if it happens than by design."
Last August was the worst. According to Cubs GM Ed Lynch, more than 130 waiver claims were filed, a drastic increase over previous years. Many of those claims were made by teams with little chance of making the postseason and little interest in the player they were claiming.
Hence the term "blocking."
According to the old unwritten rule, even contending teams would let players slide through waivers unless they were prepared to make a trade themselves.
That era ended with shrewdies like Reds GM Jim Bowden and Dombrowski playing the waiver game for their own purposes.
"With the stakes involved, if your club is in contention, you want to do everything you can to keep somebody else from helping themselves," Dombrowski said. "We claimed a lot of players last year. There were some players last year that a time or two I was sweating to see if we were going to own their contracts or not.
"It's like a chess match."
Or a game of chicken.
Myers is in the first year of a long-term contract. His salary the next two seasons will be $6 million. Under current economic conditions, how many non-contenders can afford even the risk of swallowing such a hefty contract?
That explains why the entire American League passed on Myers last week and all but the top two clubs in the NL let him slide by as well.
Waivers go in reverse order of standings, starting with the player's current league and then moving to the other circuit. If all 29 other clubs fail to make a claim on a given player in a span of 72 business hours, that player may be traded anywhere.
The lowest-standing team that claims a given player has the option of assuming his contract for the $20,000 waiver fee or working out a trade with the team that placed him on waivers. Of course, the original team may pull the player back off waivers at any time ... or not.
"That's the one tricky part about claiming," Dombrowski said. "You always have to be prepared when you claim to own the player."
Other intesting waivers tidbits:
Teams may place as many as seven players at a time on waivers. Sometimes this "flooding" tactic can result in an oversight and the player sneaking through, or at least to a desired destination. Also, teams may pull players off waivers just once per season. If they somehow get waived a second time by the same team, waivers are irrevocable and the player may be lost.
It's still early in the waivers trading period, but the early returns are encouraging. Maybe moving the non-waivers trading deadline back to Aug. 15 won't be necessary after all.
You're not going to believe this, but the biggest reason Randy Johnson is pitching for the Astros now and not the Yankees is a fellow named Luis Castillo.
Yes, we're talking about the same second baseman who failed a half-season trial with the Marlins last year and was only called up last week from Triple-A Charlotte to replace the injured Craig Counsell (broken jaw).
That's the word out of Seattle, where defrocked Mariners GM Woody Woodward has intimated one player held up a deal with the Yankees. That player was Triple-A third baseman Mike Lowell, the former Florida International standout who has blossomed into a top power prospect.
Lowell was then supposed to be shipped to the Marlins in a deal for Castillo, whom the Mariners openly covet as the successor to a broken Joey Cora.
"We absolutely sat on one demand all week," said Woodward, who ranks incredibly enough as the longest-tenured general manager in the four major professional sports. "One particular player was a deal breaker for us."
In the end, the Yankees refused to part with Lowell, who could succeed Scott Brosius at third next season. They reportedly preferred to include outfield stud Ricky Ledee in a package with Hideki Irabu.
That means the Mariners like Castillo more than Lowell and Ledee.
Tells you a little about the Mariners, doesn't it?
Said Mariners outfielder and Houston resident Jay Buhner: "People in Houston must be wondering, `What's in that coffee y'all drink up there.' "
One reason the Randy Johnson Derby was so convoluted might have been the fluctuations in the Big Unit's performance and velocity this season.
He would throw two gems, get knocked around the next two outings, then settle down and throw somewhere in between. His once-unhittable fastball can still reach 98 mph but nowhere near as consistently as it once did.
In his Astros debut last Sunday against the Pirates, Johnson was throwing his two-seam fastball 93 mph, using it to get ahead of hitters. With two strikes, he could still dial it up to 98 mph with a fastball on the hands.
Dierker said Johnson was still hitting 98 mph at times in his last inning of work, the seventh, and his changeup was hitting its spots.
Pirates manager Gene Lamont raved about Johnson's slider. In fact, even more than the fastball, that's the pitch that will likely give National League hitters the worst fits.