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Baseball Trade Deadline – How Does It Work

  • Since 2022, the trade deadline in baseball can be between July 28 and August 3 (the deadline traditionally occurred at 4 p.m. ET on July 30th every year)
  • The process and consequences of trades, including reshaping the team roster, re-stocking their farm systems, media frenzy, and fan excitement make the trade deadline a thrilling period for everyone involved.

2023 MLB Trade Deadline is 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 1, 2023. Keep in mind that MLB eliminated the August Trade Waver deadline.

It’s July 31, 2017 – a date no player in Major League Baseball takes lightly. It’s the day of the trade deadline.

Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers ace, is stepping off the field after an intense workout. As he wipes the sweat off his forehead, a call comes in from the General Manager. The voice on the other end of the line is hesitant, the news monumental: “Yu, you’ve been traded to the Dodgers.”

Suddenly, Darvish, an ace of the Rangers and an all-star pitcher finds his world turned upside down. As he hangs up, the magnitude of what happened starts sinking in. He’s leaving his teammates, the fans who’ve cheered him on, the city he’s called home.

But he’s also getting a chance to chase the ultimate goal in baseball – a World Series title – with the Dodgers, one of the season’s front runners.

What is inside this post


In a last-minute move just before the trade deadline, the Texas Rangers traded Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Darvish, an All-Star and a key figure in the Rangers’ lineup, was having a good season, but the Rangers were not in contention for the playoffs. 

Keeping Darvish, whose contract was expiring at the end of the season, would have potentially meant losing him in the offseason to free agency without receiving anything in return.

Baseball Trade Deadline - How Does It Work
Yu Darvish – Texas Rangers

On the other hand, moving Darvish at the trade deadline when his value was high, allowed the Rangers to acquire young talent to re-stock their farm system to build and strengthen their team for the future.

The Dodgers, a contending team looking to bolster their rotation for a deep playoff run, were willing to part with high quality prospects for a chance to secure a World Series title – a feat they narrowly missed that year, making it to the World Series but losing to the Houston Astros (*)

An asterisk is placed next to Houston Astros team in 2017 due to their cheating scandal.

For Darvish, it was a shift from a struggling team to a contending one, and for the Dodgers, it was a calculated risk to strengthen their roster for a potential World Series win.

Yu Darvish with LA Dodgers

So, while it can initially seem counterintuitive to trade a top player, the motivations become clear when we take a broader look at the team’s situation and long-term goals. 

This post will delve into the fascinating world of Major League Baseball’s trade deadline by breaking down:

  • What the trade deadline is and discuss its strategic importance within the league.
  • Explore the implications for the teams involved – examining how it can influence both their current season and future prospects.
  • Consider the trade deadline’s significance for the fans and its broader impact on the baseball community.

Understanding the Concept Behind Trades

The strategic importance of the trade deadline within the league is multi-faceted.

Roster Adjustments

The most immediate effect of the trade deadline is on the teams’ rosters.

Contending team often uses the deadline to add that final missing piece to their lineup or bolster their pitching rotations for the playoffs.

Conversely, team that is out of contention may trade away valuable players in return for less expensive players or younger players with potential.

Balancing Immediate Success and Future Prospects

The trade deadline forces teams to evaluate their chances of success in the current season versus their long-term plans.

Teams must decide whether to ‘buy’ – add more experienced players to boost their immediate competitiveness, or ‘sell’ – trade away current assets to acquire future prospects.

This balance is crucial for the sustained success of any franchise.

Contract and Salary Considerations

MLB teams also must consider player contracts and salaries at the trade deadline.

Trading a player before their contract expires allows teams to get valuable assets in return, rather than risk losing the player to free agency with no compensation. Furthermore, teams may need to trade players to manage their payroll and stay within the league’s luxury tax threshold.

To give this context, let’s revisit the Darvish example.

The Texas Rangers, realizing they were not going to make the playoffs, decided to ‘sell’ at the trade deadline. They traded away Darvish, who was approaching free agency, to get valuable young players in return and invest in their future.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers, in ‘buy’ mode, were willing to trade future prospects for the chance to strengthen their roster and make a deeper playoff run with Darvish.

A properly executed trade creates a win-win situation for the selling and buying teams.

History of the Trade Deadline

Understanding the history of the trade deadline provides important context to its role today in Major League Baseball.

Origins and Early Years

The concept of a trade deadline in baseball can be traced back to the early 20th century.

Before 1923, trades were allowed at any point during the season. However, this led to situations where wealthy teams would acquire star players from weaker teams late in the season to bolster their rosters for the playoffs, disrupting competitive balance.

To address this, the MLB introduced a trade deadline in 1923, setting it initially on June 15.

1923 World Series

The Shift to July 31

The trade deadline remained on June 15 for several decades, but this changed in 1986.

The MLB Players Association argued that a later deadline would provide players more time to showcase their abilities each season before trades were made. As a result, the deadline was moved to July 31, where it has remained, with some minor adjustments, till today.

Introduction of the Waiver Deadline

In addition to the July 31 deadline, the MLB also had a secondary “waiver” trade deadline on August 31 for several years.

After July 31, players could still be traded, but they had to clear waivers first – meaning, they had to be offered to other teams in reverse order of the standings, and if none of them claimed the player, only then could a trade be executed.

Removal of the Waiver Deadline

However, in 2019, the MLB decided to eliminate the August waiver deadline, leaving July 31 as the one and only trade deadline.

The decision aimed to create a single, definitive deadline, encouraging teams to make decisions earlier and creating more excitement and clarity for fans.

How Baseball Trades Work

In order to better understand the trade deadline dynamics, let’s break down the trade process in Major League Baseball.

Identifying Needs and Potential Partners

The process starts when a team identifies a need within their roster, whether it be a powerful hitter, a reliable starting pitcher, or a solid fielder. The team’s General Manager (GM) then looks across the league for potential trade partners – usually teams that have an excess of what they need and may be looking for what the first team has to offer.


Once potential partners are identified, negotiations begin. This is a critical part of the process, where GMs discuss terms, propose and counter-propose trade packages, and evaluate the pros and cons. These discussions can take days or even weeks and usually involve several possible trade scenarios.

Can a contract be negotiated for a player who was just traded by the deadline?

When a player is traded, the new team takes on the existing contract of the player, including its duration, salary, and any clauses. They don't renegotiate the player's contract as part of the trade. However, the new team could potentially negotiate a contract extension with the player if they desire, depending on the rules governing the player's service time and contract status. 

In some cases, a player may have a clause in their contract that allows them to opt out or become a free agent at a certain point, and a team may wish to negotiate an extension to keep the player beyond that point. Other times, a team may want to negotiate a new contract with a player who is nearing the end of their existing deal. However, such negotiations usually occur after the player has spent some time with the new team, not immediately at the trade deadline.

Lastly, it's important to note that any contract negotiation would have to comply with the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and the league.


When both sides agree to a trade, they submit it to the league for approval. This is to ensure that the trade complies with league rules, such as salary cap restrictions and the requirement that trades be in the best interest of baseball.

Physical Examinations

Upon league approval, players involved in the trade must usually undergo physical examinations to ensure they are in good health. Any significant health issues can cause a trade to be nullified.


Finally, once all these steps are completed, the teams can officially announce the trade. Players are then relocated to their new teams, and the rosters are adjusted accordingly.

In the case of Yu Darvish, for example, the Dodgers identified a need for a strong starting pitcher to bolster their rotation for the playoffs. It then entered negotiations with the Rangers, who were looking to acquire young talent in exchange for their star pitcher.

Upon agreement, the commissioner approved the trade, the players undergo physical examinations, and then officially announce the trade.

How does MLB waivers work

Starting in the 2020 season (shortened by COVID), MLB removed the waiver trade deadline when players could still be traded up until August 31 if they were on waivers and unclaimed by other clubs.

Instead, MLB now has a single trade deadline at the end of July or beginning of August.

Content below is left for the fans who are curious about how waivers worked before the change.

And who knows, maybe MLB will bring it back?!

Waivers is a procedural process within Major League Baseball that allows teams to potentially trade players even after the trade deadline has passed, or to move a player from the 40-man roster to the minor leagues.

Here’s a basic breakdown of how waivers work:

Requesting Waivers

When a team wants to assign a player on its 40-man roster to the minor leagues, or trade a player after the trade deadline, they must first place the player on waivers.

This means that they request waivers for that player, essentially asking if any other team in the league wants to claim him.

Claiming Process

Once a player is placed on waivers, every team in the MLB gets a chance to claim him in reverse order of the current standings, starting with the team with the worst record.

This gives teams that are doing poorly first shot at acquiring players placed on waivers.

Claim or Clear

If a team claims a player off waivers, they take on his current contract and he joins their roster. If no team claims a player after a set period (typically 48 hours), the player has “cleared waivers”.

A player who has cleared waivers can be traded to any team, assigned to the minor leagues, or released outright.

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Waivers

There are two types of waivers – revocable and irrevocable.

If a player is placed on revocable waivers and another team tries to claim him, the original team can pull the player back. But, if the same player is placed on waivers again in the same season, the waivers are irrevocable and the original team cannot pull the player back.

August Waiver Trade Deadline

After the July 31st trade deadline, players must pass through waivers to be eligible for a trade. This is why it is commonly referred to as the “waiver trade deadline”.

It’s important to note that placing a player on waivers is a common procedure and doesn’t necessarily mean a team wants to get rid of a player. Often, teams will place many or even all of their players on waivers to gauge interest from other teams or to make their players eligible for a trade after the July 31st deadline.

MLB Trade Deadline Rules

The rules surrounding the trade deadline in Major League Baseball are relatively complex, but understanding them provides valuable insight into the strategic elements of the game. Here are some of the key rules:

Deadline Timing

At the prescribed trade deadline, all paperwork for a trade must be submitted to the MLB Commissioner’s office.

The trade deadline for 2023 season is set for 6 PM Eastern Time on August 1, 2023.

Trades can still be negotiated and agreed upon right up until the deadline.

No Trades After the Deadline

Following the deadline, teams are prohibited from trading players for the rest of the season. Before 2020, teams could still make trades in August through a more complex waiver process, but the MLB has since eliminated this secondary deadline.

Trading of Minor League Players

Teams are still allowed to trade minor league players who are not on a Major League roster after the deadline. This allows teams to continue to adjust their depth and talent in their farm systems even after the trade deadline.

Trading of “Players to be Named Later”

Trades can include “players to be named later” (PTBNL). These are players who will be included in the trade at a future date. However, if a PTBNL is on a Major League roster as of the deadline, they cannot be traded as a PTBNL after the deadline.

Trade and Contract Rules

Trades also must abide by the MLB’s other contract and roster rules. For example, players with no-trade clauses in their contracts can veto trades to certain teams, and trades must also comply with the MLB’s salary cap regulations.

Trade Impact on Players

There are many positives and negatives to being traded.

The emotional impact of the trade deadline on players is a significant aspect of professional baseball that’s often overlooked. Many casual fans think players are like LEGO blocks, where they can be stacked and plugged into a team to instantly make a difference.

Sometimes this method works, other times, it fails miserably. Let’s take a close look at how trades can impact a player.

Uncertainty and Anxiety

The weeks leading up to the trade deadline can be filled with uncertainty and anxiety for many players. Rumors swirl, and players can be left wondering about their future. The emotional toll this takes can be significant, especially for players with families who might have to relocate at a moment’s notice.

Relocation Stress

Being traded means leaving teammates, coaches, and often a city that a player has grown to consider home. It means relocating, often across the country, to join a new team in a new city. This can be a stressful transition, especially when it happens mid-season and players are expected to quickly adjust and perform on the field.

New Opportunities

On the other hand, a trade can also bring about feelings of excitement and opportunity. A player might be traded from a struggling team to a contender, suddenly giving them a shot at a championship. Or a young player might be traded to a team where they have a better opportunity to play regularly and prove their abilities.

Professional Validation

Being sought after in a trade can also serve as a form of validation for a player’s skills and can give them a confidence boost. But, conversely, being traded can also cause a player to question their value, particularly if they are traded for prospects or if they were not expecting to be moved.

Post-Trade Adjustment

Once a trade has been made, players often experience a whirlwind of emotions. There’s the initial shock, followed by the excitement and apprehension about joining a new team. Players must adjust to new teammates, coaches, and game strategies. All of this can be emotionally challenging.

Trade Examples

In this section, we can delve into recent trade deadline deals to illustrate their impact on the teams and players involved.

Mookie Betts to the Dodgers (2020)

The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Betts from the Boston Red Sox before the 2020 season, a move that paid immediate dividends as the Dodgers won the World Series that year. For Betts, the trade led to a championship ring and a massive contract extension. For the Red Sox, they received a collection of young talent, but also faced backlash from fans for trading away a franchise player.

Zack Greinke to the Astros (2019)

The Houston Astros acquired starting pitcher Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks which bolstered an already strong Astros rotation and helped the team reach the World Series that year. However, the trade also depleted the Astros’ farm system, as they gave up four top prospects to acquire Greinke.

Marcus Stroman to the Mets (2019)

In a surprise move at the 2019 trade deadline, the New York Mets acquired Marcus Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays. The trade didn’t lead to immediate success for the Mets, but it signaled the team’s intention to compete in the following seasons. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays received two pitching prospects in return, signaling a commitment to their rebuild.

Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres (2022)

In a blockbuster trade, the Padres acquired Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the Washington Nationals. With Juan Soto’s inclusion in the Padres’ lineup alongside Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr, the Padres offensive force was dramatically improved. The Nationals meanwhile, welcomed and influx of promising talent, including MacKenzie Gore, CH Abrams, Luke Voit, and three promising prospects.


The trade deadline in Major League Baseball is a critical period that shapes the trajectory of the season and beyond. It’s a chess game where teams make calculated decisions to either “buy” or “sell” based on their current standings and long-term strategies.

Selling teams, often those falling behind in the race to the playoffs, may trade away their high-profile players for younger talent, building for the future. This strategy might momentarily deflate fan enthusiasm as favorite players are dealt away, leaving gaps in the lineup and, often, in fans’ hearts.

Buying teams, on the other hand, are usually the ones in contention for the playoffs or the World Series. They look to bolster their roster with established stars, exciting their fan base with renewed hope and expectations. But with high stakes come high risks, and a failed post-trade performance can lead to a heavy dose of disappointment.

Taking the case of Soto moving to the Padres, it’s a prime example of a significant win for the buying team, amplifying excitement among the Padres fans. For the Nationals, however, it’s a calculated step back today for what they hope is a leap forward in the future.

In the end, the trade deadline is a complex mix of strategy and emotion. Teams bid on the future, fans recalibrate their hopes, and players adapt to new challenges. It is this perpetual cycle of dashed hopes and renewed enthusiasm that keeps the sport of baseball continuously engaging and infinitely unpredictable.


What happens to a player’s salary when they are traded?

When a player is traded, their new team is responsible for the remainder of their salary. However, sometimes the team trading the player away will agree to pay a portion of the salary as a condition of the trade.

Can a player refuse a trade?

Some players have no-trade clauses in their contracts which allow them to refuse trades to certain teams, or all teams. Others gain this right after ten years in the MLB, the last five with the same team.

What is a player to be named later (PTBNL)?

A PTBNL is a player that is part of a trade but isn’t named at the time of the deal. The teams agree on the player and announce it after a certain period, usually no more than six months.

What is a cash transaction in a trade?

This is when one team gives the other team cash as part of a trade deal, often to help offset a player’s salary.

Can a player be traded after being drafted?

According to the rules of the MLB, a player who is drafted cannot be traded until after the World Series of the year in which they were drafted.

Can trades be made in the off-season?

Yes, trades can be made in the off-season. The only restriction is the trade deadline, after which players can only be moved via waivers until the end of the season.

What is a blockbuster trade?

A blockbuster trade refers to a trade involving star players or a large number of players. These trades often have a significant impact on the teams involved.

Can free agents be traded?

No, free agents cannot be traded as they are not under contract with any team. Players become free agents upon six years of Major League service time or when they are released. They are free to sign with any team that offers them a contract.

Why are some trades made just before the trade deadline?

Teams often wait until just before the deadline to make trades in order to have as much information as possible about their own needs, the market, and other teams’ situations.

What is a trade exception?

While more common in sports like the NBA, a trade exception does not exist in the same form in MLB. In baseball, the financial aspect of trades is usually handled through cash transactions or by one team agreeing to pay a portion of a traded player’s salary.

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