On the Pirates: The deals are hardly done

Twelve trades involving 18 teams and 37 players took place before Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline. The moves reshaped the American League pennant race, retooled last season's World Series champion and augmented the teams who entered the weekend with the two best records in the National League Central.

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None of these trades involved the Pirates, who sat out trade-deadline action for the second consecutive year. Trading season is hardly over, though; with August comes waiver trades, which, while lacking the anything-is-possible excitement of the non-wavier deadline, add aspects such as contract status, blocking rivals and the standings to the equation.

"This also doesn't signify the end of any opportunity to add to your club," manager Clint Hurdle said after Thursday's deadline.

The Pirates made two waiver trades last season. They acquired Marlon Byrd -- and backup catcher John Buck -- and Justin Morneau in late August, filling holes in right field and first base. Byrd produced, Morneau did not.

"We ended up working through some situations that didn't come to fruition, we ended up working through a couple that did," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We'll continue to find avenues and continue to work hard."

As soon as the non-waiver deadline passed, and until the deadline to lock postseason rosters Aug. 31, teams can trade players in two fashions involving waivers. Every team will put most of their players on waivers to disguise whom they actually intend to trade. There is no risk to this. Trade waivers are revocable, so if a team puts a player on waivers and another organization claims him, the original team can retract him.

The standings determine waiver priority in inverse fashion, so the team with the worst record in the NL has first crack at NL players on waivers. If a player makes it through his own league, the process repeats for the AL. Entering the weekend, the Pirates' 57-51 record gave them the ninth waiver selection out of 15 NL teams.

If a team claims a player off waivers, that player's organization can retract the player, work out a trade with the claiming team or simply dump the player and his contract on the team that claims him. After a team rescinds trade waivers once with a player, the player becomes irrevocable if they put him on waivers again.

August becomes interesting when players clear waivers entirely -- usually because they have large contracts -- and can then be traded to anyone. This happened in 2012, when the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, and the combined $262.5 million dollars left on their contracts, from the Boston Red Sox.

Teams have to play chicken when blocking division rivals. Let a talented player fall to a competitor, or claim the player and risk ending up with his salary?

"I think it's going to be a challenge, but we thought it was going to be a challenge a year ago," Huntington said.

Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee, 35, was a prime waiver trade candidate because of the $37.5 million -- minimum -- left on his contract after this season. But a recurrence of the flexor-pronator strain in his left elbow could end his season, and teams cannot put disabled players on waivers.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and the $60 million he is owed, including $10 million to buy him out of a $23 million club option for 2017, will make it through waivers, as well. The Phillies will have to eat some of that money to trade him, especially considering his .222 average and .305 on-base percentage this season entering the weekend. He has hit .235 with a .306 OBP and 41 home runs since 2012.

Bartolo Colon of the New York Mets or the Houston Astros' Scott Feldman, both starting pitchers, could move in August. Colorado starter Jorge De La Rosa likely will not clear waivers but should draw interest if the Rockies make him available.

Last year, the Chicago White Sox traded Alex Rios to the Texas Rangers in August. Emilio Bonifacio went from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Kansas City Royals. Kurt Suzuki and David DeJesus changed hands, as did John Axford and Jason Kubel. Major trades like the Dodgers-Red Sox deal don't come along often, but useful players can be found in August.

In the meantime, Huntington and Hurdle said, the Pirates hope Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte can boost the team for the final two months. Cole could return to the rotation as early as Thursday. The Pirates planned Marte's rehab assignment through Tuesday, at which point they will evaluate his return from a concussion.

"The core of this team is the team that put us in a position to have one of the best nights of baseball here in a long time," said Huntington, referring to last year's wild-card game. "We've got guys that are starting to put some things together. We've got some guys that have carried us all year long."

August does not guarantee productive waiver trades and the additional obstacles complicate the process. But other than help from within, those trades represent the only available source of improvement.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com. On Twitter: @BrinkPG.

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