The Washington Times - August 2, 2013, 10:11AM

MILWAUKEE — The July 31 trade deadline may have passed with little fanfare and few trades, particularly for, but not exclusive to, the Nationals. That doesn’t mean the wheeling and dealing is over.

The August waiver period has begun and players are almost certainly already passing through the wires.


Most in the industry seem to think that while the non-waiver trade deadline was quieter than years past, the waiver period will not be. Teams will have a better idea of their contention as August goes on, particularly with regard to the second Wild Card, and thus a better idea of what their team needs to acquire or can unload.

The Nationals are certainly one of those teams.

As they open business Friday, the Nationals are 11 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the division and 7 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot. But they’re also going to play the Braves six times in the next 17 days and nine more times this season. 

So perhaps as soon as the end of next week, shortly after they’ve welcomed the Braves to Washington for three games starting Monday, the Nationals will have a better idea of where they stand when it comes to contention. They’ve maintained throughout that they still believe in the talent assembled — that they still believe they can be the team predicted to win the World Series.

And crazy things can happen down the stretch of a baseball season. The Atlanta Braves held a 9 1/2-game lead in the NL Wild Card on Aug. 26, 2011 — and were 10 1/2 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in that category. As many may remember, culminating with a wild final day of the season, the Braves missed the playoffs entirely. 

That means the Nationals could be an interesting team to watch this month, regardless of which way they go in the standings.

Here’s a brief explanation of how the August waiver period works:

Teams can place up to seven players on waivers per day. A player is on waivers for two days, during which he can be claimed by another team. What is most often misunderstood about this period of the season is that almost all players — even the marquee ones teams would almost never trade — get put on waivers this month. It is not necessarily a knock on the player, or indicative of how their team views them, that they’re put on waivers.

Any team can claim another player, but claims are awarded in reverse order to the standings, which means the worse a team is, the more opportunities they will have to claim players. American League teams get first dibs on AL players, National League teams get first dibs on NL players. Then the player goes through the other league in the same fashion before they’ve “cleared.”

If a player is claimed, there are three things that could happen. His team can pull him back (and then it’s as if they never put him on waivers in the first place). His team can allow the claiming team to take the player, and that team would then assume all of his contract (as the White Sox did with Alex Rios a few years back). Lastly, the two teams can work out a deal (like the blockbuster the Dodgers and Red Sox pulled of centered around Adrian Gonzalez in 2012).

Claims can also happen when a team with a worse record wants to block the player from reaching one of their rivals, with a better record. There’s a good bit of strategy involved in that regard.

If a player isn’t claimed by anyone and clears waivers, he’s free to be traded anywhere at any time before the calendar hits September.

The Nationals did not make a deal at the July 31 deadline last year, either, but two days later they traded for Kurt Suzuki from the A’s. That was a deal that was talked about before the deadline but terms couldn’t be agreed upon, so the Nationals waited for Suzuki to clear waivers, and then struck their deal with the A’s.

If they improve their standing in the coming days, the Nationals could find a deal more to their liking this month that would help improve their club for the stretch run. 

If they do not, the Nationals also have a few players who might clear waivers and interest opposing teams. Suzuki may again find himself one of those players.

Since Wilson Ramos came off the disabled list on July 4, he has started 17 of the Nationals’ 24 games. Suzuki’s role has transitioned much more to that of a traditional backup in the process. His $9.25 million vesting option for the 2014 season will not vest. And at $8.5 million without the vest, the Nationals are not going to pick it up if they view him solely as a backup to Ramos again next year.

If the Nationals still feel they’re in contention in the next two weeks or so, they would likely hold on to Suzuki for the stretch run, particularly given Ramos’ hamstring issues this season and Suzuki’s obvious role in working with Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez in particular. He’s also a well-liked teammate.

If not, and the Nationals can workout a deal with another team where they’d get some kind of return for him, Suzuki could be moved again. 

Depending on the Nationals’ status, they have a few other players who could fall into this same type of situation — but it also all depends on what other teams’ needs are and how they view the players. 

Over on this morning, Buster Olney put together a pretty lengthy list of players who could be moved during the month of August. No Nationals players appear on it. 

The Nationals closed the book on a terrible July Wednesday afternoon. They’ll open August Friday night against the Brewers. Whichever way their fortunes go from here, it figures to be a fascinating month for them.