If a rival club wanted, it could easily thwart the Red Sox’s plan to send shortstop Stephen Drew to the minors for about 25 at-bats.
Don’t count on such a disruption, however.
A gentlemen’s agreement between clubs restrains them from claiming players on optional waivers, all but ensuring that the Sox will not require an alternate strategy with Drew.
Drew, who agreed to a one-year deal for about $10 million Tuesday, is on optional waivers until 1 p.m. ET Friday. The waivers are revocable, meaning that the Red Sox could pull back Drew if another team claimed him.
So, what’s the problem?
Pulling back Drew would prevent the Sox from sending him to the minors, according to major-league rules.
Why wouldn’t an AL East competitor such as the Yankees claim Drew and force the Red Sox to keep him in the majors and play one man short until he is game ready?
Because, rival executives said, such a violation of protocol would invite retribution, prompting the Red Sox to respond by claiming players from the offending club.
One executive said Wednesday that he would be “shocked” if Drew was claimed. Teams routinely place players on optional waivers while trying to assign them to the minors, the executive said.
“If you start a war like that, they will get you later,” the exec said. “The tit-for-tat is not really worth it.”
Drew, 31, has one minor-league option remaining. He will waive his right, as a player with five years of major-league service, to reject an assignment to the minors.
The Red Sox are aware of the risk of putting Drew on optional waivers, according to major-league sources. If another team claims Drew, the Sox will simply pull him back, keep him in the majors and figure out a way to get him into game shape, perhaps by staging simulated games, sources said.
The Sox do not wish to gain salary relief from a player they just signed and would not recoup a draft pick for losing Drew on waivers. Drew, meanwhile, would be like any signed free agent, needing to give his permission to join another team before June 15.
But again, none of that is likely to transpire.
“It’s pretty commonly accepted that teams let other team’s players pass through optional waivers,” a second executive said.
“Blocking does nothing but hurt the other team’s operation so you risk getting into an unnecessary battle. The game is a small world, so inevitably there is a scenario where all teams have to get their guy through at some point.”
Still, teams routinely engage in such blocking during August, preventing competitors from claiming players on trade waivers.
Clubs also bid against each other for free agents in the offseason; a gentlemen’s agreement to refrain from such competition would constitute collusion.
The difference with optional waivers is that chaos might ensue if teams started claiming other club’s players to block minor-league assignments.
The Red Sox, then, are almost certainly safe with Drew. One executive, in fact, said he could not recall a player ever getting claimed on optional waivers.