Every baseball fan—all right, every Baseball America reader—knows that major league organizations can exercise three option years to send players to the minors. Well, except in those rare cases when they can use a fourth option.
Major League Baseball grants a fourth option to teams when a player has five or fewer professional seasons under his belt but already has burned through three optional assignments. For this purpose, the Collective Bargaining Agreement credits a player with a season of service when he spends 90 or more days on the active list during a season.
We'll get to the ins and outs of the process in a bit, but first here's a team-by-team listing of players on 40-man rosters who qualify for a fourth option that can be used during the 2013 season:
Athletics: LHP Pedro Figueroa,
Cardinals: CF Shane Robinson
Cubs: RHP Rafael Dolis, RHP Hector Rondon (Rule 5 pick)
Giants: RF Francisco Peguero
Mariners: RHP Hector Noesi
Marlins: SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Jacob Turner
Mets: RHP Jenrry Mejia
Nationals: RHP Yunesky Maya, RHP Ryan Perry
Orioles: LHP Brian Matusz
Padres: 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Fautino de los Santos, RHP Tyson Ross
Pirates: 3B Pedro Alvarez, RHP Bryan Morris, LHP Andy Oliver
Rays: LHP Alex Torres
Red Sox: SS Jose Iglesias, RHP Junichi Tazawa
Royals: LHP Noel Arguelles
White Sox: LF Dayan Viciedo
Notes: Three lefties in camp as non-roster invitees would qualify for a fourth option if they make the big club: Sergio Escalona (Astros), Kelvin de la Cruz (Dodgers) and Daniel Schlereth (Orioles). Also, the Cubs' Hector Rondon cannot be optioned to the minors—at least not unless Chicago works out a trade with the Indians first—because of his status as a major league Rule 5 pick.
All players invited to major league spring training must be in camp today, and many of them will be suiting up with new organizations.
Somewhere between marquee free agent imports—such as Zack Greinke ($147 million with the Dodgers) or Josh Hamilton ($123 million with the Angels)—and dollar-and-a-dream non-roster invites—like Marlon Byrd with the Mets or Conor Jackson with the Orioles—resides a recently developed class of free agent, one created by the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Beginning with last year's class, any Article XX(B) major league free agent who accepts a minor league deal is entitled to three automatic contract clauses: 1) he must be told five days prior to Opening Day—that's March 26 this year—whether or not he will make the 25-man active roster, 2) if he does not ask for his release and consents to open the season in Triple-A, then he will receive a $100,000 "retention bonus," and 3) if he's still in Triple-A on June 1, then he can opt out of his minor league contract so that he can sign with another organization.
Article XX(B) free agents may sign within 10 days of Opening Day—March 21 this year—and still receive guaranteed opt-out dates and retention bonuses in their minor league contracts
According to a press release issued by the MLB Players Association, 161 players qualified as Article XX(B) free agents following the 2012 season. To date, 94 of them have signed major league contracts (Kyle Lohse finally signed with the Brewers on March 25), 23 remain unsigned (including decorated vets like Scott Rolen, Jim Thome and Roy Oswalt), eight either retired or indicated as much (including Omar Vizquel, Kevin Millwood and Nick Johnson) and three will play in Japan in 2013 (Andruw Jones, Jose Lopez and Vicente Padilla).
That leaves 34 Article XX(B) free agents who signed minor league contracts, entitling them to the benefits outlined above. The team-by-team lists, with season ages for 2013 and statistics from last season (OPS+ via Baseball-Reference.com):
While baseball's new Collective Bargaining Agreement overhauled the way teams will go about acquiring amateur talent, the new accord also affected signing terms for nearly three dozen professional players this offseason.
Any player with sufficient major league tenure and free agent status who signed a minor league deal this offseason gains two new perks if his signing organization assigns him to the minors at the outset of the 2012 season. To wit, all qualifying players receive a six-figure bonus and a guaranteed midseason opt-out date. From the summary of the new CBA, which the owners and players signed in December:
Article XX(B) free agents signing minor league contracts who are not added to the Opening Day roster or unconditionally released 5 days prior to Opening Day shall receive an additional $100,000 retention bonus and the right to opt out on June 1.
An Article XX(B) free agent is simply one with six or more years of major league service whose big league contract expired at the conclusion of last season. The MLB Players Association published the full list of 2011 Article XX(B) free agents last November, and player examples range from superstars like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to complementary players like Willie Harris and Chad Durbin. In the past, Article XX(B) free agents had to negotiate their own opt-out dates for their unconditional release from minor league contracts, but such a clause now becomes mandatory. [...] Continue Reading »
The season's first weekend of games may be behind us, but the majority of our out-of-options all-star pitchers have yet to appear in a game. It's no coincidence. As a rule, the best big league pitchers establish themselves long before they run out of minor league options. So what we have here are a collection of No. 4 starters and low-leverage relievers—the types of pitchers one might not see in an initial three-game series.
Things can change quickly in baseball, however, especially in cases where a pitcher is given a fresh start in a new organization. One could construct a fine rotation built from out-of-options arms, beginning with Bronson Arroyo, Scott Baker, Jorge de la Rosa, Jeremy Guthrie, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson. We can even expand our list to include the latest of the late bloomers, like Doug Davis, R.A. Dickey and Colby Lewis.
Some of the game's finest relievers—like Heath Bell, Francisco Cordero, Brian Fuentes, Hong-Chi Kuo, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Thornton and Jose Valverde—needed all three optional assignments before they secured full-time play. Even the great Mariano Rivera burned through three options before setting out on his Hall of Fame career. There's only one Rivera, of course, but keep the other examples in mind before writing off any of this year's group. [...] Continue Reading »
Presumably finding little or no trade interest, the Mariners and Indians each attempted to send an out-of-options reliever to Triple-A in March. Each player stood little chance of making the Opening Day roster, but because each used his final minor league option in 2010, his club either had to carry him on the active roster or outright him to the minors, a process that necessitates first clearing waivers. While navigating those waters, the two players' paths diverged.
Seattle lost lefty Garrett Olson (this spring: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 3 SO) to the Pirates on a waiver claim, but Cleveland snuck righthander Jensen Lewis (5 2/3 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 3 BB, 1 SO) through the waiver wire on his way to Columbus. Olson's lack of options now muddles Pittsburgh's picture, while Lewis will play out the Triple-A season and look forward to either a return to Cleveland's 40-man roster or minor league free agency in November.
But Olson and Lewis are far from the only players to reach this juncture of their careers. Much as we did last season, we'll take a closer look at seven position players (with bonus tracks) who have not yet established themselves in the big leagues and who now find themselves out of options. For that reason, we will focus on those who used their final option in 2010 and those who offer at least a hint of future utility. Last season, teams gave the benefit of the doubt to the out-of-options players we examined in this space, carrying all 14 on Opening Day rosters. Please see last year's out-of-options features for more on the process and for a refresher on the statistical categories presented here. [...] Continue Reading »
Every team brings to spring training at least one on-the-bubble young player who straddles the line between the majors and minors. Said player has spent several seasons on the 40-man roster without establishing himself in the big leagues, yet he has no minor league options remaining, blocking off the direct path back to Triple-A.
A player who reaches this juncture of his career typically has shown tantalizing promise in the high minors, with maybe a flash of greatness in the big leagues, but for whatever reason has not had sustained success at the highest level.
Last year in this space, we took a close look at how service time impacts minor league players—options years, Rule 5 draft clocks, etc.—and a closer look at 14 players, each of whom entered 2010 spring training having used his final option in ’09. That status forced his club's hands. Carry him, even if he's not one of the 25 best players, or expose him to waivers, where any one of the other 29 teams could claim him for a fixed fee.
As it turned out, all 14 players received the benefit of the doubt and made Opening Day rosters. We broke out seven position players and seven pitchers, but for this exercise let's go a bit deeper and reference the Out-Of-Options All-Star Team, which can be found in the comments section of this post. (Please note: this team includes only players who burned their final options in ’09. It does not try to capture all players who have no options remaining.)
We set out originally to prove or disprove the conventional wisdom, espoused by one front-office veteran, that out-of-option players really aren't worth the fuss. Would that prove to be a handy rule of thumb? [...] Continue Reading »
During spring training we examined 14 players—seven position players and seven pitchers—who entered the season with no minor league options remaining. Making these players unique, each had reached the no-options juncture of his career this year, having played Triple-A ball in ’09 while (gleefully) using his final option year.
So how did our fateful 14 fare when it came time for big league clubs to hand down their verdicts on Opening Day? Who made the cut and who didn’t?
As it turns out, not one of the 14 players lost his place on a 40-man roster, tenuous as that grasp may be in some cases. Certainly, the Reds gave no serious thought to parting ways with Homer Bailey, but others, such as the Rangers' Joaquin Arias, made the cut thanks to extenuating circumstances. He's one of two out-of-options, light-hitting middle infielders to crack the Rangers' roster by virtue of an injury to Ian Kinsler. Andres Blanco is the other. Which one will they keep when Kinsler returns?
Texas' other out-of-options spotlight player, righthander Luis Mendoza, spent all spring with the Rangers before his trade to the Royals (for cash considerations) on April 2, just three days before Opening Day. Mendoza made Kansas City's roster as a reliever. [...] Continue Reading »
In the previous installment of our preseason minor league options saga, we examined seven position players who had reached a crossroads in their careers. Because each was out of options for the first time in his career, he either stood poised to make the big league team . . . or he served as trade bait. These decisions take on added significance with the conclusion of spring training just days away.
We turn our attention this time to pitchers, touching on those from all walks of lives—starters and relievers; righties and lefties; domestic and international. As was the case last time, each pitcher's composite left/right and home/road splits for his time at Triple-A is present. In addition, you'll find a synopsis of his strengths and weaknesses as well as an educated guess as to his fate for this season.
For the pitchers included here, the minor league performance sample is not intended to present conclusive evidence of anything. These pitchers did not accumulate nearly the amount of time in Triple-A granted to their position-player counterparts. The reason, one surmises, is that teams do not often hesitate to call up a promising pitcher to the big leagues if he has proven himself for a few months in the high minors. Some pitchers get hurt, while others lose effectiveness for no apparent reason, so clubs are always on the lookout for fresh arms. Position players, particularly corner outfielders and first basemen, have fewer such opportunities. [...] Continue Reading »
Now that we've got all the fine print out of the way—see Out Of Options and Much More On Options—we can take a look at a handful of players who enter the 2010 season with no minor league options remaining. For these purposes, we're going to focus only on players who played in Triple-A in ’09 on their third and final option. For such a player, his organization must decide in the next two weeks if it's in or out. For keeps.
Because the seven players detailed here cannot be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers, look for them either to make the big league club or be traded to an organization where they can do so. At the tail end of spring training a year ago, players such as Josh Anderson, Robert Andino, Jason Hammel, Jeff Keppinger, Edward Mujica and Hayden Penn all were traded because they were out of options. All six stuck in the big leagues in ’09. Other players who were out of options, like the Angels' Jason Bulger and the Rays' Jeff Niemann, made the big leagues and played well. [...] Continue Reading »
The previous blog post about minor league options generated a fair amount of discussion among readers, so I want to address a few points before we delve into specific players whose futures could be shaped by their expired option clock.
The Incredible Vanishing Evaluation Year
As touched on previously, baseball's current Collective Bargaining Agreement, ratified in the fall of 2006, granted an extra year to clubs for the purpose of evaluating players through the prism of the Rule 5 draft. Generally speaking, clubs could delay adding high school and international players to the 40-man roster until after they had completed five seasons. Collegians and junior collegians could play for four years before a club had to decide if it wanted to risk losing them in the Rule 5 draft.
However, with the new CBA and the institution of the signing deadline for the ’07 draft, a player's service clock began ticking once he signed on the dotted line. No longer could he sign a contract for the following season. (Players who sign after the minor league season concludes are held to a different standard, which we'll get to.)
Though a number of drafted players hold out until the mid-August deadline each year, those who ultimately elect to sign chew up one of their evaluation years, even if they don't play in a pro game that summer. For example, the Rockies last year agreed to terms with California prep lefty Tyler Matzek, the draft's 11th overall selection, at the Aug. 17 deadline. But even though Matzek did not play for a Rockies affiliate that summer, his time under contract (and on the sidelines) still counts against his five-year evaluation period. Instead of first becoming Rule 5 eligible five years from now, in 2014, he'll be eligible a year earlier, in 2013. [...] Continue Reading »
A retired baseball executive who had served as big league general manager and assistant scouting director for three-plus decades recently told us that, in his day, clubs never worried about losing players who were out of minor league options.
If a player had not established himself as a big league-caliber talent in six or seven years as a professional, the thinking went, then the chances seemed remote that the player would develop enough at the big league level in his mid- to late-20s to warrant a precious 25-man roster spot. What's the rush? A player without at least one option remaining cannot be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers.
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