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.
The types of players who typically qualify for a fourth option include:
• Domestic or international amateurs who sign major league contracts but do not establish themselves in the majors prior to exhausting three optional assignments in the minors. This ought to happen much less frequently for domestic players now that players cannot sign major league contracts out of the draft. They still can be summoned to the majors in their draft year if their team so chooses, as was the case with Dodgers second-rounder Paco Rodriguez in 2012. However, the Dodgers have not yet optioned Rodriguez to the minors, so they still have three remaining.
Examples: The Padres’ Yonder Alonso, the Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez and the Orioles’ Brian Matusz all signed major league contracts out of the first round of the 2008 draft. For various reasons, all three have used three optional assignments prior to 2013—their fifth professional season—so all three are granted a fourth option that can be used this season.
International signees such as the Red Sox’s Jose Iglesias, the Marlins’ Adeiny Hechavarria and White Sox’s Dayan Viciedo qualify for a similar reason. All three initially signed big league contracts, have used three options and have fewer than five professional seasons. Therefore, all three qualify for a fourth option this season.
• Players who spend multiple seasons in short-season leagues, where they don’t accrue 90 days on an active roster because the season doesn’t last that long. This is particularly true for international players who sign at age 16 and require an acclimation period before embarking on a full-season league assignment. For example, an international teen might spend a summer in the Dominican Summer League, one in the Arizona League and one in the Northwest League before he’s ready for full-season ball in Year Four. Only when he completes 90 days in low Class A will he receive credit for a season.
Example: The Giants’ Francisco Peguero did not receive credit for a “professional season” in 2006 or '07, which he spent in the DSL, or 2009, when he spent fewer than 90 days on an active roster. In his case, only his 2008, '10, '11 and '12 seasons count when determining eligibility for a fourth option. San Francisco has optioned Peguero to the minors three times during his four pro “seasons,” so he’s eligible for a fourth option this season.
The same logic can be applied to the Athletics’ Pedro Figueroa and the Rays’ Alex Torres. They both spent multiple seasons in short-season leagues, which had the effect of starting their Rule 5 clock and advancing their 40-man roster add date and subsequent first optional assignment. However, the fourth-option clocks didn’t begin ticking for either lefty until 2009, their first in full-season ball.
• Players who have a season wiped out by injury do not receive credit for a “professional season” so long as they spend 30 or fewer days on the active roster. So in a case where a player spends May through August on the DL, his injury-wracked season does not count against his limit of five professional season, effectively extending the fourth-option window by a year. This happens only in rare cases.