Understanding Option Years

2009 Draft: KLaw's Mock Draft
2009 Draft: MLB cuts slot bonuses 10%

Other than the draft, I think I get more emails about player options than any other topic. How many options does so-and-so have left … why is this guy out of options … stuff like that. The emails really picked up in April when Chien-Ming Wang was getting tattooed, and the Yanks were unable to send him to the minors because he was out of options even though he had never been demoted after making his big league debut. Instead of answering email after email, I figured it was time to drum up a post breaking all this option year nonsense down.

Thankfully, Keith Law already took the time to explain this stuff not once, but twice. First up is this near three year old article at Baseball Analysts, in which Law discussed not just option years, but waivers and service time as well. It’s a very informative read and worth the time, but if you’re not in the mood to sit back and soak it all in right now, Law also briefly explained how option years work in his chat last week. Since I’m not fond of reinventing the wheel, allow me to quote:

Paul (LA): This may be dumb, but can you explain the “options.” i.e. How many does each player have, when is one technically used, etc.

SportsNation Keith Law: Each player has three, and they refer to years, not to individual optional assignments to the minors. If you’re optioned in April, recalled in May, and optioned in June, the second assignment doesn’t burn another option. When you’re added to the 40-man roster, you get three options, after which you must be outrighted off the 40-man (which means clearing irrevocable waivers) to be assigned to a minor league affiliate. Three years after the date of a player’s first appearance on a major-league roster, he must clear optional waivers (which are revocable) to be optioned even if he has options remaining. Players with under five full years of pro experience (full = > 90 days on an active roster, so short-season leagues don’t count, nor do years mostly lost to injury) are eligible for a fourth option, but the team must apply to the Commissioner’s Office to receive it. A player who signs a major-league contract out of the draft will get a fourth option if he’s not ready for the majors in his fourth year in pro ball, for example.

One thing KLaw didn’t mention in his chat is that if a player spends less than twenty days total in the minors in any given year, it doesn’t burn an option. Got that?

The most important thing to understand is that a player doesn’t even have to be called up to the majors to use up an option. If he’s on the 40-man roster and is assigned to a minor league club out of Spring Training (like Chris Garcia, Mike Dunn, Steven Jackson, and Anthony Claggett this year), it burns an option. That’s why Chien-Ming Wang is out of options, even though he’s never been returned to the minors since being called up in May 2005.

Under the previous CBA, players were eligible for the Rule 5 Draft a year earlier than they are now (the current CBA took all the fun out of the R5), so the Yanks had to add Wang to the 40-man roster back in 2003 to protect him. Therefore, the team used up Wang’s options when they sent him to the minors out of camp in 2003, 2004, and 2005. So if Jaret Wright managed to stay healthy in 2005 and they never had to turn to Wang, the team wouldn’t have been able to send Wang to minors in 2006 because he would have been out of options without ever seeing the majors.

Despite playing in both the majors and minors in each of the last three seasons, Phil Hughes still has an option remaining for 2010. He was added to the 40-man roster when he was called up in 2007, however he went on the disabled list after popping his hamstring in Texas. He made a handful of minor league starts once healthy, but they fell under his 30-day rehab assignment window. Hughes was then called back to the bigs before his 20 day window was up, preserving an option. He was optioned down in 2008 (after recovering from the fractured rib) and then again in 2009 (out of camp), so he has one option remaining.

Jose Veras is out of options because he was optioned to the minors in 2005 (with Texas), then in 2007 and 2008 with the Yanks. Edwar Ramirez was optioned down both in 2007 and 2008, and had his final option used when he was sent down last week. Unless he is called up before his twenty day window expires, he will be out of options and need to stick on the big league roster out of Spring Training next year. Joba Chamberlain has all three options remaining because he was first added to the 40-man roster when he was called up 2007, and hasn’t seen the minors since.

Andrew Brackman is a very unique case, and just when I think I have his option situation figured out, another piece of information pops up that throws me off. From what I can gather, here’s what happened:

  • Brackman signed a Major League contract out of the draft in 2007, putting him on the 40-man roster immediately. He did not, however, spend twenty days in the minors that season, so an option was not burned.
  • After blowing out his elbow, Brackman spent the entire 2008 season on the Major League disabled list and was never optioned to the minors.
  • Brackman was optioned down to the minors out of camp this year, using up his first option year.
  • The Yanks still hold two of his three original options for 2010 and 2011, and assuming they use those up, Brackman is eligible for a fourth option because he will have less than five full years of service before his three options are eaten up.

So, based on all that, the Yanks can option Brackman to the minors in 2010, 2011, and 2012, which should be plenty of time for him to develop. Of course he’ll be 26 by then, but that’s neither here nor there.

The final little piece of option year information has to do with service time. Simply put, a player accrues service time for every day they are on the 25-man Major League roster or on the ML disabled list (Brackman picked up a year of service time while on the DL last year). Players need three years of service time to become eligible for arbitration, and six years of service to become a free agent, yadda yadda yadda. For the purposes of player options, five years of service is an important milestone because after that, a player can refuse can refuse an optional assignment and elect to become a free agent, regardless of how many options they have left. If a player does refuse an assignment and elects to free agency, the forfeit the remainder of their contract. This right is what allowed Jason Giambi to remain in the big leagues in 2005 despite the team’s desire to have him work out of his funk in the minors.

I hope this post cleared up any questions you had about player options. It can be tricky keeping track of who has options remaining and who doesn’t, but the rules themselves are pretty straightforward. The only hard part is finding out exactly when guys were added to the 40-man and figuring out how many days they spent in the minors.

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2009 Draft: KLaw's Mock Draft
2009 Draft: MLB cuts slot bonuses 10%
  • jsbrendog

    come on mike you know i don’t speak spanish.

    but seriously, that’s some complicated stuff. thanks for the info. it seems tho that unless it is a cut and dry case there are so many variables and scenarios where each case is ocnfusing as hell

  • http://statspeak.net dan

    Does Hughes qualify for a 4th option? His third option year will be burned during his 5th pro season (since you said 2007 didn’t count as an option). Unless I’m counting wrong.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      No, he won’t. His five full professional seasons so far are 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. He can’t burn that third option this year no matter what, so he won’t meet the “uses all three options before five full years” citeria.

      If he misses the rest of the season, Ian Kennedy will probably qualify for a fourth option since this year won’t count as a full season (>90 days on an active roster).

      • Chris

        IPK still has an option year remaining, right? I think his first would have been used last year.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    For the purposes of player options, five years of service is an important milestone because after that, a player can refuse can refuse an optional assignment and elect to become a free agent, regardless of how many options they have left. If a player does refuse an assignment and elects to free agency, the forfeit the remainder of their contract. This right is what allowed Jason Giambi to remain in the big leagues in 2005 despite the team’s desire to have him work out of his funk in the minors.

    Two questions:

    1) Was the team’s intention to assign Giambi to the minors an “optional” assignment, or some other type of assignment not involving an option? Giambi in 2005 would have had like 9+ years of service time… am I wrong for assuming that all three of his options would have been used up by Oakland way back in the 1990’s? As in, since Joba still has all three of his options, putting aside the player’s right to refuse an option once he passes the 5 year service time window, don’t those options disappear once he passes the 6 year mark and hits full-fledged veteran free agency? Like, we can’t use one of Joba’s options in 2019 if we don’t use them now, correct?

    2) Can a player refuse the “optional” assignment to the minors but also refuse to declare himself a free agent and void his contract? Is that what Giambi did? Saying no, you’re not going to put me in the minors but no, I’m also not voiding my contract, you have to keep me on the big club or give me my outright release (like the Tigers did with Sheff) and keep paying me my money?

    • jsbrendog

      good question, why didnt the tigers try to send sheff down, you know he wouldve rejected it and then voided his salary. now theyre paying him to win games for the mets.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        No, they can refuse the assignment, and remain on the big league roster. Refusing an assignment doesn’t automatically mean free agency at forfeiture of salary.

        • jsbrendog

          interesting. but then they couldve outright cut him right? meh why go throughi t al i guess

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      Based on this article, it seems as though the Giambi situation featured some roster hoop-jumping. The Yankees would have DFA’d Giambi, and with all of the money owed to him, he would have cleared waivers. Then he would have had to accept the Minor League assignment.

      That won’t work with Wang, for example, because he wouldn’t clear waivers.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        So, then, am I correct in my assumption that once a player hits the 6 year service time mark and enters the free agent phase of his career, the option mumbo-jumbo all ceases? You don’t “option” veterans down to the minors, you “assign” them to the minors, and that “assignment” is via a DFA?

        From the time you add a player to the 40 man for the first time and start his service time clock, you get three (or four) option years to use within the first SIX years, and then, after the sixth year, whether you have any unused options or not, you have to DFA a guy to send him down?

        And, during that last year (where the guy has 5+ years of service time but not yet 6) he can refuse the assignment? Is that right?

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          No, I believe you can option down a veteran, they just usually refuse it because they don’t want to play in AAA.

          I don’t have time now, but I’ll confirm that.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Okay, but in Giambi’s case, did he actually have options left? Looking at B-R.com, Giambi was in the minors in 1992-1994, split 1995 between minors and majors, and then only went back to the minors on a rehab assignement in 2004.

            Let’s say the A’s added Giambi to the 40-man in 1995 (I’m not confirming this) and he remained in the bigs forever from that point, never using any of his three option years. What I’m asking is, do those options remain with him into perpetuity? Did we attempt to “option” him to the minors in 2005 using one of his three remaining options, or did those options expire somehow once he hit 5 or 6 years of time?

            Am I making anybody else’s head hurt?

            • Mattingly’s Love Child

              I’ve been slammed with work for almost two weeks and only to been able to read game recaps and DOTF. I come back today and you give me a migraine!

              JK

            • Chris

              Technically, you keep the options. In the KLaw article, he refers to Bonds as still having 3 options. I don’t know if the players needs to have options to be sent to AAA.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      2) Can a player refuse the “optional” assignment to the minors but also refuse to declare himself a free agent and void his contract? Is that what Giambi did? Saying no, you’re not going to put me in the minors but no, I’m also not voiding my contract, you have to keep me on the big club or give me my outright release (like the Tigers did with Sheff) and keep paying me my money?

      Yes, they can refuse the assignment but not elect free agency. That’s what The Big G did.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    I hope this post cleared up any questions you had about player options. It can be tricky keeping track of who has options remaining and who doesn’t, but the rules themselves are pretty straightforward. The only hard part is finding out exactly when guys were added to the 40-man and figuring out how many days they spent in the minors.

    Why the hell do none of the great baseball sites out there (like B-R, Fangraphs, the Cube, MLBTR, etc.) have an option tracker? Seriously, Dierkes does a great post every year on who’s out of options, but I’d also like to know who has options left and how many of them they have.

    This looks like a job for RAB. Right underneath the depth chart, give us the option year breakdown (what years they were optioned and how many they have left), service time, year by which each prospect must be Rule V protected for all out major prospects.

    These guys have clocks, and we should understand them better.

    Pretty please.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I’ve thought about it, but that might be a project for the offseason. That’s a ton of work.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Thanks. I’ll send you a cookie.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

          If by a cookie, you mean thousands of dollars, then we’ll do it.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Like Mike said, huge undertaking. We’d have to cross-check almost everything on there. That said, I bet we’ll do it. I love these types of features.

      • tim randle

        i haven’t donated to RAB yet (and can’t until we sell a house!), so if you’re still kicking this idea around in the off season, i’ll volunteer research time.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Rays Index has the options for each player on the Rays available, I should get in touch with Cork and see how the hell he did that.

      http://www.raysindex.com/2009/.....op-51.html

  • A.D.

    With Brackman, is it that starting his arb clock doesn’t really matter since the Yankees already own the rights to his first 7 big league seasons?

    • Bo

      He needs to get out of Single A and actually throw strikes before this is a worry.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Thanks for that utterly worthless and pointless comment that served no purpose and didn’t even attempt to answer the question, but was instead a useless, disparaging, meanspirited and altogether assholish non sequitur.

        We know there are other performance factors that will determine the nature of Andrew Brackman’s progress towards the major leagues. A.D.’s question isn’t addressing those performance factors, because it is possible (and indeed, should be encouraged) to ask questions to understand the procedural issues surrounding the contractual obligations of Andrew Brackman without directly addressing Brackman’s performance.

        Your stupid little quasi-barb has no value, other than to underscore the perpetual superfluous negativity and nihilism rampant in your general theme of typical valueless quasi-barbs. You’re not pithy-full, you’re pitiful. As always, thanks for nothing, Sal/Bo/Grant/Lanny. May Mo have mercy on your soul.

        • V

          +100.

        • Bobby

          That was truly the most retarded post I’ve ever read. Bo was right, dumbass. Brackman can’t be arbitration eligible because he hasn’t pitched above A ball. He needs 3 years of ML service time. Apparently he has 1.

    • V

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume he won’t get any more MLB service until called up (though he already has 1), so if, for example, he doesn’t crack the majors til 2012 (having used all 4 of his options), they could use up their last club option or not (odd scenario, but I’m just making it up), he would still be under team control from 2014-2016, with 3 arbitration years.

      That’s my impression of the mechanics of things.

      The club options become valuable if he makes the majors in 2010 or early 2011, but otherwise are worthless, I believe.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    I understand where a few people are with options but other times we’ll say “Send so and so down” and someone will say “They’re out of options.” So where do you get that information? Just keeping track of that player? Maybe we should write down every time someone says “he’s out of options.”

    But thanks for the post. I thought I understood it but didn’t know about that 4th option thing. Thanks for taking the time for this post.

  • Infamous

    Question: How long do players have, Say Brackman, before he becomes a free agent? Would it be 2012?

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  • Davor

    Player’s options must be used either within 5 years since being put on 40-men or before he reaches 5 years of MLB service time (or, maybe, within 5 years of using first option), I’m not sure which. So, free agents have no more options. Players who are under team control (I’m not sure if that’s for those under 3 or 6 years) can be removed from 40-men and (after passing through waivers) can be optioned to minors. They have to accept their first assignment, but for every subsequent assignment, they can decline it and elect to become free agents. Players with 6+ years of service time can be sent to minors only with their consent, otherwise they have to be DFA’d. I’m not sure about rights of players who are out of options, but under 6 years of service time, do they have to accept minors assignment.

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