Understanding Option YearsBy
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.
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.