Who has minor league options left (and how many)?

Minor league options are one of baseball’s weird little quirks. Every player gets three, and they’re used whenever a guy on the 40-man roster is sent to the minors. Once you burn all three, the player has to pass through waivers to go back to the minors. Oh, and sometimes a player can qualify for a fourth option depending on some special circumstances. Yeah, it’s weird like that.

A player can only use one option a year, regardless of how many times they go up and down. That’s why you’ll see them referred to as “option years.” If a player is in the minors for more than 20 total days in a single year, it counts as an option. Anything less and it does not. To learn more about this stuff, I recommend Keith Law’s classic Death, Taxes and Major League Waivers post at Baseball Analysts. I’ll let him bore you with the details.

Obviously, options are important because they can dictate who can and who can’t be sent back to the minors. That information isn’t publicly available, at least as far as I know, so I figured I’d compile it myself. We don’t need to look at everyone on the 40-man roster simply because a bunch of guys aren’t ever going back to the minors, like CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez. A few others are on the bubble, so let’s recap them and a could of notable young regulars…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Andrew Brackman
Although 2011 will be his fourth full season since signing his Major League contract out of the draft, Brackman still has two minor league options remaining. He signed right on the August 15th deadline in 2007 but did not spent the required 20 days in the minors because the (minor league) season ended. The Yankees then carried Brackman on the 60-day disabled list all year in 2008 (Tommy John surgery), so he collected a year of service time instead of using a minor league option. His first option was used in 2009 and his second in 2010. Brackman will qualify for a fourth option because he will have used his three original options within his first five pro seasons. That’s one of those weird rules/ So yeah, the Yankees can send him down to the minors in each of the next two seasons without consequence.

Joba Chamberlain
Joba has all three options left. He was added to the 40-man for the first time in August 2007, when he was called up to the big leagues, and he hasn’t gone back to the minors since.

Colin Curtis
The Yankees added Curtis to the 40-man for the first time this past July, when he was summoned to the big leagues because the team was dealing with injuries and needed an extra position player during the NL park stretch of their interleague scheduled. Lil’ CC hung around a while but was eventually sent back down. He remained in Triple-A for more than a month later in the year, using his first option. He has two left.

Robert Fish
Added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason as a Rule 5 Draft pick, Fish has all three options left. Doesn’t matter though, he’ll be offered back to the Angels before the end of Spring Training.

Brett Gardner
After starting the 2008 season in Triple-A, the Yankees called Gardner up and added him to the 40-man roster for the first time that June 30th. He was with the team for about a month, ultimately sent down on July 26th because they had to make room on the active roster for the just acquired Xavier Nady. Gardner stayed in the minors until August 15th, so he was there for exactly 20 days. That’s not an accident, it prevented an option from being used. Gardner hasn’t been back to the minors since (not counting a very brief rehab stint in 2009), so he has all three options remaining.

Steve Garrison
Claimed off waivers from the Padres last year, Garrison was added to the 40-man (by San Diego) for the first time last (2009-2010) offseason. He used an option in his injury-riddled 2010 season, so he’s got two left.

"You might be using that last option this year, Greg." (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Greg Golson
Golson’s been around the block, having first been added to the 40-man roster by the Phillies after 2008. He spent basically all of 2009 and 2010 in the minors (save for the occasional cup-of-coffee, nothing major), using up his first two options. Golson has one left, which will inevitably be used this season.

Phil Hughes
Called up as a 20-year-old in what really was an act of desperation by the Yankees, Hughes was added to the 40-man for the first time in April 2007 and then went back to the minors after blowing out his hamstring. He spent a little more than three weeks in the minors that July but it was a rehab assignment, so it didn’t count as an optional assignment. The Yankees called him back up in August, so they didn’t burn an option that season.

Hughes began the next year with the big league team, but eventually hit the disabled list and then did the rehab thing again. The Yankees kept him in the minors for close to 40 days, however the first 30 were the rehab assignment. He did not eclipse the 20-day limit and did not use a minor league option in 2009. Hughes did use his first option in 2009, when he began the year in Triple-A and was called up in late April. He hasn’t been back to the minors since and has two options remaining.

Boone Logan
Logan’s out-of-options. He was first added to the 40-man by the White Sox in 2006, when they took him north out of camp because he had a great Spring Training despite having a total of 5.1 innings at the Single-A level to his credit. Yep. Boone spent considerable time in the minors in 2006, 2009, and 2010, burning all three options.

Justin Maxwell
Joel Sherman confirmed that Maxwell has one option remaining when he was acquired last month.

Sergio Mitre
The Experience has been out-of-options for a year now.

No need to look over your shoulder David, you aren't going back to the minors anytime soon. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

David Robertson
Called up and added to the 40-man roster for the first time on the same day as Gardner, Robertson went back to the minors on August 28th (in favor of Al Aceves) and then resurfaced 16 days later, preserving an option. He bounced up and down in April and May of 2009, burning an option. Robertson hasn’t been back to the minors since late May of 2009, so he still has two options at his disposal.

Romulo Sanchez
Chad Jennings confirmed with the Yankees this past December that Romulo is out-of-options.

Daniel Turpen
Same exact deal is Fish, so just re-read his comment and change “Fish” to “Turpen” and “Angels” to “Red Sox.”

Frankie Cervelli
Believe it or not, the Yankees added Cervelli to the 40-man roster for the first time after the 2007 season. That’s when he was first eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, before he ever got out of A-ball. Anyway, he spent most of 2008 in the minors, burning one options then spent the first five weeks of 2009 in the minors, burning another option. Frankie hasn’t been back to the minors since, so he still has that one option remaining.

Ramiro Pena
Pena was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in 2009, when he surprisingly broke camp with the big league team as the utility infielder. He went back to the minors for 43 games that summer, burning one option. Ramiro hasn’t been back down since, so he has two left.

* * *

Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa, and Ryan Pope were all added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason, so all three guys have all three options remaining. Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez, and Kevin Russo were each added to the 40-man roster for the first time last offseason, and since they all spent most of 2010 in the minors, they all have two options left.

Standard disclaimer here: I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the above info. MLB has some weird rules, and what is and what is not an optional assignment is one of them. I do feel pretty confident though, the only real question is Gardner. Does exactly 20 days in the minors count as an option, or does it have to be more? Either way, it shouldn’t become an issue. Fish, Turpen, and Romulo are goners and probably soon, before the end of camp. That’ll free up three 40-man roster spots, at least one of which will go to Jesus Montero at some point. Let’s hope he never uses any of his minor league options.

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Is it possible that Mitre really is the best option?

They should let him grow facial hair. Maybe that'll work. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Wanna play a game? Let’s play a game…

Pitcher A: 4.61 K/9, 3.12 uIBB/9, 1.31 HR/9, 37.3% GB, 5.44 xFIP

Pitcher B: 4.83 K/9, 2.67 uIBB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 50.9% GB, 4.34 xFIP

Pitcher C: 5.89 K/9, 3.11 uIBB/9, 1.32 HR/9, 44.7% GB, 4.74 xFIP

Pitcher D: 5.10 K/9, 2.29 uIBB/9, 1.32 HR/9, 40.7% GB, 4.59 xFIP

Four pitchers, all of whom have been connected to the Yankees this offseason at one point or another. Pitcher C probably looks the most enticing since he has the highest strikeout rate and the second highest ground ball rate, but he also has the highest walk rate (for all intents and purposes anyway, a 0.01 uIBB/9 difference is one walk every 900 IP) and second highest xFIP. Pitcher A looks like a guy you’d avoid at all costs, and Pitcher D is interesting enough, but only when compared to the other three guys listed. Pitcher B boasts the best ground ball (by far) and xFIP, plus a mighty fine walk rate. The strikeout rate is ugly, but at least he makes up for it somewhat with his performance in the other categories.

You’ve probably figured it out by now, but Pitcher B is Sergio Mitre. Pitcher A is Armando Galarraga, Pitcher C is Jeremy Bonderman, and Pitcher D is Freddy Garcia. Those are 2010 stats and yes Mitre was used primarily in relief last season, but none of those other guys pitched in the AL East. The point of his largely irrelevant exercise is to show that all of these guys suck just as much as the others, but Mitre has one thing on all of them: the dude gets ground balls.

Strikeouts are without a doubt the preferred method of retiring batters, but if you can’t do that consistently the next best skill is the ability to generate ground balls. Grounders never turn into homeruns (without defensive miscues, anyway), and in fact big league hitters managed just a .241 wOBA (.020 ISO) on ground balls last season. Compare that to a .329 wOBA (.361 ISO) on fly balls and a .737 wOBA (.248 ISO) on line drives. Mitre has been a sinkerballer his entire career, and last year’s 50.9% ground ball rate is actually well below his career mark of 58.7%. Since 2003 (his first season), that 58.7% ground ball rate is the seventh best in baseball (min. 400 IP), trailing only noted sinkerball specialists Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, Chien-Ming Wang, Tim Hudson, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook. Chad Qualls is a full percentage point behind Serg for eighth place.

And since I know you’re wondering, Mitre has a 16.5% line drive rate in his career (17.0% in 2010), which (believe it not) is the fourth lowest in baseball over the last seven seasons (again, min. 400 IP). The only guys ahead of him are Carmona, J.C. Romero, and some guy named Mariano Rivera. A ton of ground balls and a limited number of line drives are two traits you want in any pitcher, and you know what? Mitre has them, moreso than most other pitchers, and perhaps those traits will be even more prevalent as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery.

I’m not trying to defend Mitre as the fifth starter, because I certainly don’t want to see him out there 25+ times next season, but he simply might be the best option compared to the other dreck that’s out there. I still want the Yankees to bring in another pitcher (preferably Kevin Millwood at this point) just to have someone else that can compete for the job and for added depth, but with any luck the fifth starter won’t be needed much early in the season anyway. Sergio’s ground balls might be more helpful than chasing random free agent pitchers for one extra strikeout for every 10 or so innings pitched.

The difference between Pettitte and Mitre

Which one looks better to you?

CC Sabathia CC Sabathia
Phil Hughes Phil Hughes
Andy Pettitte A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett Ivan Nova
Ivan Nova Sergio Mitre

There is no questioning that the one on the left is the preferable option. The only unknown is of how big a difference exists between Pettitte and Mitre. An initial reaction might have the difference pegged at a few wins, but I’m not sure it’s that wide a gap. In fact, given each pitcher’s limitations I think we’re talking about a single win, maybe even less.

The assumptions

As Mike did yesterday, I won’t count on Pettitte for a full season’s worth of starts. In the same way, I won’t count on Mitre for that, either, since the last time he started more than 10 games was in 2007. I also assumed 6.1 IP per start for Pettitte and 5.2 per start for Mitre. That leaves Pettitte with 126.2 IP and Mitre with 113.1. That’s just 13.1 additional bullpen innings, which we’ll have to factor in somehow.

The tougher part of this exercise is projecting ERAs. Bill James forecasts Pettitte at 3.86 and Mitre at 4.57, but I think both of those are a bit aggressive. But let’s keep them in the bank, just in case. As a rough estimate of ERA, I’d peg Pettitte at 4.00 and Mitre at his career ERA, 5.27. Let’s see how the differences work out.

The results

If we go with the James projections, Pettitte works out to 54 earned runs, or 2.7 ER/GS. Mitre works out to 58 ER, or 2.9 ER/GS. In 20 starts that amounts to a whopping four runs. Even if we go with the more conservative 4.00 and 5.27 estimates, we get Pettitte at 56 ER, or 2.8 ER/GS, and Mitre at 66 ER, or 3.3 ER/GS. That’s a 10-run difference — or roughly a single win. Now that we’ve put it in the simplest possible terms, it doesn’t seem like that big a difference, does it? We can adjust up or down, but I don’t think you’ll get an exceedingly different answer unless you think Mitre will produce something like a 7 ERA. I don’t think that particularly likely.

The bullpen

Where we actually get the biggest difference is with the bullpen. Those are just 13.1 innings, but they’re 13.1 innings that are already accounted for with Pettitte. This obviously can fluctuate wildly. If we have those innings filled by 2010 Chan Ho Park, that’s another 8 ER. If they’re thrown by David Robertson it’s 6 ER; with Boone Logan it’s 4 ER; with Mo it’s 3. I’d say 5 ER is a decent compromise.

That brings our difference between Mitre and Pettitte — accounting for earned runs and innings pitched — to somewhere between 9 and 15 ER over 20 starts, or between .45 and .75 runs per start. That’s going to cost the Yankees a couple of those 20 games. But the key term is a couple. It’s hard to argue that the difference would amount to much more than that.

Bringing back Petitte will clearly make the Yankees rotation better. There is no reliable measure that can say otherwise. But given both Pettitte’s and Mitre’s limitations, the difference might not be as great as we imagine. In the AL East two wins will matter plenty. But the difference between Pettitte and Mitre is not the difference between a .500 team and a 92-win team. Unfortunately, the small difference that does exist could play a large role in determining the 2011 postseason.

The Experience returns for 2011

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Late last night we learned that the Yankees had re-signed Sergio Mitre to a one-year contract worth just $900,000 guaranteed with another $200,000 available in unspecified performance bonuses. Mitre was arbitration-eligible for the third and final time, and the Yankees had to at least offer him a contract by midnight tonight to retain his rights. They took it one step further and actually got the contract done before the deadline, giving him a very modest (in baseball terms) $50,000 raise. The move almost certainly spells the end of Dustin Moseley’s tenure in pinstripes, but I don’t think too many will complain about that.

Now we know who the Yanks’ swingman will be in 2011 and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Mitre was clearly the best of the group that included him, Moseley, and the already departed Chad Gaudin, posting the best ERA (3.33), WHIP (1.09), FIP (4.69), xFIP (4.34), tRA (4.97), WPA (-0.38), and fWAR (0.0) of the trio. By just about every measure – old school or advanced – he was the guy for the job just by being replacement level. Remember, Mitre finished this season extremely well, allowing 20 baserunners and just five runs in his final 20.1 innings after August 3rd, good for a 2.21 ERA and a .278 wOBA. We just didn’t see very much of him because the Yanks were trying to force feed Gaudin a playoff roster spot.

Most fans aren’t fond of the move because Mitre certainly isn’t great, and they believe the Yanks can find someone better. Well, like who? The list of free agents and potential non-tenders doesn’t offer much, maybe Kyle Davies or John Maine or Brian Bannister or Brian Moehler could do the job, but they all have significant warts of their own. The concept of a “huge upside long reliever” is a fallacy (unless you’re using a top prospect in that role), those guys are getting more important jobs. There’s also the price issue, the Yanks are paying Mitre very little in the grand scheme of things, and there’s no guarantee that any of the alternatives would a) sign for a similar price, and/or b) pitch better.

The other set of alternatives are in-house, guys stashed in Triple-A like Romulo Sanchez or Hector Noesi or D.J. Mitchell. Those options remain in play though, Mitre’s not going to block them just as he didn’t block Ivan Nova in 2010. All they did when they re-signed Serg is add a piece to the inventory, a known commodity at a reasonable price to fill out the fringes of the big league roster. That’s all, nothing major. Every team has guys like that because they’re a necessary evil.

I’m not saying you should jump for joy over Mitre re-signing, but when you consider the alternatives, there’s no reason to hate it. It’s a low consequence move; the Yankees need someone they can throw to the wolves and soak up innings every once in a while, and Mitre’s that guy. Better him than an actual prospect (that could have his development stunted) or a free agent being paid seven figures. If when/he stinks, they’ll find someone else to do the job and move on. That’s all you can do with everyone. I mean, yeah, if it was a multi-year deal then it would be an atrocity, but it’s not, so no harm no foul. It’s just another horse for the stable, that’s all.

Yanks re-up with Mitre again

The New York Yankees just cannot quit Sergio Mitre. A non-tender candidate as tomorrow’s midnight deadline approaches, Mitre instead was tendered a contract by the Yanks and will sign for a $900,000 base salary. He can earn another $200,000 in incentives, Jerry Crasnick reported this evening. At that price, Mitre is a fine notch on the depth chart, but he was used sparingly in 2010. He made 27 appearances and threw 54 innings with a decent 3.33 ERA but just a 4.81 K/9 IP and a 2.7 BB/9 IP. He shouldn’t be anything more than the team’s seventh starter and should be among the first to go if they need a roster spot.

Now that Mitre is back in the fold, the Yanks’ only remaining non-tender candidate is Dustin Moseley. Unless the team again wants to stock up on redundant players, there’s absolutely no need to bring back both Moseley and Mitre. Recent history would tell us the Yanks choose otherwise though. We’ll find out soon.

What Went Wrong: Chad Ho Moseley

Every team has a few of them every single season; replacement level relievers, or worse. Most of the time these guys are buried in the back of the bullpen, throwing low-leverage innings once or twice a week when his team had a big lead or a big deficit. The Yankees were (un)lucky enough to have three guys like that this year, and they even came with a cheesy nickname: Chad Ho Moseley. Let’s review…

(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

Chad Gaudin

After a solid job as the Yankees’ makeshift fifth starter down the stretch last season, Gaudin was rewarded by being released in Spring Training. He ended up back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, at least until they released him after 17.1 innings of 5.91 FIP pitching. The Yanks brought him back in late-May for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum and stuck him in their bullpen as a mop-up guy.

That’s pretty much exactly what Gaudin was, because opponents mopped the floor with him during his second tenure in pinstripes. He was somehow even worse with the Yanks than he was with the A’s (6.25 FIP), and a late season audition for a playoff spot which featured the Yanks forcing him into some high-leverage spot went predictably awful. All told, Gaudin put a -0.8 fWAR in 48 IP just with the Bombers in 2010 (-1.1 overall). Yuck.

Chan Ho Park

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Park was a late addition in the offseason, signing a low-risk one-year, $1.2M contract after pitchers and catchers had already reported in February. His relief stint with the Phillies in 2009 was excellent (53-15 K/uIBB ratio and 0 HR in exactly 50 IP), good enough that even with normal age-related decline (he was 36 when they signed him, after all) and the AL-to-NL transition that there were still reasons to expect him to be a serviceable relief arm.

As it turned out, CHoP was anything but serviceable. He made three appearances in April, taking the loss in the first game of the season, before hitting the disabled list for a month with a bad hamstring. That bought him some more time. CHoP returned in mid-May and allowed at least one run in four straight outings and in five of six, earning himself a demotion to mop-up duty. After five scoreless outings in June, CHoP pretty much fell apart. He was designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Kerry Wood at the trade deadline, finishing his Yankee career with a 5.60 ERA and more than one homer allowed for every 16 outs recorded.

It was a worthwhile gamble that completely blew up in the Yankees’ faces; Park was worth -0.2 fWAR in pinstripes. That the Pirates claimed him off waivers and saved New York the final $400,000 of his salary was nothing more than a minor miracle.

Dustin Moseley

The Yanks brought in the former Reds’ first round pick on a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he pitched well enough in Triple-A (3.67 FIP in a dozen starts) that he forced the Yankees’ hand when his opt-out clause kicked in in late-June. Pitching in a mop-up role initially, Moseley moved into the rotation once Andy Pettitte‘s groin landed him on the disabled list.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Moseley wasn’t terrible at first, giving the team two quality starts in his first three outings. It all kinda went downhill from there (6.41 ERA, .932 OPS against) as his inability to miss bats (13 BB, 11 K) manifested itself in his next four starts. Somehow the Yankees still managed to win three of those games, but Moseley found himself back in the bullpen with rookie Ivan Nova usurping him in the rotation.

In the end, the 28-year-old righty finished the season with with a 5.99 FIP and -0.4 fWAR in 65.1 innings for the big league team. He slightly redeemed himself with two scoreless innings in Game One of the ALCS, paving the way for the eighth inning comeback, but meh. Dustin’s effort was admirable, yet completely forgettable.

* * *

It’s unfair to toss Sergio Mitre into this mix because at least he managed to be replacement level this season (exactly 0.0 fWAR), but we have to mention him somewhere. He allowed just seven runs in his final 24.2 innings (2.55 ERA), so unlikely the Chad Ho Moseley monster he at least finished strong.

A trio of sub-replacement level long relievers (total damage: -1.4 fWAR, 148.2 IP, or 10.3% of the team’s total innings) didn’t sink the Yankees season by any means, but it sure was painful to watch.

The battle no one wants to win

Who wants to join D-Rob in the bullpen this October? (Photo Credit: Flickr user notladj)

With a lineup of All Stars (plus Brett Gardner) and the starting rotation all but set (not necessarily the order), the Yankees don’t have too many decisions to make before the the playoffs begin. The core setup crew is set, so the only thing left to sort out is the spare relievers and the bench. The bench isn’t too big of a deal since those regulars will (should) play every inning in October, but the bullpen isn’t necessarily that easy.

Jack Curry tweeted last night that the team intends to carry an 11-man pitching staff in the playoffs, which is fine. They could probably get away with ten, but there’s certainly no need for a dozen in a short series. Nine of those 11 spots are accounted for: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. That leaves five guys fighting for those final two spots: Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Ivan Nova, Javy Vazquez, and Dustin Moseley. We should probably throw Royce Ring into that mix as well since a second lefty specialist would be far more useful than a second longman.

Joe Girardi‘s been riding Gaudin really hard the last two weeks (he’s appeared in six of the last twelve games), so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the righty is getting every opportunity to win one of those spots. Mitre has pitched twice in the past 26 days and as far as I know he didn’t even warm up in last night’s rainy game (in fairness, I suppose Girardi was holding him back in case he needs a longman tonight). One of those two times he pitched came in the last Sabathia-David Price game, and that was only after all the other bullpen options were used up. Moseley is far too hittable (10.7 H/9 career) and doesn’t miss nearly enough bats (4.3 K/9 this year) to warrant any kind of action in a playoff spot, so there’s no sense in even carrying him on the roster.

Javy, well at this point he shouldn’t be pitching any kind of meaningful innings. It’s not that he can’t handle the pressure or anything stupid like that, it’s just that his stuff has deteriorated so much that you can’t trust him to get outs with it. I know he’s pitched well in his few long relief outings late in the year, but I think there’s also too much of a stigma there to take him. That’s probably not fair to him, but it is what it is. The nothingball will be the scapegoat.

Given how well he’s pitched early in his outings, Nova’s going to get one of those last two bullpen spots almost by default, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s been extremely effective early in his outings (.563 OPS against the first time through the order, .731 the second, .952 the third) which suggests he could be effective in one or two inning relief stints. Perhaps he takes over the job as that trusty righty outside of the normal setup crew that Girardi is trying to force feed Gaudin. World Championship teams always have an unexpected reliever step up big in October (hellooo Damaso Marte), so maybe Nova’s that guy this year. We can dream.

In the end, I’d expect Nova and Gaudin to get those final two spots, though a case could be made for Ring as a second lefty (assuming he gets in some more games and pitches well over the next week-and-a-half, of course). Once the Yanks clinch a playoff spot, which will hopefully happen before everyone returns to work on Monday, don’t be surprised if they lift Nova from the rotation and have him pitch out of the bullpen two or three times in the final week of the season just to get acclimated to the role.

So far no one has really stepped up and grabbed one of those spots by the horns. They’re trying their best to give it to Gaudin, but he doesn’t seem to want it (13 baserunners, six runs, three homers in his last 5.2 IP). Mitre can’t even get into a regular season game, never mind a playoff spot, and every time Moseley pitches he shows why the Angels non-tendered him last season. In reality, whoever the Yanks ends up taking probably won’t see much action in the postseason and will be of little consequence, but stranger things have happened.