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Baseball Buzzwords: Options

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Some players will be optioned to the minor leagues during and after spring training. What does that process entail?

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve run through a number of baseball buzzwords in this series. Among the last is the “option season”. When trying to come up with an introduction, I remembered the Phil Hartmann/Roseanne Barr sketch from Saturday Night Live. Among the lines included is “She gave me several options.”

Prospects, in their first years through a MLB pipeline, don’t need options. Even as the Cubs have given their pipeline prospects a wisely-offered raise, players through a pipeline have very little say in where they are assigned. For instance, if South Bend suddenly needs a pitcher, the organization is entirely within their range of legitimate choices to send a reliever from the Midwest League (paid) to the Mesa facility for Extended Spring Training (unpaid), it happens without much of a request. The player is allowed to either report to where they are told, or leave affiliated baseball. Jumping to another organization isn’t permitted. The prospect has very little choice until he reaches the 40-man roster, which is by no means a likelihood for most.

Once a player reaches the 40-man, they get several options. Technically, three (but see below). When a player joins the parent club, they still have precious little say in where they are assigned. It could be the big club. It could be Triple-A. It could be getting designated for assignment. It boils down to what the team needs, and the very few limitations on player movement between levels.

The options are based on entire seasons. As such, if a Cubs player currently has “two options” remaining, that means they can be shuttled between Chicago and Des Moines at the whim of the team for the entire 2020 and 2021 seasons. Even if the player gets yoyoed eight times in one campaign, only one “option campaign” is burned. if a player is “out of options,” the player must be run through the waiver process before being sent to Iowa, and even that might not be an option, depending on years in the league.

On certain, somewhat rare, occasions, a player can receive a fourth option season. When that applies, it likely means a prospect usually missed quite a bit of time in at least one season. Perhaps they spent time on the 60-day Injured List, or missed time due to a long-term suspension. If you want to be more than 95 percent accurate without doing the research, use Arizona Phil’s page at The Cub Reporter. As noted in the fine print there, on occasion, some players below the 6.01 (six years and one day of seniority) and with option seasons remaining can’t be sent directly to Triple-A. Often, this is because of having played their first two MLB seasons without being sent down. Yes, baseball has many rules.

Once waived, if another team claims them, they still don’t have much of a say. When a player reaches free agency, they’ve earned it. They’ve been told where to go and what to do for a rather lengthy period. Only in free agency does the player decide their employer. Or, to an extent in the draft, and in international free agency.

I hope this series has been useful to some of you. I have one more term I’ll run an article on, but if any baseball terms are confusing, I’ll try to take a stab at explaining them, as well. Feel free to include any questions about “option seasons” in the comments below. Many times, these topics take a few “re-visits” to understand them properly. They have likely been tweaked by lawyers, after all. If you ask, I’ll try to not be as rude as Barr’s character in the sketch.