As the Tigers make the final roster cuts before opening day, one of the key factors that may come into play in filling the last few roster spots will be which players have an "option" left, that will allow the club to send them to the minor leagues without first passing through waivers.
What is an "option"? An option is the term that is used when a club sends a player to the minor leagues on optional assignment. Once a player is placed on the club’s 40-man roster, he may be "optioned" to the minors in only three different seasons without clearing waivers. Quite often, this is the deciding factor in keeping a player in the major leagues. A complete description of options is here.
Within four of five years of the date that a player signs his first pro contract (depending on his age when he signs), he must be added to his club’s 40-man roster or exposed to the other clubs in the Rule 5 draft. Once added to the 40 man roster, a player may be optioned in three different seasons without clearing waivers. This includes sending a player down at the start of the season, when the 25 man major league roster has been selected, or sending a player down at any time during the season. Once optioned during a season, the player may be recalled and sent down multiple times, but only one option is used up for that season.
After being optioned in three separate seasons, a player may no longer be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers, where the club risks losing the player to any club that claims the player for only a nominal waiver fee. Clubs will often trade players that are out of options, rather than risk losing them.
Options are not a consideration once a player has accumulated five years of service time in the major leagues. Those players can not be sent to the minors without their consent, regardless of how many times they have been optioned in the past. Twelve Tiger veterans have five years or more of service time.
How do options impact the Tigers in 2012? The great majority of the players that are vying for the last few spots on the major league roster this spring do have at least one option year left. But there are some players that are out of options and those players are vying for the last couple of roster spots this spring. For these players, this could be their last chance to play for the Tigers.
If the Tigers decide that they’d rather have Duane Below or Luis Marte on the roster than Pauley, for example, they can’t just send Pauley to the minor leagues. He would have to first clear waivers, then be taken off the 40 man roster, and then be sent outright to the minors.
Options could also be a consideration for the Tigers in picking the last position player to make the major league roster. Clete Thomas and Don Kelly are out of options, while Andy Dirks has two option years left. This may mean that Dirks has to clearly win the spot, although the position available will likely be a part time position. The Tigers might decide that they’d rather keep Thomas and Kelly as reserves and give Dirks an every day job in Toledo, thereby keeping all three players in the organization for another season.
One notable exception to the three option year limit is the case of a player that has been optioned three times but has less than five years experience as a professional, including his time in the minor leagues. Such a player may be optioned a fourth season. This exception will only come into play where a player moves very quickly through the organization and makes the team within his first two seasons.
One example of this exception is Dan Schlereth, who was drafted by Arizona in the first round in 2008, was called up in 2009 and optioned to the minors in each of his first three seasons. Since he has less than five years as a pro, Dan can be optioned a fourth time in 2012. The same exception may apply to Jacob Turner if he is sent down at any point before or during the 2012 season, which would be his third option year. Since 2012 will only be his third pro season, Turner could be optioned for a fourth time in 2013, so the Tigers won’t be pressured to keep him in 2012 for fear that they’d burn up his last option.
Anyone who has ever tried to look up how many options a player has left, knows that getting such information can be a tedious task. Clubs don’t publish lists of players and their option years remaining, so you search the club’s transaction records, season by season, month by month. First, you need to know when the player was first placed on a 40 man roster, then manually count the number of times that a player has since been optioned. For players that were drafted by other clubs, a search of each club they’ve been with may be necessary.
Following is a list showing the number of options that are remaining for each player on the Tigers’ 40 man roster.
Players that have more than five years of major league service, can not be optioned:
Players that have at least one option year left. May be optioned to the minor without waivers.
Hernan Perez 3 options remaining
Casey Crosby 3
Avisail Garcia 3
Tyler Stohr 3
Matt Hoffman 3
Alex Avila 3
Austin Jackson 3
Phil Coke 3
Luis Marte 3
Doug Fister 3
Andy Oliver 1
Rick Porcello 1
Danny Worth 1
Ryan Raburn 1 c
Dan Schlereth 1 d
Jacob Turner 1 e
a- Clete Thomas was optioned three seasons prior to 2011, but the Tigers obtained a waiver from MLB to option him a fourth time due to extensive time on the 60 day DL.
b- Max Scherzer was optioned in 2010 but recalled after 14 days, so no option was used.
c- Ryan Raburn was optioned in 2005, 2008, and 2010, but did not spend at least 20 days in the minors during each optional assignment, so he has an option left. Raburn has 4 years, 109 days of major league service time.
d- Dan Schlereth has used three options but has less than five years in pro ball, so he is eligible for a fourth option in 2012.
e- Jacob Turner may be optioned in 2012 and still have one option remaining.