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Minor league options 101: Which Tigers can be sent to the minors in 2016?

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Your complete guide to the Tigers' 2016 roster, salaries, arbitration, contract status, and minor league options.

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

As Opening Day nears, Major League Baseball clubs must reduce their spring training rosters to 25 players. Up to 15 players on each team's 40-man roster -- not including non-roster invitees -- must be placed on the disabled list or sent on "optional assignment" to a minor league team.

The rules surrounding minor league options can be confusing to even the most diehard baseball fans. Here's a quick explanation of the rulebook, along with which Detroit Tigers players fit in each category.

What are minor league options?

Once on a team's 40-man roster, a player may be sent on optional assignment (optioned) to the minor leagues in three separate seasons. That includes being optioned before the start of the season. Michael Fulmer, Jairo Labourt, Jose Valdez, Dixon Machado, Bruce Rondon, and Steven Moya have already been optioned this season. No options are counted for players not on the 40-man roster.

Players may be optioned multiple times in one season, but only "burn" one option per season. Once optioned, they can not be recalled for at least 10 days unless another player is placed on the disabled list. If a player is optioned for fewer than 20 days in a season, no option is burned. Blaine Hardy was optioned in April 2015, but recalled before 20 days and remained in Detroit for the season. Thus, he did not use a minor league option in 2015.

Eight Tigers have just one option remaining (they are listed in the table below). If optioned in 2016, they would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minor leagues in future seasons. The 2017 season will be decision time for players like Steven Moya and Tyler Collins, but they can still use an option this season.

Tigers players with less than five years major league service time
Player Service Time Options Left 2016 Salary Arbitration status
J.D. Martinez
4.036
1
$3.0 million Arb 3 in 2017
Jose Iglesias 3.036 0
$1.65 million Arb 2 in 2017
Andrew Romine 3.049 0
$900,000
Arb 2 in 2017
Justin Wilson
3.035
2
$1.525 million
Arb 2 in 2017
Bryan Holaday
2.107
0
League minimum Arb 1 in 2017
Nick Castellanos
2.029
3
League minimum
Arb 1 in 2017
Alex Wilson
2.038
1
League minimum Arb 1 in 2017
Anthony Gose
2.082
2
League minimum Arb 1 in 2017
Shane Greene
1.075
1
League minimum
Arb 1 in 2018
Bruce Rondon
2.103
2
League minimum Arb 1 in 2017
Blaine Hardy
1.106
3
League minimum Arb 1 in 2018
James McCann
1.028
3
League minimum Arb 1 in 2018
Daniel Norris
0.122
2
League minimum
Pre-Arbitration
Tyler Collins
0.145
1
League minimum
Pre-Arbitration
Buck Farmer
0.128
2
League minimum
Pre-Arbitration
Kyle Ryan
0.113
2
League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Angel Nesbitt
0.060
2
League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Matt Boyd 0.067 2 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Steven Moya
0.055
1
League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Jeff Ferrell 0.040 2 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Dixon Machado 0.038 1 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Jose Valdez 0.038 1 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Drew VerHagen 0.029 1 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Wynton Bernard 0.00 2 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Michael Fulmer 0.00 3 League minimum Pre-Arbitration
Jairo Labourt 0.00 3 League minimum Pre-Arbitration

Which players are out of options?

A player who has been optioned in three previous seasons while on a 40-man roster may not be optioned without clearing waivers. These players are "out of options."

Andrew Romine, Bryan Holaday, and Jose Iglesias, have been optioned three times during their careers. They can not be sent to the minor leagues again without first clearing waivers. Holaday may not make the major league roster and is not likely to clear waivers. The Tigers may trade him rather than risk losing him on waivers. Infielder Hernan Perez was out of options and kept on the Opening Day roster in 2015, then lost on waivers in June.

Are there any limitations on who can be optioned?

Players with five years of major league service time may not be optioned without their consent regardless of whether they have options remaining. Those players will be on the 25-man major league roster for the duration of the 2016 season, unless they are traded or clear waivers before being released or sent outright to the minor leagues.

Tigers who have accrued five years of service time
Player Service Time 2016 Salary Free Agency Remaining contract
Justin Verlander 10.002 $28 Million 2020 4 years, plus option
Miguel Cabrera 12.101 $28 million 2024 8 years, plus 2 options
Victor Martinez 12.114 $18 million 2019 3 years
Ian Kinsler 10.000 $14 million 2018 2 years, plus 2018 option
Anibal Sanchez 9.099 $16.8 million 2018 2 years, plus 2018 option
Justin Upton
8.060
$22.125 million
2018/ 2022
6 years, 2 year opt out
Francisco Rodriguez
12.115
$7.5 million
2018
1 year plus team option*
Mark Lowe
7.159
$5.5 million
2018
2 years
Cameron Maybin
6.073
$5.6 of 8.1 million
2018
1 year plus team option*
Mike Aviles
7.091
$2 million
2017
1 year
Jordan Zimmermann
6.154
$18 million
2021
4 years
Mike Pelfrey
8.122
$8 million
2018
2 years
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
8.031
$507K of 7 million
2017
1 year

*Rodriguez: $6M option/$2M buyout
Maybin: $9M option/$1M buyout

Which players earn a league minimum salary?

A player with three to six years service time is eligible for arbitration. At about two years and 120 days (read 2.120 on most charts) they may be eligible as a "Super Two" player. Until then, they will receive close to the major league minimum salary -- that was $507,500 in 2015 -- while in the major leagues. At least nine Tigers will be playing at this bargain rate in 2016. Their salaries are labeled in the above tables.

What is an outright assignment?

A player who is out of options must be taken off the 40-man roster (usually "designated for assignment") and clear waivers before being sent outright to the minors. Montreal Robertson was outrighted this spring. Players with less than three years service time may be outrighted once in their careers without consent. Dixon Machado was outrighted in 2013. If outrighted again after clearing waivers, he may declare free agency immediately or after the season.

Injured players may not be optioned with limited exceptions, but can be traded. Players on the major league disabled list receive major league salary and accrue service time. Bruce Rondon spent the entire 2014 season on the DL, and accrued a full year of service time, but did not use an option that season.