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MLB options, waivers and outright assignments, explained

Here’s a glossary of what MLB transaction terms really mean.

Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Now that the 2017 World Series is over, Major League Baseball teams are wasting no time in making moves to adjust their rosters for the 2018 season.

Andrew Romine was placed on waivers and claimed by the Seattle Mariners. Jim Adduci cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minor leagues. Alex Presley cleared waivers, was outrighted, and elected free agency. Tyler Collins cleared waivers, was outrighted, and might elect free agency. Kyle Ryan, Myles Jaye, Bryan Holaday, and Efren Navarro were also placed on outright waivers. Eight players, all placed on waivers, with different situations.

Here is how they work.

What are waivers?

Waivers are a way for a major league team to take a player off its 40-man roster in order to send him outright to the minor leagues, or release him and let him become a free agent. A player cannot be removed from the 40-man roster without first clearing waivers, where all 29 other teams have a chance to claim that player, and his existing contract, for a modest waiver fee.

What are MLB options?

An option (optional assignment) allows a club to move a player on its 40-man roster to and from the minor leagues without exposing him to other teams.

Once a player is added to a team’s 40-man roster, his team has three options, or three different seasons in which the club may to send him to the minor leagues without having to clear waivers. A player on the 40-man roster playing in the minors is on optional assignment. There is no limit on the number of times a club may promote and demote a player during one option season.

A player must spend at least 20 days total in the minor leagues during one season (not including rehabilitation assignments) in order to be charged with an option. John Hicks was sent up and down a half dozen times during the 2017 season, but used just one option.

When a player is out of options, he cannot be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers. Also, a player who has accrued at least five years of major league service time may not be optioned to the minors without his consent. Hicks, as well as Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, Matt Boyd and Buck Farmer are now out of options, so they will have to go on waivers if they don’t make the team in the spring.

There are three types of waivers.

Outright waivers

Outright waivers are used when a team wants to send a player to the minors but he is out of options. If the player clears waivers, he may be outrighted to the minor leagues.

However, a player may only be outrighted once during his career without his consent. When a player is outrighted for the second time or more, he may elect to become a free agent either immediately, if during the season, or as soon as the season is over, unless he is added back to the 40-man roster. This is why Tyler Collins can — and probably will — elect free agency.

A player with three years of major league service may also refuse an outright assignment and choose to become a free agent immediately or at the end of the season. Alex Presley, who has over four years of service time in the majors, rejected his outright assignment and chose free agency.

Release waivers

Release waivers are requested when a team wants to give a player his unconditional release.

Special waivers

Special Waivers, also known as revocable waivers or major league waivers, are used only between July 31 and the end of each season. These waivers are required in order to trade a player who is on the 40-man roster to another major league team after the trade deadline. Justin Verlander cleared waivers and was traded to the Houston Astros on August 31 in one of the most famous post-deadline trades ever.

What does it mean for a player to be designated for assignment?

A player may be designated for assignment (DFA), giving the team 10 days to either trade him, or send him to the minor leagues, provided he clears waivers.

Romine and Presley were eligible for arbitration this offseason, and the Tigers were not prepared to risk going through that process with them. The same fate may await Bruce Rondon or Blaine Hardy, who are also eligible for arbitration this winter. BYB posted the projected salaries for the Tigers’ arbitration eligible players here.

Hardy still has an option year remaining, whereas Presley, Romine, and Rondon are all out of options.

The Tigers have until December 1 to offer a contract to their arbitration-eligible players. If they don’t make an offer, the player is said to be “non-tendered” and becomes a free agent.

Teams have until November 20 to submit their reserve lists of up to 40 players to the MLB office in advance of the Rule 5 draft. The Tigers will be adding some young players to the roster by that date, and will want to keep a spot or two open so that they may make a selection with their first pick in the draft on December 14.

Thursday was the day that players who are eligible for free agency became free agents, but the Tigers had no such players, having traded any would-be free agents during the season. Detroit formally declined their $16 million option on Anibal Sanchez on Thursday, paying him a $5 million buyout and making him a free agent.