Throughout the course of the year, you’ll often hear us discuss how many “Options” a player has remaining anytime he’s sent down to the minors. But the rules surrounding Minor League options were updated in the latest CBA *and* there’s been a tweak to those new rules to adjust for the shortened Spring Training, so I thought we should set the record straight before Opening Day.
What are Minor League Options?
You can read the official MLB Glossary page on Minor League options right here, but the short version is pretty straight forward: “Players on a 40-man roster are given three Minor League “options.” An option allows that player to be sent to the Minor Leagues (“optioned”) without first being subjected to waivers. Players who are optioned to the Minors are removed from a team’s active 26-man roster but remain on the 40-man roster.”
Basically, you can send a player to the Minors without fear of losing him to another team only if he has options remaining. Generally speaking, that’s not changing.
So What is Changing?
Historically, the biggest misconception about options is that a player loses one every time he’s sent up or down. That’s wrong. Or it was wrong, but is changing slightly. Either way, “Options” are more aptly described as “Option Years.” And before this season, if a player had any remaining Option Years, he could be sent up and down as many times as a team wanted without first being subjective to waivers.
HOWEVER, the new CBA did actually put a cap on the number of times a player could be optioned throughout any one year (five times). The point of the change is to prevent teams from shuttling players (most often relievers) up and down all season long. Call it a quality-of-life improvement for the player, call it an effort to stymie the over-utilization of matchup/speciality relievers, whatever. That’s the new rule.
So now, that common misconception is partially true. A player will still have 3 (or sometimes 4) option YEARS, but each year he’s optioned, he will have a cap on the total number of times he can be sent up and down before being subjective to waivers.
This is where things get silly. Because the spring was shortened by the lockout, MLB has agreed to temporarily tweak some of the rules set forth in the new CBA to help teams/players adjust. For example, rosters in April have been expanded from 26 players to 28 players, so teams can have a few extra hands on deck as everyone continues to stretch out and warm up.
One of those tweaks was to NOT count any up-and-down movement between the major and minor leagues in April against that season-limit of five. Sahadev Sharma pointed that out at The Athletic: “Options will be key throughout the season, but especially in April when they won’t count against the five times that teams are allowed to option a player before they’re forced to expose them to waivers, a new rule as part of the CBA.”
And here’s the thing, if you cut out an entire month out of the calculus (especially the busiest month), the chances that anyone reaches that five-time limit effectively amounts to 0%.
So … the rule has changed in the new CBA, but because the new CBA took so long to complete, the adjustment has been effectively neutered for the entire first full season.
We’ll still keep track of it, but don’t expect it to matter for most players until 2023.