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Spring Training News and baseballgirl's Attempt to Explain Options and Waivers

Update: Thought you guys might find this interesting:

3:00pm EST: A’s blogger Christy Hofmann of  stops by to chat about the A’s offseason moves, and to preview the 2010 season. Topics will include new additions Ben Sheets and Coco Crisp, how the club will look to contend against the Angels and much-improved Mariners, and much more.

Just for us this year, MLB Network is going to air five Athletics Spring Training games:

March 7 vs. Angels
March 25 vs. Giants
March 26 vs. Cubs
April 1/2 vs. Giants

It's like Christmas!

Be sure to read this ESPN article on Ben Sheets; it's a good one if you want to get a personal look at our new player.

I also have some pretty pictures for you.

And last, but not least, the quote of the offseason (fanpost here):

I'm not sure there's a team's fans I enjoy more than A's fans. There might not be very many of them, and particularly not very many of them who live in Oakland (the A's are unique in having a fanbase that's almost geographically free-floating), but, from my experience, they're among the most intelligent, passionate and zany in all of sports. I mean, they're making fanposts about sock puppets over there. I want to hire an A's fan to be my friend.


Up until this week's interesting discussion about Jake Fox being out of options, I have to admit that the phrase "out of options" didn't mean a whole lot to me. Basically I knew that it meant that the team couldn't send him down to AAA without having him clear waivers or somesuch, which means that if he's any good or could have value to another organization, they could take him away from the A's.

Don't get me wrong; unless this is a specialty of yours (and that does apply to several ANers who I hope will chime in), you (including me) won't understand the entire system. And with the incomplete records of Major League/Minor League transactions out there (as we found out this week), you might not be able to research this easily, even if you wanted to. Almost everyone I know, even those well-educated in baseball, waits to be told that player either has an option or is out of options before he/she starts calculating roster moves. I certainly do. And it wasn't until this week that I realized that I wouldn't know exactly what to look for if I was trying to figure out a player's status on my own.

So I did a little research (thanks to grover, Wikipedia, Baseball Prospectus, Susan Slusser, Rob Neyer, and the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement):

When a player begins his career; i.e. he is drafted or signed, his "clock starts ticking". We've heard this expression a million times, but it means that after the player's first three professional seasons (in the minor league system), his team has to put him on the 40-man roster or he is subject to the Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to draft players from other minor league systems. However, if a team adds a Rule 5 player, they have to leave him on the 25-man roster all year, or give him back.

Note from Danny:

Players who are 18 or younger don’t have to be added to the 40 man roster until 5 years after they sign, and players 19 or older have to be added within 4 years after they sign. The latest CBA added an extra year for both groups.

As we all know, there are two rosters for each major league team: the 40-man and the 25-man. Once a player is put on the 40-man roster, a second clock starts to tick. The player is then said to be on "optional assignment"; his organization can shuffle him between the major league team and the minor league team at will. The 25-man roster is the active major league roster; every player on it can play in a major league game.

"Options" refers to the following: If a player is on the 40-man roster, but NOT the 25-man roster and has spent 20 or more days in the minor leagues (each season), (Note from Danny: If a player is on the 40 man roster but not on the 25 man roster, he’s on “optional assignment.” This can be in AA or any other minor league.) he is out of options and cannot be sent back to the minors without clearing waivers. This player can be brought up and down as many times as necessary during the three option years, and even if he never plays in a major league game, he still uses an option if he is on the 40-man roster for the season.

There is an exception to this rule, which I think Slusser was referring to in her Jake Fox update:

It would be nice if MLB just provided full information about option status every spring so we could avoid all this; I remember one spring telling Dan Meyer that he had a fourth option and how upset he was to learn that. He'd had no idea. Safe to say, that ruined his spring and probably a lot of his year. Options are one of the trickier bits of business around, which is why I usually just ask the experts.

As far as I can surmise, Dan Meyer and his agents knew that he had been on the 40-man roster for three seasons, and had spent the required 20 days down in the minors each year, but there is another clause they clearly didn't know: If a player has less than 5 years of professional experience, he may be optioned to the minors in a fourth season without having to clear waivers. So if you come up young, then you have a fourth option.

Note from slusser:

I think with Meyer it had something to do with injuries, which also can give teams another option year on a player.

Note from Nick:

...there’s an exception for rehab assignments — that is, a player coming off the DL can’t refuse to do a rehab assignment in the minors, and you can send a guy to the minors for a rehab assignment even if he’s out of options without exposing him to the waiver wire.

There are plenty of other quirks to the system, as well.

Even if a player has remaining options, he must be ineligible for free agency in order for the team to option him to the minors.

If the player has at least 5 years of major-league service, he cannot be sent to the minors without his consent.

Options are of particular importance to a team; allowing them more flexibility with the roster during the season.

As Nico pointed out in yesterday's thread, the Cubs seemingly burned an unnecessary option on Fox in 2007; after keeping him in the minors only 19 days (just one shy of burning an option), they moved him back down right before the rosters expanded, thus using the option.

Note from Danny:

If you want to talk about Oakland players who are out of options because the Cubs unnecessarily optioned them in 2007, you should be talking about Eric Patterson. Like Fox, Patterson was added to the 40 man roster during the season when he made his debut on the 25 man roster. Like Fox, he was optioned back down to the minors, but was then recalled before 20 days had passed. He was optioned down on August 14th and recalled on September 1. Patterson then showed up late to a practice, and the Cubs optioned him back down to AA on September 3. They could have just let him rot on the extended September bench, but they burned his option to “send a message” or something.

With me so far? What else am I missing?

Things get particularly sticky once waivers are introduced. BP quotes DePodesta:

Waivers are the single most complicated rule in baseball, even more complicated than the balk rule. Even the people in the front office don't know all the waiver rules. "You know the rules you've come up against, but there may be other things that you don't know about until you have to deal with them," says DePodesta. "We know about 90% of the rules, but we call the Commissioner's Office to get rulings on things we don't know about."

So what does happen when a player is out of options?

To avoid a player being stuck in the minors forever, the waiver system was put in place. The team must keep a player who is out of options on the 25-man (active) roster, or he has to "clear waivers". This type of waiver is called the "outright waiver". This means that any other team can claim him and the previous team loses him (irrevocable). If no one claims the player (this always makes me sad, like he's friendless), he has said to have "cleared waivers" and can now be taken off the 40-man and put in the minors. This is called "outrighting" and can only be done once without the player's permission.

From BP:

The other type of waivers, major league waivers, are the kind you usually hear about around the July 31st trading deadline. Many teams put a large number of players on waivers near the deadline in order to clear room on the 40-man roster and give themselves more flexibility when it comes to making last-minute trades. If a player clears these waivers, his team can then trade him or outright him. Unlike outright waivers, major league waivers are revocable--if a player is claimed, his team has the option of "pulling him back" and not losing the player. If this happens, though, the player cannot be traded or sent to the minors for the duration of the waiver period.

Along the same theme, what happens if you want to get rid of someone on the 40-man? This is the infamous DFA option, "Designated for assignment". The player is removed from the 40-man and the team has ten days to decide what to do with the player; trade, outright release, or put on waivers.

Anything to add? Does this help? On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you for baseball games?!