As I like to say, "Life is 50% attitude, and 50% not finding yourself in the middle of inventing a proverb only to realize you don't have a clever ending and now you're kind of left looking stupid."
Generally in life, they will tell you it's good to keep your options open. Now I'm not quite sure who "they" are -- these could be specialists who walk around all day telling as many people as they can, "Keep your options open, sonny!" or perhaps it's just something that enough people say, often enough, that "they" may as well be saying it. In any event, I am confident that at the very least, one person at one time has suggested that options are good to have.
Not so in baseball. When a player has an option left, it becomes possible to stash them at AAA in favor of another player who might be "big league roster or bust". In the language of baseball, we say that a "player has options left" but in truth, it's the club that holds the option: The option to place them on the major league roster, or on a minor league roster. Often in these instances, a player is cut from the big league roster in favor of a player who is out of options.
Teams will say that they just try to field the best 25-man roster they can out of spring training. But in reality, the season does not begin and end on April 1st and teams need to plan for May and July, too. Sometimes that means keeping a player in the organization, even if it means putting arguably a slightly worse player on the roster for Opening Night.
The trade of Chris Carter was related, in some way, to "options," because the A's did not have the luxury of putting Carter at AAA in 2013 if he slumped or if he wasn't getting enough ABs. That lack of potential flexibility helps to explain why the A's were willing to part with him: They knew they had nowhere to put Carter in the event that the ABs weren't there for him.
The point is, "options" -- or lack thereof -- can play a significant role in how rosters are determined. Let's take a look at some of the ways "options" will, or won't, impact the A's decisions this spring...
In the battle for "last infielder" behind Josh Donaldson, Hiro Nakajima, Jed Lowrie, and presumably Scott Sizemore or Jemile Weeks, Grant Green has a chance to left out because he can be assigned to AAA Sacramento. Note that Weeks also still has options, and so does Sizemore, which is probably why Green has any chance to leapfrog right over the utility INF role and into at least some consideration for the starting 2Bman job. But assuming Green does not win the starting 2Bman job, he probably won't win any job at all just because to keep him would mean essentially trading Daric Barton or Adam Rosales in order to "acquire" Green. Because Barton and Rosales are out of options and could be lost entirely if Green makes the team at their expense.
Barton and Rosales are an interesting pair, in that even though they play different positions they may be in competition for the final roster spot and both are out of options. One difference is that Rosales' contract is guaranteed and Barton's isn't, which means that the A's are on the hook for Rosales' $700,000 contract even if he is cut, whereas the A's pay Barton's $1.1M contract only if he makes the team.
That being said, Rosales' contract, at this point, is a "sunk cost," meaning that the A's don't lose $700,000 if they choose Barton (they're going to spend it even if they choose Rosales). It's more than they can save $1.1M by cutting Barton -- but then they also lose the only good defensive 1Bman they have and lose a player who is considered to be a lot more talented overall than Rosales.
On the flip side, Rosales is probably the best defensive SS the A's have. The could let Rosales go and eat the $700,000 -- which if so would make it interesting that they were willing to guarantee him the money. (One possible answer: SS was a lot less stable then compared to now.) Personally, I'm not in a position to take out a $700,000 insurance policy but I'm also not a major league baseball team. For whatever it's worth, Susan Slusser's tweet from earlier today suggests that Rosales may have some job security -- which could stem largely from his being out of options and having a guaranteed contract.
If Rosales stays, then the A's would almost certainly be cutting ties with Barton, perhaps because doing so saves them $1.1M and maybe feeling confident that the presence of Brandon Moss, and a gaggle of guys coming out of the woodwork laying claim to being a 1Bman (Michael Taylor, Jed Lowrie, maybe soon Seth Smith, and eventually Miles Head) makes Barton expendable.
The Opening Night bullpen also figures to be heavily influenced by "options". Bullpens often are, because teams know that they are likely to need 12+ relievers throughout the course of a season, so it doesn't matter so much which 7 pitch first.
Chris Resop and Pat Neshek may not even be among the A's best 7 relievers in camp, but they will likely make the team because why trade Resop for Evan Scribner, or trade Neshek for Jordan Norberto, when you can have both? Scribner and Norberto could easily be casualties of the options game -- as could Hideki Okajima, whose minor league contract allows him to opt out only if he is not on the big league roster by June 1st.
Ryan Cook, and Sean Doolittle are going to make it strictly on merit; Grant Balfour, Jerry Blevins and Travis Blackley not only make it on merit but are also out of options. Add Resop and Neshek because they're out of options, and if everyone's healthy I think there's your bullpen on April 1st.
Teams don't like to lose potentially useful players for nothing if they can help it. Among those who could benefit from being out of options: Rosales, Barton, Resop, and Neshek. Among those who could get burned: Green, Weeks, Norberto, and Scribner. It helps to be the best available player -- but it also can really help to be out of options.