Baseball is full of roster rules and regulations that aren’t always the easiest to understand. These are my favorite parts of baseball, so I’m starting a series to explain some of those aspects of the game.
The idea of “Options” is often thrown around by fans.
This is usually mentioned when it comes to roster management. Maybe a player is under performing or a spot on the roster is needed, and whether a player has options remaining comes into play.
In the context of the Major League Rules, they aren’t actually called “options” — an informal term which hides that options are measured in years — but for the sake of this discussion, that is the term we will continue to use.
When a player first has their contract selected by a Major League club, they get three options, which means there are three subsequent years where a team can freely option the player to the minor leagues.
What Happens When a Player is Optioned?
When a player is optioned, they are “assigned” from the Major League club to their Minor League club. To bring a player back to the Major League club from optional assignment, the club must “recall” them.
During the season, before a player can be recalled, they must spend at least 10 days on minor league assignment if they are a position player, or 15 if they are a pitcher. This stipulation doesn’t count if a player is being recalled to take the place of an injured or traded player, among other exceptions.
It is only when a player stays on assignment for 20 days—consecutively or cumulatively among several different assignments—that they officially use their option year. However, their option year isn’t considered exhausted until the season is over, and a player can only use one option per season.
Before 2022, a team could option a player as many times as they wanted; however, this was changed as part of the 2022-2026 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
A team can now only option a player five times in a year. After that, the player must be subjected to waivers before they can be optioned. If the player is claimed by a new team, they get the opportunity to option the player once without having to place them on waivers before the same restrictions apply.
Optional Assignments and Contract Details
While on optional assignment, the player is to be paid at the rate for Minor League service as stated in their contract.
Pre-arbitration players are often on “split” contracts, meaning there are different rates for Major and Minor League pay, while guaranteed deals usually have one rate for both. A players Minor League split will often be 50% of his earnings from the prior year, or the Minor League minimum, whichever is more.
Players do not accrue Major League service time while on optional assignment; however, if a player is not assigned for the full 20 days necessary to use an option, days on assignment will be counted as Major League service.
If a player is designated for assignment while on optional assignment, the date of designation counts as the last day of the assignment.
All players on the 40-man roster must be recalled the day after the season and can’t be optioned again until Spring Training. Optional assignments prior to the season starting still count as options despite not happening during the season.
Exceptions to the Rule
Once they’ve accrued five years of Major League service, a player is allowed to reject an optional assignment.
While it’s most common for a player to receive three option years, certain circumstances can leave a player with four.
If a player hasn’t accrued five full seasons in the Major and Minor Leagues before and including the season in which they use their third option, the player will be eligible for a fourth option year. A full season, in this circumstance, is considered 90 days on the Active List. Therefore, players who reach the majors quickly or were injured for several seasons while in the minors are typically the players who get fourth options.
Out of Options and Outright Assignments
If a player is out of options, they must be placed on waivers in order to be assigned to the minor leagues. While there are two types of waivers—Outright Assignment and Unconditional Release—the focus here is only Outright Assignment Waivers. Another team is then able to claim that player’s contract, but their status of being out of options does not change. If the player is not claimed, they can then be assigned outright to the minor leagues.
In general, a player does not need to be out of options to be placed on waivers. Teams outright players all the time who could have otherwise been optioned, likely due to the need of the roster spot versus being able to keep the player on the Reserve List.
An outright assignment differs from an optional assignment in that a player on outright assignment no longer counts against a team’s 40-man roster; however, they still make the Minor League rate stipulated in their contract.
While it takes five years of service for a player to be able to decline an optional assignment, a player only needs three to decline an outright assignment—or if they have been previously outrighted in their career—however, the player forgoes the right to termination pay in that scenario.
If the contract is reacquired—selected after being outrighted—and the player was both on assignment for 20 days or more and had options remaining at the time of the assignment, the player will use an option — despite being on outright assignment and not optional.
During the season, players on both optional and outright assignments count against the Domestic Reserve List.
Offseason Calendar Update
No updates here as of this week.
Pirates Payroll Updates
—As I theorized and expected last week, Miguel Andújar ended up clearing waivers and was outrighted to Indianapolis.
Payroll won’t change, as this is what I projected for, but it still is worth noting that he will continue to receive his $1,525,000 guaranteed salary while off the roster and playing in Triple-A.
—For 2023, the payroll estimate stands at $73,202,372 for the Labor Relations Department, while it’s $89,619,039 for CBT purposes.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Tim Williams breaks down the plans for Producing and Editing this site in 2023.
First Pitch: Producing and Editing Pirates Prospects
Ethan Hullihen is working on a new feature to create a Glossary of transaction details on the site. His first installment is a look at how Optional and Outright Assignments work.
Pirates Business: How Do Optional and Outright Assignments Work?
Wilbur Miller looked at the Pirates’ 2019 draft, which is led by Quinn Priester, but has a lot of other interesting prospects still around.
WTM: The Pirates’ Quirky 2019 Draft
Bubba Chandler was a highlight of the 2021 draft, and Anthony Murphy looked at the progress and potential he showed during his debut season.
Bubba Chandler Showed Progress and Potential In His Debut Season
A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.
Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.
When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.
Ethan, great stuff. Here’s a question: For the players who were removed from the 40-man this offseason (Wilson, Thompson, Park), all were “traded.” How did that work? Did all 3 clear waivers, first? That doesn’t seem likely if the team could have had them for “free.”
A lot of reaction to Bryse Wilson is what actually gave me the idea to do this.
So, in short, that’s gonna be covered, so stay tuned!
Great summary. I like the idea mentioned in Tim’s piece about creating a glossary on how all these transactions work. Kind of gets back to the comment discussion the other day on how DFA and the 7 days work in terms of the timing of possibly working out a trade and actually going through the waiver process. Having that type of information in the glossary would be great. Also information about some of the minor league specific roster rules, like how many players allowed on the roster, how many can be active for game day, the development list and others would be great for the glossary.
If MLB.com had an ounce of sense, they’d hire Ethan to do all this stuff at their site.
I was just thinking about that, although any MLB team could and should use him. I guess all teams have an Ethan on their payroll.
I’m sure teams are all fine, but there’s nobody explaining this stuff to the public. In the NFL, the salary cap is an industry by itself.
Good stuff, Ethan. Thx
I trust you Ethan, just tell me what I ought to know 😀 😀