Two common questions heard throughout the Major League Baseball season:
“How do minor league options work?”
“How many options does (insert player name here) have remaining?”
Since the Pirates’ 40-man roster features plenty of capable players for a limited number of roster spots (primarily corner outfield & bullpen), we expect both questions to be tossed around quite often by Bucco fans, including ourselves.
Here’s some basic information on how options work:
- A player receives three options when officially placed on the 40-man roster.
- One option counts for an entire year. The option is registered after the player stays in the minors for more than 20 days. Any less than 20 days will not count.
- The player can be sent to the minors multiple times in a season, but it will still only count as one option. This relates to the Pedro Ciriaco situation in 2011, when the Pirates optioned him to Triple-A Indianapolis on six different occasions between March and September. It seemed to be happening so often that Pirates fans hoped Ciriaco was collecting his frequent flyer miles.
- Once all three options are used, the player cannot be sent to the minors without going through waivers, where the other 29 teams can claim him.
For quick reference, we have added the options remaining for each player on the 40-man roster on our depth chart page.
By applying the rules above, here’s a look at where the Bucs stand:
- Vic Black, Phil Irwin, Hunter Strickland, and Tony Sanchez were added to the 40-man back in November, so they each have three options attached to them. If they don’t make the club out of spring training and spend more than 20 days in the minors (which is expected), then one of their options will be used.
- Andrew McCutchen actually still has all three of his options because he was not on the 40-man roster when he got called up in June of 2009, plus he was never sent back down. This is relatively unimportant, as Cutch won’t have to deal with those three options.
- Pitching candidates Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Chris Leroux, and Bryan Morris do not have any options remaining, so they can’t head to Indy unless they pass through waivers. Gomez and Mazzaro aren’t highly regarded, but Leroux and Morris still have some potential.
- The Bucs certainly have their hands full with first basemen and corner outfielders. Starling Marte has two options left, but is expected to be penciled in as the starting left fielder. Jerry Sands still has one remaining, and so does Gaby Sanchez, who spent 34 games in the minors for Miami. Another Pirate with one option is Clint Robinson, who was acquired from Kansas City in November. Coming off a poor year that featured a couple of trips to Indianapolis, Alex Presley could see more minor league time with the one option he holds. Neither Travis Snider nor Jose Tabata possess any options, so the Pirates are almost forced to keep them, unless a trade is worked out. Snider has more upside of the two; Tabata has just been relatively disappointing thus far in a little over two years of MLB service time.
- Backup infield candidates Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Chase d’Arnaud all have two options left. J-Hay seems to be the favorite to make the squad since he can adequately play second, third, or shortstop, and even a little right field. Since the Pirates have an affinity for keeping two backup infielders, Mercer and d’Arnaud may battle in spring ball.
Options are just one of the many odd wrinkles in Major League Baseball’s set of rules. It’s difficult to keep up with every twist and turn, but options are definitely important in order to build a strong 40-man roster from top to bottom. The Pirates will have plenty of decisions to make, especially with players like Gomez, Mazzaro, Leroux, and Tabata that don’t have any left. There are only 25 spots for 40+ players; it’ll certainly be interesting to watch how the Pirates handle the roster down the road and through spring training.