Spring Training is dangerously close these days, and once it starts, so do the position battles. All around Florida and Arizona you’ll see players fighting to win that last bullpen spot, platoon outfield job, rotation spot, etc. Many players who lose these battles will simply report back to Triple-A and work to get back to the show at some point, but others don’t have that option. They’re quite literally out of options.
To make a long story short, an out of options player is someone who has used up all three of their minor league options, meaning they were sent to the minors for at least 20 days in three different seasons. Once a player is out of options, he can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers. As you probably know, a few of these guys will end up being traded over the next six weeks as their club looks to get some kind of return rather than lose them on the waiver wire for nothing.
MLB Trade Rumors put together a comprehensive list of this year’s out of options players, so let’s sort through the names to find some players that are useful, but just not to their current teams.
Chris Dickerson | OF | Yankees
The outfield in the Bronx is set with Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher as a starting trio while Andruw Jones sits on the bench waiting to mash lefties. Eduardo Nunez has taken reps in the corner outfield spots and is the emergency fifth outfielder. The 29-year-old Dickerson is out of luck with the Yankees barring injury or an unforeseen development with their DH situation, but he’s the model fourth outfielder.
At the plate, the left-handed hitting Dickerson has posted a .270/.355/.415 batting line (11.2 BB% and .341 wOBA) in 426 PA against big league righties and a .286/.387/.443 batting line (13.9 BB%) in 846 PA against Triple-A righties. He can’t hit lefties (.292 wOBA in MLB with a .246/.349/.339 line in Triple-A) and isn’t much of a power hitter, but at least he’s on the dominant side of the platoon. Dickerson is also adept at stealing bases (24-for-30 in MLB and 75-for-92 in Triple-A) and handles all three outfield spots well (though he doesn’t have enough MLB time for UZR, DRS, and TZ to be meaningful). There’s some value to be had here.
The Yankees acquired Dickerson from Brewers in exchange for the out of options Sergio Mitre in Spring Training last year, and now he might be on his way out in a March deal. A number of teams can use a left-handed fourth outfielder type, so they shouldn’t have much trouble finding a trade market.
With Yoenis Cespedes now on board, the A’s have ten players — Cespedes, Allen, Ka’aihue, Coco Crisp, Collin Cowgill, Seth Smith, Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes, Daric Barton, and Chris Carter — competing for five roster spots: first base, DH, and the three outfield positions. The San Francisco Chronicle also says they’re expected to sign Manny Ramirez in the near future, so make that eleven players for five spots (though Manny can’t play until he serves a 50-game suspension).
Cowgill, Reddick, Barton, and Carter can all be sent to the minors plus they’ll need a few guys on the bench, so the logjam isn’t as bad as it seems. Allen and Ka’aihue can not be sent down however, and they’re very similar players in that they’re left-handed bats who have a history of mashing righties but scuffling against southpaws in the minors. Neither player has shown much of anything in their limited big league time (.296 and .301 wOBAs in 350 PA or so), nor do they have much defensive or base-running value. We’re talking pure bat-first players at the easiest position(s) to fill.
Allen is the younger of the two at 26 (Kila turns 28 next month) and he has a smidgen of left field experience to his credit, so it stands to reason that he’d have more trade value. There aren’t many clubs looking for a first baseman or a DH this time of year, but there’s bound to be a few NL clubs looking to add a power left-handed bat off the bench.
Sean West | LHP | Marlins
The Marlins revamped their rotation this winter by adding Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano to Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez, though West wasn’t exactly forcing his way into consideration anyway. He pitched to a 5.03 ERA and a 4.57 FIP in 112.2 IP for the Marlins from 2009-2010, then posted a 5.59 ERA (4.38 FIP) with nearly as many walks (46) as strikeout (56) in 17 starts and 87 Triple-A innings last season. He also missed time with elbow and shoulder problems.
West, 25, is a fastball-slider-changeup guy with a pretty huge platoon split. In his brief time with the Fish, his strikeout (20.9%), walk (5.8%), and ground ball (50.0%) rates against lefties were far better than they were against righties (14.0 K%, 10.1 BB%, and 36.9 GB%). He also showed a similar split last year in Triple-A: 24.2 K% and 9.2 BB% against lefties but 9.5 K% and 12.3 BB% against righties (yes, more walks than whiffs). The starting thing hasn’t worked out over the last few years due to injury and ineffectiveness, but there are reasons to believe West could be a serviceable lefty specialist out of the bullpen. He would be able to scrap the changeup and stick with his two best offerings, giving him even more of a chance in that role.
The Marlins already have two very strong lefties in their bullpen with Randy Choate (arguably the best LOOGY in the game) and Mike Dunn, so there doesn’t to appear to be any more room at the inn for West. They’re sure to find interest in him on the trade market given how much teams value left-handedness.