No introduction necessary. I’m simply going to attempt to explain all about options in fewer than 300 words. Here we go.
Options are essentially an expansion of the Rule 5 draft. Both are means to prevent teams from collecting and hoarding talent beyond the amount they can field. When an option is used, that simply means the player is on the 40-man roster and was sent to the minors. The majority of players have three option seasons; seasons being the key word there. Take Jeremy Hellickson for example. The Rays reassigned him to minor league camp a few days ago and he will begin the season in Triple-A. At which point an option will be used.
There are some exceptions to this rule.
As discussed with Andrew Miller, a player with fewer than five professional seasons will have a fourth option added.
If a player is optioned to the minors, but spends fewer than 20 days in the minors throughout the entire season, then an option is not used.
If a player misses the season due to injury.
The most confused aspect of the entire ordeal is the difference between years and seasons and how it portrays into options. Take Hellickson again. Since Hellickson was only added to the 40-man last winter, he will have two more options remaining. That is true no matter how many times the Rays promote and demote him throughout the 2010 season.
Oh, and one other thing, teams cannot run what amounts to a 26-man roster by optioning a pair of players up and down throughout any given week. A player sent down has to stay down for 10 days barring an injury to someone on the 25-man roster.
Hopefully that clears things up, if not check out Keith Law’s more detailed post here.