In and of themselves, options aren’t a confusing concept. The idea behind them is simple: to keep teams from hording minor league talent, and to provide minor leaguers more of a chance to reach the majors. If a minor league player is placed on a team’s 40-man roster – which must be done to protect that player from being selected in the Rule 5 draft – then they are given three option seasons. This means that if a team sends a minor-league player on their 40-man roster to the minors at any point during a season, they use one of that player’s options. After all three of a player’s options have been used, that minor-leaguer can no longer be freely sent to the minors – they must first be placed on waivers, giving other teams the chance to claim them.
The key word in the above section is “option seasons“. A team can call up and send down a prospect multiple times in the same season, yet they still only use one of that player’s options. In other words, this means that if a player doesn’t stick in the majors three years after being placed on a team’s 40-man roster, they have to either be kept on the 25-man roster or be placed on waivers before going to the minors again.
Those are the basics; here are some caveats and details:
● Players with fewer than five professional seasons will be given a fourth option year. This comes into play mostly with marginal players, as you need to be good enough to get added to a team’s 40-man roster at some point, but not good enough to reach the majors and stick within the next three season. Also, this typically affects players who sign major league contracts right after the draft.
● An option isn’t used if a player is injured all year or they spend less than 20 days in the minors during the course of the season.
● Once a player is sent to the minors, they are must remain there for at least 10 days before being recalled (with the exception of if they need to return due to an injury). This is to prevent teams from bouncing one or two players up and down depending on the day of the week.
Links for Further Reading: