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How options work, and which Indians players have them

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It’s confusing at first, but it’s actually a simple system worth knowing

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Even if you’re the most casual sports fan this side of the Golden State Warriors, you’ve probably heard that a baseball player has been optioned before. Maybe you knew what it meant, or maybe you just nodded your head and hoped no one would ask you how the Indians could option Shawn Armstrong 37 times in a single season.

Well, fret not, for options are actually a pretty straightforward process, and after this quick overview you’ll be able to impress all your friends about your knowledge of how these little buggers actually work.

The official definition from MLB is a pretty good place to start in understanding options.

Players on a 40-man roster are given three Minor League “options.” An option allows that player to be sent to the Minor Leagues (“optioned”) without first being subjected to waivers. When a player is optioned to the Minors for a span of more than 20 days, he loses an option.

Essentially, options are set up to allow a team to send a player on their 40-man roster to the minors and call him up worry free, while at the same time prohibiting them from abusing the process for several seasons and just stashing players in Triple-A.

One of the most important things to know about options is that, when you hear someone say a player “has options left,” what they really mean is they have option years left.

Using my only slightly exaggerated Shawn Armstrong example above, the Indians optioned the poor guy eight times in 2017 alone, in what was his final option year. He was optioned just twice in 2015 and five times in 2016, but they all count the same. Armstrong became very familiar with I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland because he had three full option years when he debuted in 2015. When he was optioned twice in his rookie season, that still only used one of his option years. Same goes for the five in 2016, and the eight trips to Columbus in 2017.

If the Indians had held onto Armstrong and gave him another shot to stop walking everyone under the sun in 2018, they would have had to send him through waivers every single time he burned out his arm. That would have made him vulnerable to another team placing a claim on him and either receiving him outright from the Indians or working out a trade if the Indians don’t pull him back off waivers. He could possibly have cleared waivers in 2018, but a reliever with as much strikeout potential as Armstrong had (and still has), means it’s very unlikely he would have gone unclaimed for very long. He was traded in the offseason to the Mariners, instead.

Options are an important factor this time of year because it often times determines which player will make a roster out of spring training if two choices are pretty similar. For example, if Player A has a lower ceiling than Player B, but Player A has an option year left while Player B is on the edge of needing more work in Triple-A, Player A will probably start the season in the majors, just because he has more flexibility. Player-A can fail terribly and still be optioned no problem in May, while Player B would be either stuck on the major-league roster and failing, or the team would run the risk of losing him in a waiver claim.

Some other caveats, from FanGraphs’ own explainer, which is also worth a read:

● 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.

That’s all that’s to it. It sounds stupid simple, because it really is. Until recently, the only hard thing about options was finding out who actually had one. MLB doesn’t track it publicly anywhere and it’s not even on FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference pages for players. It was basically a guessing game and trying to paste together past transactions to find out who could still be sent down.

But now we have Roster Resource, which is a great resource. For rosters.

It breaks down just about everything you could want to know about the Indians or any other team. For the purpose of this post, and for anyone who has struggled in the past to keep track of options, the best thing is in fact it’s option tracking.

According to Roster Resource’s numbers, here are some notable players who have an option year left and how many they have left as of March 12, 2019, sorted by position.

Catchers

  • Kevin Plawecki - 0
  • Roberto Perez - 3
  • Eric Haase - 2

First basemen/designated hitters

  • Carlos Santana - 0
  • Hanley Ramirez - 0

Infielders

  • Jose Ramirez - 1
  • Francisco Lindor - 3
  • Jason Kipnis - 0
  • Eric Stamets - 2
  • Mike Freeman - 1

Outfielders

  • Leonys Martin - 0
  • Tyler Naquin - 2
  • Jake Bauers - 2
  • Jordan Luplow - 1
  • Bradley Zimmer - 2
  • Greg Allen - 2
  • Oscar Mercado - 2
  • Trayce Thompson - 0
  • Matt Joyce - 0

Starting pitchers

  • Corey Kluber - 0
  • Trevor Bauer - 0
  • Carlos Carrasco - 0
  • Mike Clevinger - 1
  • Shane Bieber - 2
  • Adam Plutko - 1
  • Danny Salazar - 0
  • Cody Anderson - 1

Relief pitchers

  • Brad Hand - 0
  • Neil Ramirez - 0
  • Jon Edwards - 2
  • Adam Cimber - 3
  • Oliver Perez - 0
  • Tyler Clippard - 0
  • Tyler Olson - 0
  • Dan Otero - 0
  • Nick Goody - 1
  • Ben Taylor - 1