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Guardians have plenty of options thanks to their plentiful options

That title makes sense, just trust me

Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Once upon a time, an article like this would be a necessity and a bit of a pain to put together.

For whatever reason, MLB didn’t seem to like making player options easily accessible or even understandable for the longest time, but over the years they have come into the spotlight as teams maximize their usage and fans focus on every minute detail of the game of baseball. Remaining options are still not placed on official stat pages anywhere, but at least there is a fairly detailed, easily available rule explanation now.

Where options for the common fan once had to be figured out by hand and Googled repeatedly, nowadays they are just sitting out there on FanGraphs’ Roster Resource team page (as well as individual player pages) for everyone to see. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it. Back in my day, uphill in the snow both ways, etc.

While options are easily accessible now thanks to the work of FanGraphs and others, the process can still be confusing at first. So let’s break that down before getting into the specifics of what options the Guardians have for 2023.

At their core, options are a way for teams to send down (usually) younger players to the minor leagues over the course of a regular season. They allow a player to be sent from a major-league club to the minors without having to go through waivers, and without leaving the 40-man roster. Still under contract, still getting paid, but without being forced to stay and struggle in the majors.

With some exceptions, players are granted three options — better described as “option years” — the first time they are added to a team’s 40-man roster. For a player to be on the 40-man roster but not the MLB 26-man roster, they need to be optioned to the minors; that includes the beginning of the season. Without being optioned, they would need to be designated for assignment and passed through waivers before they could be removed from the 40-man roster and placed in the minors. A player can be optioned up to five times during a season, and they must stay in the minors for a minimum of 10 days when they are optioned unless they are replacing someone on the injured list or as the 27th man in a doubleheader. A player’s options stay with them through transactions (i.e. being traded or released and signed by another team).

Players with more than five years of major-league service team can decline an option to the minors.

The easiest way to keep up with options is to look at the end of the season. If a player’s option was used any number of times during the season, and they spent at least 20 days in the minors, they used up one of them. If not, they still have all of them. Roster Resource, for example, doesn’t update options until the end of the year, likely for that very reason. While player pages don’t specifically list remaining options, they do list transactions — including options — at the bottom of the page.

To better understand this process, I’m going to chronicle the wild 40-man roster journey of one pitcher: the Pilk Man himself, Konnor Pilkington.

The Guardians acquired Pilkington from the White Sox on July 29, 2021. At the time, he was not on a 40-man roster, so options were not a concern quite yet. He played out his season in the minors, and that was that. But the Guardians added him, also read as “selected his contract,” in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. (Note: Rule 5 eligibility is a whole ‘nother bag of worms, so for now just understand that he needed to be added to the 40-man roster.)

Once that process was completed and Pilkington was a part of the offseason 40-man roster, he officially had three options remaining.

Pilkington made the Opening Day roster but didn’t pitch for the first two weeks. So to keep him in the organization but in the minors, he was optioned on April 14, 2022, which means his first option year was used, no matter what happened between then and the end of the season. However, less than 24 hours after he was optioned, he was called back up to the majors to replace the injured Yu Chang — allowing him to bypass the 10-game minimum requirement — and added to the 26-man roster. He pitched one inning against the Giants on April 15 and was optioned again immediately after when Josh Naylor came off the injured list.

Now, because options are more like “option years” remember, that April 15 transaction didn’t actually use another option. Neither did his options in July and September. Even after all of those, he still had two options remaining when the season ended. One year, one option.

Fast forward to this season, and the Guardians have already optioned him once, back on March, 17. That means he can be optioned and brought up again and he will have one option year remaining after this season ends.

Now that you’re an options expert, here is where the Guardians stand with players in the organization. This includes players on the 40-man roster, and some that are on minor-league deals, where options would only come into play if they are eventually added to the roster.

Keep in mind, these numbers also include having an option this year. So a player listed with two option years could be optioned in 2023 and 2024. Pilkington, for example, has already been optioned once this year but can still be optioned again (and again, and again, and again ...).

  • Players with three options remaining: Steven Kwan, Josh Naylor, Oscar Gonzalez, Will Brennan, Zach Plesac, Emmanuel Clase, Trevor Stephan, Nick Sandlin, Tim Herrin, Cody Morris, Bo Naylor, Juan Brito, Angel Martinez, Joey Cantillo, Jason Bilous, Peyton Battenfield, Michael Kelly, Jhon Romero.
  • Players with two options remaining: Andrés Giménez, Myles Straw, Richie Palacios, Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale, James Karinchak, Eli Morgan, Hunter Gaddis, Bryan Lavastida, Tyler Freeman, Brayan Rocchio, Jose Tena, George Valera, Jhonkensy Noel, Xzavion Curry, Konnor Pilkington, Dusten Knight, Caleb Baragar.
  • Players with one option remaining: Gabriel Arias and Triston McKenzie.

A team like the Guardians, one with so many young players, usually finds itself with a lot of roster flexibility thanks to options. Only four of their projected starting position players and pitchers (Amed Rosario, José Ramírez, Josh Bell, and Mike Zunino) cannot be freely sent down to the minors because they have accrued more than five years of major-league service time. If anyone else struggles they could be sent down to work on things in Columbus.

Where options typically come into play is with a player who is around the minors long enough to require protection from the Rule 5 draft at a young age, but still needs to spend a few years in the minors to get work in. In some cases, it’s simply a player who has been in an organization for a while but hasn’t played well enough to stick in the majors.

This came into play with Yu Chang last year, as he was out of options but clearly wasn’t hitting enough to warrant an everyday spot in the lineup. Since the Guardians couldn’t option him to the minors, he was ultimately traded to the Pirates for cash. Franmil Reyes was a rather unique case where he still had two options left, but he was DFA’d anyway. The Guardians just wanted him out of there, man.

Gabriel Arias presents an interesting options scenario for the next couple of years. He only has one option left, but as of this writing, he has not been optioned for 2023. If he makes the Opening Day roster and comes out of the gate on fire, or at least good enough to stick around, the Guardians could choose not to option him at all and save it for next year. If he needs to be optioned this year for some reason, he would be in the same situation as Chang next year — out of options and playing for his spot on the roster or facing the possibility of being designated for assignment.

The Guardians also have the flexibility to send Triston McKenzie down this year if his mechanics fly off the handle or something midway through the season. He was optioned in 2020 and 2021, but not last year, and obviously he’s going to make the Opening Day roster in 2023. So that leaves him with the last option year available.

Enyel De Los Santos and Sam Hentges are the only players currently on the 40-man roster out of options. If De Los Santos can’t match the magic of his breakout season a year ago, he’ll need to figure things out while in the majors or face being designated for assignment. Hentges probably will not make the Opening Day roster, but that will be because he’s on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. He will still be able to rehab in the minors, but after that, he’s going to need to come back from several weeks on the sidelines and pitch well enough to keep his relief job without a safety net.

Veteran pitcher Touki Toussaint, outfielder Roman Quinn, and backup catcher candidates Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria are also out of options if they make the team out of spring training. If it comes to that, you can probably just expect them to be designated for assignment when a younger player is ready to take over their spot in the majors. They are not currently on the 40-man roster, however.

We’re talking about some examples on the very fringes of the roster, which speaks to just how well set up the Guardians are right now. They won’t be pressed for anyone to keep a roster spot for a while. Nobody besides Shane Bieber is pushing five years of service time, and the prospects that are debuting are doing so at a very young age with plenty of option years left.

Now, when all those prospects start coming up and the 40-man roster gets a little crowded? That’s a lengthy post for another day, my friend.