One of the most consistently frustrating exercises each spring is determining who has options left. As I mentioned in my previous post, this may be one of those rare springs where it might not matter that much. I believe this to be a sign that the team is on the upswing.
Simply put: Winning teams don’t agonize over these kinds of decisions because they’re not choosing between young and marginal players.
In a nutshell, once a player is added to the 40-man roster during the 25-man period (a.k.a. Open Day to August 31), the team has three years that they can bounce him back and forth between the minors. Steve Lombardozzi, for example, has three options left because he was added to the 40-man in September, while Chris Marrero has only two because he was added in November 2010 and optioned to Syracuse in March 2011.
Think you got it straight? Well, then there’s the 20-day exception. An option year is any year in which a player spends more than 20 consecutive days in the minors. I suspect that this was originally intended for rehab assignments (try sifting through that set Google results; I dare you) but has since morphed into a means for teams to stash a position player (or No. 5 starter) at AAA for three weeks in April. Hence, Roger Bernadina’s upstate New York furlough in 2010.
Finally, there’s the fourth-option exception (hey, that rhymes!) that’s likely to become a relic: Teams can petition for a fourth option year if a player has less than five seasons of professional experience. This has mostly been the case with guys added to the 40-man immediately upon being drafted or those who have had significant injuries. Now you know how Ross Detwiler was able to start 2011 at Syracuse.
As I wrote in the previous post, the competition for the 25-man roster is most likely going to be at the fringes of the roster: the 12th man out of the bullpen and last spot or two on the bench. Here’s a look at who’s out of options but still has less than five years MLB service time (another rabbit hole), based on this post from Todd Boss and the work of our intrepid volunteer SpringfieldFan on the BigBoard:
- Roger Bernadina
- Sean Burnett
- Tyler Clippard
- Ross Detwiler
- Tom Gorzelanny
- Michael Morse
- Henry Rodriguez
Sure, I think most of us can pick a name or two here that could potentially not make the 25-man, but is any of them a starter? Now take a look at another subset: Non-prospects not on the 40-man with options:
- Mike Ballard
- Gaby Hernandez
- Waldis Joaquin
- Ryan Perry
Do any of these guys look like they’ll beat out the aforementioned “one or two?” Maybe. But then there’s this list of established players that still can be optioned down:
- Ian Desmond (2)
- Danny Espinosa (3)
- Jesus Flores (1)
- Gio Gonzalez (2)
- John Lannan (1)
- Wilson Ramos (2)
- Drew Storen (2)
- Stephen Strasburg (1)
- Jordan Zimmermann (2)
I think you can see that between these groups GM Mike Rizzo has his coveted “contingencies.” And why most of the non-Harper prospect drama might just be about making noise, not making the roster.
But that’s okay
I’ve been professionally trained to manufacture drama.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not drawn to the destination so much as the journey. Which is good because as the parent club gets better, the draft picks get lower and the prospects become less of a sure thing. A fair knock on the Nationals is that any idiot could have picked Strasburg, Harper, and Rendon [insert Jim Bowden joke here], let’s see how well they do when they’re picking 30th.
Well, it certainly looks like that chance is coming, doesn’t it?