Normally at this time of year, overly-simplistic analysis of spring roster battles affecting the St. Louis Cardinals just consider the players' performance on the field. In reality, while that is important, it is not the entire story.
Those with a better understanding of baseball rules also take into account which players have minor league options remaining. In other words, it is important to understand which players can be sent down without risk of losing them to another organization.
|Robinson: one option remaining|
The difference is between the 40-man roster - which includes all players immediately eligible to be part of the active 25-man roster – and the active 25-man roster itself.
The good news is that the 2013 Cardinals currently have complete roster flexibility. Any eligible 40-man player could be sent down during spring training or throughout the season if the organization chose.
In fact, the only players from last year's club to have exhausted their three allowable years of minor league options are no longer in the organization. They are Bryan Anderson and Tyler Greene.
Skip Schumaker was technically also in that category, but as a player with over five years of service time, he could not be sent to the minors without his consent, anyway. Newer additions in that same status are Randy Choate, Edward Mujica and Ronny Cedeno.
Of the 39 players on the Cardinals' active 40-man roster (plus Chris Carpenter), 29 of them have less than five years of major league service and so are relevant to the options discussion. A year of service equals 172 days, so the table below indicates the years.days accrued by each player through the end of the 2012 season.
In the table, the 29 are organized by the number of minor league option years they have remaining – one, two or three (OR = option years remaining). The pitchers are on the left and the position players are listed on the right. Within the option years, they are ordered by service time, from least to most.
Typically, an option year is used once a player spends at least 20 days in the minors in one or multiple stints during a single season. In certain exception cases, a player may also receive a fourth option year.
Last option year
|2013: Cleto's last chance to impress?|
The six players with only one option year remaining are most on the bubble in terms of establishing themselves as firm major leaguers. Of the six, only Mitchell Boggs' future seems firm.
Pete Kozma and Shane Robinson may be the next best-positioned among the group. If Adron Chambers makes it, Robinson probably won't and vice-versa. Relievers Maikel Cleto and Victor Marte face a clogged bullpen, but may get another chance during the season as others are injured.
The five (sans Boggs) have this season plus next spring as their final opportunities to make their moves – either up or out.
These players understand the situation very well. In fact, first Chambers commented on it during his remarks at Winter Warm-Up, then general manager John Mozeliak responded.
Two option years remaining
The two-year option remaining players are primarily a group that will probably never return to the minor leagues - unless perhaps via an injury rehab assignment later on. (And those stints do not count against options.)
Of this segment of 13 players, only pitchers Trevor Rosenthal, Sam Freeman and Eduardo Sanchez plus first baseman Matt Adams have any reasonable potential to ever end up back in Memphis.
Three option years remaining
We shouldn't spend any time worrying about the three-year option remaining group. It is dominated by pitchers recently added to the 40-man roster, with half of the population of ten having yet to appear in a single game for St. Louis.
Worst case, the organization will have until the start of the 2016 season to decide what to do with these players. Or perhaps more accurately, the players may have that much time to state their cases.
One interesting name in this group is Lance Lynn. Despite over a season and a half of accrued time in the majors, the right-hander has never used a minor league option. He may never. In other words, chances are that Lynn will be in the bigs for good.
As a point of interest only, other long-time veterans on the major league roster to have never used an option include Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal and Yadier Molina.
In closing, service time has its greatest relevancy in the context of compensation and free agency. Specifically, it matters for eligibility - first for arbitration and later, to sign with any team as a free agent. More on that subject in future articles.
To see the Cardinals entire 40-man roster and 17 non-roster spring training invitees, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.
As I know the topics of options, outrighting, service time, arbitration and the like can be confusing, feel free to post questions and join in the discussion at The Cardinal Nation's insiders message board. This forum is exclusively for subscribers, so please take advantage.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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Which eligible St. Louis Cardinals could be sent down to the minor leagues and why? We have all the details.
Which eligible Cardinals could be sent down to the minor leagues and why? We have all the details.