As one thinks ahead to how the 2006 Cardinals roster (or any roster, for that matter) may ultimately be constructed, the answers to several questions must be understood. They include:
1) Which members of the 40-man roster could be sent down to the minor leagues without being at risk of losing them to another team? (options)
2) If the Cardinals need to make room on their 40-man roster for non-roster players who make the team out of Spring Training, which players can be removed from the 40-man roster without being at risk of losing them to another team? (outrighting)
It goes without saying that this is complicated, but it should become much clearer by the conclusion of this series when we look at the specific situations of all 38 players on the current Cardinals' 40-man roster.
Here in Part One, we'll begin with the first question posed above - options. Tomorrow, we'll finish the options topic and then move on to outrighting for Part Three before we bring it all together in the final installment.
Options – staying on the 40-man
Those players on the 40-man roster, but who do not make the 25-man active roster, must either be placed on the disabled list or are put on "optional assignment".
Once a player is placed on the 40-man roster, such as Brendan Ryan and Travis Hanson this off-season, their clock starts ticking. The team only has three option years for that player to complete their minor league preparation. By the time those three years are exhausted, the player either must be ready to join the 25-man big league roster for good or the team will risk losing the player to another organization.
There is a key point often misunderstood about options. Cardinals Assistant General Manager John Mozeliak explained it to me this way. "The use of options is based on years, not occurrences. What that means is that a player could be sent down and brought back up multiple times during a single season and that would still use up only one option year in the process."
Only twenty days spent in the minors at any time during the season will cause that year's option to be spent.
Rule 5 impact
So, why add players to the 40-man before they are ready, you might ask? The reason is to protect these players from the Rule 5 draft, where a competitor could snatch ones' unprotected prospects away for a relatively small fee and low risk. A player must be added to the 40-man by his fourth year (or in some limited cases, fifth) to avoid Rule 5 qualification.
It is a balancing act that every organization must consider. Start the clock sooner than necessary or risk another team taking the player?
Once in awhile, a player who was not protected on the 40-man is lost via Rule 5, as was Tyler Johnson a year ago December. However, in that case, there was a happy ending for the Cardinals. During 2005 Spring Training, the Oakland A's, seeing that Johnson could not make their major league roster, returned him to St. Louis, where he is now on the 40-man and has all three options remaining.
Options never used
At the other end of the experience spectrum, an interesting phenomenon occurs when a player rises quickly through the minors before reaching the big leagues, then sticks there. Take Albert Pujols for example. He has all three option years remaining – not that they will ever be used. But, they still remain as a reminder of how rapidly his star ascended.
Many other Cardinals front-liners, such as Chris Carpenter, Jason Isringhausen, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen also have remaining options, for what it is worth. It is important to remember that waivers is the only alternative that can be used for passing these players to the minors when more than three years has elapsed since they first came up, even though they still have options remaining.
There is another catch. Once a player has five or more years of experience, his written consent is required before he can be sent to the minors. There are times when a player exercises that right to stay put in the majors. Even if the player agrees to go down, he must still pass through waivers, where another team may claim him.
Tomorrow, in a subscription-required article, we will look at the players with three or fewer years of experience. That should prove to be very interesting and relevant to the choices the Cardinals have in making up their 2006 team.
But, before we go, here is an illustration of MLB's option rules in tabular form.
|Objective: Send player down, keep on 40-man||Options Remaining?|
|Yes, < 3 years since first call-up||Yes, between 3 and 5 years service||Yes, > 5 years service||No|
|Can be optioned at team discretion||Can be optioned at team discretion||Can be optioned with player consent||Cannot remain on 40-man|
|No waivers required||Player must clear waivers to be assigned||Player must clear waivers to be assigned||Player must be outrighted|
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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