What are the options?

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

One of the recurring themes of Spring Training is the concept of player options. Options often play a role in position battles, and it’s an aspect of roster management that creeps up into the headlines more during the next two months than it does the rest of the year.

For those a little fuzzy on this whole concept of options, here’s a brief refresher for you before we dive into how this specifically concerns the Cardinals this spring…

When a player is added onto a team’s 40-man roster, he gets three options. A player uses up an option if he is sent down to the Minors during that year. The team then has the flexibility to move that player between the Minors and Majors all season without exposing him to other teams. Once a player uses all three of his option years (those years do not have to be concurrent), he is considered out of options. That means a team would then have to put the player on waivers — and thereby risk another team taking him — to send him to the Minors.

A few things to remember as you count option years:

  • A player on the 40-man roster does use a roster if he is optioned during Spring Training.
  • If a player does not go the Minors during a season, an option is not used.
  • If a player spends less than 20 days in the Minors during a year, an option is not used.
  •  A player may be eligible for a fourth option if he has been optioned in three seasons but does not yet have five full seasons of professional experience. A full season is defined as being on an active pro roster for at least 90 days in a season.

How does this come into play during Spring Training? Well, you’ll often see options play a role in tight roster decisions. For instance, if player A (who is out of options) and player B (who does have an option left) are fairly even in ability, a team will often start the year with Player A on the Major League club. That’s because Player B can be optioned to the Minors without consequence. That buys the team some time to get a little longer look at Player A.

For the Cardinals this year, options aren’t actually expected to play a significant role in roster decisions. That’s because only two players — Tyler Greene and Skip Schumaker — are out of options. Schumaker is already expected to be on the team, and Greene has been touted as a likely favorite to win the starting second base job. The Cardinals have a sincere interest in letting Greene prove that he can produce at the Major League level.

What will be interesting to watch is what will develop if Greene does not earn the starting job. Since Greene can’t be sent to the Minors without being exposed to other teams on waivers, the Cardinals will likely have to keep him on the roster to serve as a backup infielder. Unless feelings about Greene’s potential change drastically, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals would be ready to lose Greene at this point.

Here is a look at the option status of the rest of the players on the 40-man roster. Keep in mind that option years are inconsequential for players with at least five years of Major League service time because even if that player technically has an option remaining, he cannot be sent to the Minors without his consent.

Out of options: Schumaker, Greene

One option remaining: Bryan Anderson, Mitchell Boggs, Mark Hamilton, Matt Holliday, Kyle Lohse, Shane Robinson, J.C. Romero, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook

Two options remaining: Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Matt Carpenter, Adron Chambers, Maikel Cleto, Zack Cox, Allen Craig, Tony Cruz, Brandon Dickson, David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Pete Kozma, Jason Motte, Adam Ottavino, Adam Reifer, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas

Three options remaining: Carlos Beltran, Daniel Descalso, Chuckie Fick, Samuel Freeman, Rafael Furcal, Erik Komatsu, Lance Lynn, Kyle McClellan, Yadier Molina, Eduardo Sanchez

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB


Thanks for response Jenifer. Greatly appreciated. Zoom Cards.

Thank you so much for this options primer! Much like the rules of craps, I have to have someone reteach it to me every year or so.

Thanks for this!

Do the three options begin anew when a player is traded or signed to a new team, i.e., Beltran from Giants to Cards? Is that why you list him with three options? Thanks

No, you do not get any additional options when you change teams. If an established player (like Beltran) has three options still remaining, it means that he was never sent to the Minors after being placed on the 40-man roster. (Rehab stints do not count.)

As I mentioned above, though, option years really don’t mean anything to a player who has at least five years of service time. After that much time in the Majors, a player can decline being optioned to the Minors even if he has options left.

Do you mean 5 years major league service time?

Could you do an article about how some of these guys spend the off season? Tyler Greene, for instance, has to reduce his strikeouts. did he do anything to help him accomplish this?

You will see plenty of stories like this during Spring Training. I arrive in Jupiter tomorrow night, so look for content to pick up then.


Thanks for the refresher on options. I had asked Leach to do that several times in the past and never got a response. Also, I had sent him a question that he failed to address so I was kind of down on him. Where did he go? Thanks. Steve

Matthew is still with MLB.com but now in a national role. He will be writing analysis pieces for the site.

What does it mean when a player has been out-righted to the minors?

Outright is just a fancy baseball term that means sent down. Just a word that has made its way into the baseball lexicon.

Thanks for the prompt reply!

Explain how Zach Cox only has 2 options. Thx.

He used his first option during the 2011 season because he was on the 40-man roster but spent the year in the Minors. Cox signed a Major League contract when he was drafted in 2010, which is why he was immediately put on the 40-man roster.

Can the Cards use any of Komatsu’s 3 options? I thought he had to stay on the 25 man or be offered back to the Natinals. Does this mean that if he is offered back, rejected and then bought by the Cards that he has 3 options?

To try to explain it in as simple terms as possible, the Rule 5 status of Komatsu overrides his option status. In other words, the Cardinals can’t take advantage of those options this year because Komatsu is a Rule 5 player. He must stay on the club’s 25-man roster all year to be retained by the Cardinals. Now, if Komatsu sticks in 2012, he can be optioned to the Minors by the Cardinals in the future. That’s when the options would come into play.

Now, if Komatsu goes back to the Nationals at any point this season, Washington does have the ability to use one of these options and send him to the Minors.

Thanks for the clarification.

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I will tell you what I like Jenifer ! You respond to peoples questions, unlike your predecessor who just wrote an article and ignored everything else.

You seem to pick good topics and inform fans of what is going on !

This was an interesting read, good for you and keep it up ! To be honest glad your aboard and someone else is gone !

Amen…agree w/ johnvideo remarks. although a fan of 45+ years, it has only
been the last several that I’ve wondered about the anatomical dissection of
this business. Jenifer – you’re doing a superb job !!!

Why even list or keep track of option years for players with more than five years of major league service?

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