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Article: Finer Points: Options, part two (The Fourth Option)

fourth option jorge polanco max kepler fernando romero miguel sano
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#1 Jeremy Nygaard

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Posted 01 May 2019 - 07:00 PM

Last week, we took an in-depth look at how options in baseball work. It's an incredibly mundane series of rules and explanations with plenty of technicalities.

Yet, there is one part of the usage of the rule that is far less understood, even inside of baseball itself: The Fourth Option.You've been led all along your whole life to believe to that there were only three options available to be used on players. And, yet, here we are, after all of these years, telling you it isn't entirely true.

On my power ranking of lists of things that aren't true and how it changes your lives, the Belief in Only Three Options ranks only behind Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, slightly edging out the Tooth Fairy.

So without further ado...

A FOURTH OPTION YEAR?
How in the world...?

Let’s figure that out. When a player signs, a clock starts. That clock is running toward a time when players must be added to the 40-man or risk exposure to the Rule 5 draft. But another clock starts, too, and that one is only counting “professional years.” Though it seems simple, it’s not as simple as it sounds. You need 90 days on an active roster to achieve that year. Suspensions, long-term injuries and *interesting* promotions can leave a player just shy in terms of accumulating a full professional season.

To add another layer to the minutiae: This clock only matters if you are out of options before your fifth full professional season, which is why it’s such a rare occurrence.

Kennys Vargas is the last Twin to be optioned in four seasons. After having his contract purchased in November of 2013, he spent parts or all of 2014, 2015 and 2016 on optional assignment. But, BOOM! 2017 rolls around and he’s optioned again… for the fourth time. How come? Well, two years in rookie ball (where seasons don’t last 90 days) and a suspension will do that. His first full accredited service year was 2013. His next three - 2014 through 2016 - left him out of options before his fifth full season; therefore, one more option year.

Typically, the tell-tale sign for me is if a player is added to the 40-man roster after his first full season in low-A ball. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a decent indicator.

Let’s take Jorge Polanco, for example. Purchased along with Kennys Vargas in November of 2013 after a full season of (and first exposure to) low-A ball. (Sorry, “purchasing” is the act of adding a player to the 40-man roster.) Polanco then spent 2014, 2015 and 2016 on optional assignments. He would follow the exact same path as Vargas, right? Right?! Wrong.

It’s all worked out OK for Polanco since going on a second-half tear in 2017. But in the first half of the season he struggled and the Twins couldn’t send him down… thanks to a careless error they made in the July of 2010(!).

In Polanco’s first try at pro ball, he was sent to the Dominican Summer League, a league that starts and ends earlier than rookie domestic leagues (but is still less than 90 days). In early July, however, Polanco was promoted to the GCL. Kudos to the Twins for getting Polanco (and Miguel Sano) additional at-bats… but BOOO the Twins for having Polanco (and Sano) active for 92 days that season. That promotion gave Polanco five seasons under his belt coming into 2017… and he was out of options.

I know what you’re thinking… “Are you telling me the Twins screwed up and cost Miguel Sano a fourth option year!?” Not at all. First, Sano went two years (2016 and 2017) without being optioned, so there was no way he could qualify for a fourth regardless. Plus, he was signed after the conclusion of the minor league season in 2009, so his need to be added to the 40-man roster was a year later than Polanco, Vargas, and (next) Max Kepler, which put him on a different timeline completely.

So what about Max Kepler? Also purchased with Polanco and Vargas, Kepler spent all of 2014 on optional assignment. His second option year, 2015, ended with a September cameo. He started 2016, his third option year, in Rochester before being recalled. He never returned to the minors. But could he have in 2017? Sure. He was out of options and within his first five professional season. In fact, if the Twins needed to, they may have been able to option him in 2018 as well. Why? Kepler missed much of 2013 with an elbow injury and failed to be active for the required 90 days. That means his first full professional season was 2014 and coming into last season he would have been, again, out of options and within his first five professional seasons.

In the fall of 2013, before Kepler really exploded, many questioned why the Twins would add him to the 40-man roster, citing, correctly, that there was no way he’d be able to play in MLB and his development would be ruined. While a fair point, he would have been taken and stashed, because even at that time, you could figure out he’d get that fourth option. Call it a redshirt year… or whatever you’d like. He needed to be added. It was the same reason I believed the Twins should have added Johan Quezada to their 40-man roster last November (and, since they didn’t, should next November): the possibility of another option year (and really, another year of team control).

As touched on last week, Fernando Romero is in line for a fourth option in 2020, if the need arises. As 2016 was his first professional season and he was added to the 40-man that off-season, Romero ran through three options (2017, 2018 and 2019) in his first four seasons. That allows him to be sent on optional assignment next season.

Injuries (and, oh boy, do I have a humdinger for you a little later) are the most likely reason to trigger the elusive fourth options - former Twins prospects Randy Rosario and J.T. Chargois were heading down the road to eligibility before they left the organization (and I stopped keeping track) - but there is one other very possible scenario: The nearly-ready-for-the-MLB-draft-pick.

In the linked last week and again here, Brock Stewart of the Dodgers thought he was out of options. (The story does a good job with accuracy; however, it misinforms readers that you get three options “once [you] reach the major leagues” when, in fact, for most, your first option comes before you sniff a major league baseball game.Though in Stewart’s case, he did reach the majors first.)

As it turns out, Stewart spent his 2014 draft season (less than 90 days) pitching in rookie ball. His first full season was split between A-level clubs and he was “called up” (or “purchased”) during the 2016 season. He was also optioned in 2016. And then 2017 and 2018. Three options, four professional season. Have fun on that AAA/MLB Shuttle again this year, Brock!

So, you ready for the humdinger? Let’s talk briefly about Alex Kirilloff. What if he comes back, rakes like we expect him to and, due to an injury, the Twins need another outfielder? Should he be considered? The correct answer is absolutely. For one, he’s such a good hitter, he shouldn’t need three option years to begin with. But, more importantly, even if he did, he’d qualify for the fourth option. Last year was his first full professional season due to a missing a year with an elbow injury. If he’s added a year from now, he wouldn’t be afforded that luxury. So, really, it wouldn’t make sense to not add him if you think he’s ready. (Service time manipulators notwithstanding.)

If you have more questions about options, please ask. Until then, put the following into your baseball vernacular. (If you have leave a question about an upcoming topic, I’ll weave the answer into that particular story.)

GLOSSARY

“Option” is the act of sending a player on the 40-man roster to the minor leagues.
“Recall” is the act of bringing a 40-man player from the minor league to the major leagues.
“Calling up” is the act of adding a non-40-man player to the 25-man roster.
“Purchasing (the contract)” is the act of adding a non-40-man player to the 40-man roster… and can also be used when adding to the 25-man roster.

“Optional assignment” is a yearly thing. You could be optioned/recalled an unlimited number of times each year.

Once you’re optioned, you cannot be recalled for 10 days (unless you’re replacing someone on the injured list).

You have to spend 20 days on optional assignment for it to count. If you spend less, the option does not count and you receive service time for the days you were “on option.”

Players qualify for a fourth option if they have used up their three options, but don’t have five years of professional service. (A “year” is considered 90 days on an active roster.)

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#2 3balls2strikes

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 01:22 AM

Well done. Not the type of info most sports fans want to wade through, but I liked it. 

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#3 hybridbear

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 06:39 AM

Great job! This is the kind of info I come to TD for!


#4 TNTwinsFan

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 06:57 AM

Bring Kirilloff up after the All-Star Break!!!

#5 Jeremy Nygaard

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 06:57 AM

Thanks guys!


#6 ashbury

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 07:19 AM

Is Kirilloff eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December? If not, then that's a good reason to not add him to the 40-man roster, unless you feel absolutely certain he is ready to face major league pitching. The extra option year you "gain" is just a wash, compared to just not starting the options clock yet, if you think in terms of his 2022 or 2023 or 2024 seasons - the ability or inability to option him will be the same in those seasons either way.

 

I guess we're all assuming he's a lock to be major-league ready, which colors our thinking on this.

 

But angling for an extra option year is letting the tail wag the dog, isn't it? 40-man slots are precious. You don't use one merely to give a promising kid a speculative look-see, because then you can't easily remove him in favor of someone else.

We laugh at gypsies, fortune tellers, and horoscopes, yet we trust baseball prospect lists.


#7 Jeremy Nygaard

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 07:46 AM

 

Is Kirilloff eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December? If not, then that's a good reason to not add him to the 40-man roster, unless you feel absolutely certain he is ready to face major league pitching. The extra option year you "gain" is just a wash, compared to just not starting the options clock yet, if you think in terms of his 2022 or 2023 or 2024 seasons - the ability or inability to option him will be the same in those seasons either way.

 

I guess we're all assuming he's a lock to be major-league ready, which colors our thinking on this.

 

But angling for an extra option year is letting the tail wag the dog, isn't it? 40-man slots are precious. You don't use one merely to give a promising kid a speculative look-see, because then you can't easily remove him in favor of someone else.

 

He doesn't have to be added until November 2020, so there's plenty of reasons to argue against adding him before that.

 

This is just one reason why adding him this season - if you think he's absolutely going to debut next season - isn't completely counterintuitive.

 

The concern about room on the 40-man is a real thing though... the names to be added this offseason is not short. (It's basically everyone the team acquired through trade last summer plus guys like Graterol, Jax and more.)

 

If I had to bet on it, I think the Twins turn a decent amount of these guys into a controllable starter in July. With the rotation consisting of three pending free agents, adding someone like Marcus Stroman or Luis Castillo (purely speculative) would make a lot of sense. Castillo would cost a ton, but if the Reds felt like moving him, the Twins have the assets to easily make it happen (and probably do it without moving the big three).


#8 ashbury

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 07:53 AM

If I had to bet on it, I think the Twins turn a decent amount of these guys into a controllable starter in July.

Gotta find a team thirsting for lots of players needing 40-man space. :)

 

And yeah, a rebuilding team might fit that description to a tee.

We laugh at gypsies, fortune tellers, and horoscopes, yet we trust baseball prospect lists.


#9 Jeremy Nygaard

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Posted 02 May 2019 - 08:14 AM

 

Gotta find a team thirsting for lots of players needing 40-man space. :)

 

And yeah, a rebuilding team might fit that description to a tee.

 

Someone could probably write a full-length article on this... but the decisions the Twins made last July through this spring training put them in a great position.

 

1) From the easy to say perspective: They have the best record in the AL.

 

2) If they weren't competitive, they have a whole bunch of guys they can move - Odorizzi, Gibson, Pineda, Schoop, Castro, Cruz - without touching their young core. They still have very few dollars committed to next year (less than $20 million).

 

3) If they wanted to go full rebuild (which I can't see happening even if they lose every game from now til July), they could move those expiring deals and super valuable guys while still having top prospects to replace them. (I don't see it going this way, but a future outfield/1B group of Kepler, Kirilloff, Raley, Rooker, Larnach would play. A future infield of Polanco, Lewis, Arraez, Javier would play. And there are pitching prospects. Plus, you move DUDES... and that adds DUDES.)

 

Not all of these three outcomes look the same in 2020 and 2021... but all of these outcomes could produce multiple playoff teams.




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