It’s good to have options, whether you’re Tim Tebow deciding to run or throw, or you’re a normal person at the grocery store choosing between Coke and Pepsi. In baseball, options have a more urgent meaning. If a player is out of options, his team has to either keep him on the Major League roster all year or risk losing him.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, seven Twins players with less than five years of Big League experience are out of options: Alexi Casilla, Jeff Gray, Luke Hughes, Matt Maloney, Glen Perkins, Trevor Plouffe, and Anthony Swarzak.
Before discussing each of these players in more detail, it’s worthwhile to take a minute to explain what we mean by “options.” It’s the kind of baseball jargon that can make a casual fan’s eyes glaze over, and to be honest, even quite a few students of the game aren’t 100% sure how this concept works. When a player is added to the 40 man roster, which usually happens when he’s at the AA or AAA level if he’s a promising prospect, he receives three options. If he plays all year for the Big League club, he keeps all three options. But if the team assigns him to a minor league team for more than 20 days, that uses up one option. The good news is, that one option covers the whole season. So even if the Twins call up Brian Dozier and send him down 10 times this year, that will only eat up one of Dozier’s options.
But if they send him to the minors three seasons in a row, he’ll be out of options. That means if the Twins want to demote him to the minor leagues, they have to place him on waivers first. And that’s bad because it gives the 29 other teams a chance to steal him from the Twins. This often forces a team to keep players on their roster who aren’t quite Major League ready because they don’t want to lose them for the future.
By the way, we’re not talking about contract options. So when you hear talk about the Twins picking up Scott Baker’s option for the 2013 season, that’s not the same thing. In that case, the team has a choice (written into Baker’s contract) to keep him for an extra season or let him become a free agent.
Now let’s get back to the out of options players.
Options probably aren’t an issue for Casilla. He is far from perfect as a middle infielder, but there would be little benefit from sending him down to AAA anyway. If healthy, he’ll almost certainly have a starting job at second base or shortstop. The only way he’d spend time in the minors would be if he gets hurt and needs a rehab assignment, and rehab assignments do not use up options.
The Twins claimed Gray off waivers from the Mariners last Halloween. Just a few months earlier, the M’s had claimed Gray from the White Sox. Thus, this journeyman reliever is no stranger to the waiver wire. He’s 30 years old, and he hasn’t yet put up any impressive number in the Majors, but the Twins obviously think he has some potential. Unfortunately, the Twins bullpen is overcrowded this spring, so there’s a good chance he’ll end up on waivers again.
Hughes might be the toughest decision of any of the out of options players. He showed some power last year (on the 2011 Twins, seven home runs actually counted as “power”), but he hit a meager .223 with a .289 OBP. The good news is that he’s versatile enough to play first base, second base, and third base, which makes him a good backup candidate. His out of options status may give him an edge in the battle with Tsuyoshi Nishioka for the utility infielder job – the Twins will have more incentive to keep Hughes on the roster so they don’t lose him.
The left-hander, claimed by the Twins the same day as Gray, looks like a typical AAAA player who dominates AAA, but has trouble duplicating his success in the Majors. Over the last three seasons at AAA with the Reds, Maloney has gone 26-17 with a 3.17 ERA. But in 22 career MLB games, he has an ugly 5.40 ERA, including a 9.16 mark last season. Like Gray, he’ll have to fight hard for a bullpen slot. The sheer number of pitchers in camp indicates he’ll probably be waived again.
Like Casilla, there is essentially zero chance the Twins will try to send Perkins to the minors. His breakout 2011 season cemented his place with the team.
A few months ago it looked like Plouffe and Hughes would engage in an out of options player duel for the backup infield spot, but then the Twins announced that Plouffe would move to the outfield. So far, there’s limited evidence that his fielding there is any better than it was in the infield, but Plouffe can hit left-handed pitching, a major plus on a team whose lineup is stacked with lefty hitters. His biggest competition will now be Darin Mastroianni, claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays earlier this month.
If you’re like me, and you’ve spent the offseason thinking up more reasons to complain about the Jason Marquis signing, you can add this to your list. Swarzak, whose pitching style is not much different from Marquis or Nick Blackburn, showed last season that he deserves to compete for a slot at the back end of the rotation. Instead, with Marquis virtually guaranteed a job, Swarzak will have to fight for a long relief slot or hit the waiver wire.