Player Options

In and of themselves, options aren’t a confusing concept. The idea behind them is simple: to keep teams from hording minor league talent, and to provide minor leaguers more of a chance to reach the majors. If a minor league player is placed on a team’s 40-man roster – which must be done to protect that player from being selected in the Rule 5 draft – then they are given three option seasons. This means that if a team sends a minor-league player on their 40-man roster to the minors at any point during a season, they use one of that player’s options. After all three of a player’s options have been used, that minor-leaguer can no longer be freely sent to the minors – they must first be placed on waivers, giving other teams the chance to claim them.

The key word in the above section is “option seasons“. A team can call up and send down a prospect multiple times in the same season, yet they still only use one of that player’s options. In other words, this means that if a player doesn’t stick in the majors three years after being placed on a team’s 40-man roster, they have to either be kept on the 25-man roster or be placed on waivers before going to the minors again.

Those are the basics; here are some caveats and details:

● Players with fewer than five professional seasons will be given a fourth option year. This comes into play mostly with marginal players, as you need to be good enough to get added to a team’s 40-man roster at some point, but not good enough to reach the majors and stick within the next three season. Also, this typically affects players who sign major league contracts right after the draft.

● An option isn’t used if a player is injured all year or they spend less than 20 days in the minors during the course of the season.

● Once a player is sent to the minors, they are must remain there for at least 10 days before being recalled (with the exception of if they need to return due to an injury). This is to prevent teams from bouncing one or two players up and down depending on the day of the week.

Links for Further Reading:

Options – Biz of Baseball

The Quick Rundown of Options – FanGraphs

Death, Taxes, and the Major League Waivers – Baseball Analysts

Understanding Option Years – River Ave. Blues

Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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Monty_DiggstheperfectgameSteve Slowinskitigerdog1 Recent comment authors
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A fourth option could also come into play for a very top prospect who signs a major league contract immediately. In that case, the player is using option years up right off the bat, and if he doesn’t stay in the majors in three seasons, his options would be otherwise used up. Signing a major league contract is a big deal for a draftee because it pushes up the time line for them to play in MLB, and to start their arbitration and free agency clocks up sooner. It could even be a concession from the club in lieu of… Read more »


The 4th option can also come into play with players who get injured or spend a few years in short-season ball. In order to count as a “pro season” toward the 5 a guy needs to be ineligible for a 4th option, the player must have been on an active roster for at least 90 days. All short-season leagues are active for fewer than 90 days. Jenrry Mejia of the Mets is kind of a good example. He was signed in April of 2007, but spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons in the Dominican Summer League, the Gulf Coast League,… Read more »


One thing that I still get mixed up on: Do the options have to occur in consecutive years? And if no, is there a cutoff point for when they expire?

An example: John Smith is drafted in 2012 and added to the 40-man during ST 2014. Is he only eligible to be optioned in ’14, ’15, and ’16? Or if he stays up the entire ’14 season, does the option carry over for possible use in ’17 (or later)?