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What are “options” and which Royals are out of ‘em?

Its good to have options.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are evaluating players and formulating their 25-man roster to begin the year. This time of year, you frequently hear the term "options" in regard to players. What exactly are options?

"Options" is short for "optional assignments" under MLB Rule 11(C). The 40-man roster is the Major League active and reserve roster. Players on the 40-man roster may be assigned to a minor league roster for three seasons. To be assigned to the minor leagues, players that have reached the three-season limit must clear waivers, giving each team a chance to claim the player and put him on their 40-man roster. That team will have to go through the same process if they wish to assign the player to the minors.

If a player is assigned to the minors for less than 20 days, it does not count as an option year. This applies to Royals outfielder Billy Burns, who came in just under that threshold last year, thus he did not use an option year in 2016. Players can be sent to the minors several times in one season, but it will still count as one option season.

Why would a player be placed on the 40-man roster if he is not ready to be in the big leagues full-time yet? Teams may call players up for a "cup of coffee" in September. They may need a spot start or someone to fill in for an injury. Or they may need to put the player on the 40-man roster to protect them in the Rule 5 draft. Once the player has been placed on the 40-man roster and is assigned to the minors, his option years begin. If a player is not on the 40-man roster, he can be assigned to the minors as many seasons as the club wishes. But he cannot be on the active MLB roster without being on the 40-man roster.

Players with five or more years of service time cannot be optioned at all, even if they have not used their three option years. Royals players on the 40-man roster with five or more years of service time are Drew Butera, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Jason Hammel, Eric Hosmer, Ian Kennedy, Mike Moustakas, Brandon Moss, Joakim Soria, Jason Vargas, Chris Young.

Shaun Newkirk developed this useful chart to illustrate who has option years remaining for the other Royals on the 40-man roster. Players with options remaining can be sent to the minors without any exposure to waivers.

Player Options Left First Option Year Second Option Year Third Option Year
Christian Colón 0 2014 2015 2016
Cheslor Cuthbert 0 2014 2015 2016
Brian Flynn 1 2014 2015 2016
Miguel Almonte 1 2016 2017
Billy Burns 1 2014 2015
Jorge Bonifacio 1 2015 2016
Terrence Gore 1 2015 2016
Nate Karns 1 2013 2014
Jorge Soler 1 2013 2014
Scott Alexander 2 2016
Kelvin Herrera 2 2013
Samir Duenez 2 2017
Jake Junis 2 2017
Kevin McCarthy 2 2017
Whit Merrifield 2 2016
Raúl Mondesí 2 2016
Peter O'Brien 2 2016
Paulo Orlando 2 2015
Matt Strahm 2 2016
Bubba Starling 2 2016
Ramón Torres 2 2016
Hunter Dozier 3
Cam Gallagher 3
Andrew Edwards 3
Zach Lovvorn 3

Brian Flynn has used his three option years, but, according to reporter Jeffrey Flanagan, has a rare fourth-year option that is sometimes credited to players that have spent a lot of their option year on the disabled list. Flynn missed much of the 2015 season with a lat injury. He also injured himself just before spring training when he broke his ribs falling through the roof of his barn, and will likely miss the first month of the season.

Like Burns, Terrence Gore was optioned down in 2014 but did not burn an option year that season because he was optioned down just just a week, as part of a transaction to make him eligible for post-season play. The Royals may have a very interesting decision to make with him next year as they may not necessarily be able to stash him in the minor leagues.

Jorge Soler has an option year remaining. He was sent down a few times the last two seasons, but for rehab assignments. He has struggled this spring, but should still make the roster. However if he struggles this year, a trip to Omaha could be a possibility. Newly acquired Nate Karns also has options remaining should the Royals want him to get more seasoning.

A few players - Miguel Almonte, Samir Duenez, Jake Junis and Kevin McCarthy - have already been assigned to minor league camp and have used their first option year. Most likely all the other players currently with three option years will be sent to minor league camp and burn their first option year.

Let's take a look at who is out of options.

Cheslor Cuthbert

Cuthbert had to be placed on the 40-man roster at a young age because he signed at such a young age out of Nicaragua. The 24-year old showed some encouraging signs at the Major League level this year, but with Mike Moustakas returning, Cuthbert seems left without a position. The Royals have tried him out at second base this year, with some encouraging results, but it seems unlikely he will play there on a regular basis. A trade may be in the works for Cuthbert, otherwise he may be stuck on the Royals bench for much of the year, as it is very unlikely he could slip through waivers and be assigned to Omaha.

Christian Colón

Colón has been a post-season hero, but his regular season results have been mixed, at best. He had a down year offensively last season, and overall is a .268/.328/.338 hitter in 329 Major League plate appearances. The Royals seem to be concerned about his defense at second base, and he has a complete lack of power. Still, he has the ability to draw a walk and the pedigree of a #4 overall pick in the draft. As a 27-year old utility infielder with an unimpressive batting line, it wouldn't be totally out of the question to think Colón couldn't pass through waivers unclaimed. However, it seems unlikely the Royals would take that risk, and I would expect Colón to be on the Opening Day roster as a reserve, or perhaps even the starter at second base.