The Royals began spring training with more roster spots up for grabs than the past few seasons. As players jockey for a spot on that 25-man roster that will begin the season on March 29, you may hear that some players have “options” remaining, or that some are “out of options.” What does that mean, and which Royals are in those situations?
In addition to the 25-man active roster, there is a 40-man roster made up of active players and reserve players. A player must be added to the 40-man roster to be on the active roster, but he may also be added to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, if he is eligible. For a player on the 40-man roster to be assigned to the minor leagues, he must be “optioned”.
Players have three years in which they can be optioned (sometimes they can get an additional fourth year due to injury). They can be optioned down to the minors as many times as the team wants if they have an option year. Players only use their option year if they are sent to the minors for at least 20 days. If a player no longer has any option years, the team must designate him for assignment and subject him to waivers, allowing all 29 other teams a chance to claim him, before they can assign him to the minors.
So teams generally like to keep players without options on the Major League roster to avoid risking losing that player to waivers. Players with five years of service time can no longer be optioned to the minors without their consent. With that in mind, let’s look at the players out of options, and evaluate how that impacts their chances of making the roster.
Cheslor Cuthbert ran out of options last year, which is why he had to spend the entire season as Mike Mosutakas’ caddy. He will be the starting third baseman this year, and Ned Yost says he wants to get him 500 at-bats this year.
Brian Flynn is one of those players that received a rare fourth option year in 2017 due to his injuries. However he is out of options this year, which may keep him on the Major League roster, at least initially. He is 27 and pitched just 52 innings last year, struggling in AAA. He provides some value as a lefty who can fill any role - starter, long reliever, lefty specialist. But at his age and with his injury history, he may be the kind of player the Royals can risk slipping through waivers.
Jesse Hahn was probably dealt by Oakland in part because he is out of options and did not have a role with the Athletics anymore. He has some decent upside if healthy and should be a pretty good lock to make the roster. He is probably on the outside looking in for a rotation spot, but could begin the year in the bullpen as a long reliever, ready to step in as a starter if needed.
Wily Peralta was signed to a one-year deal that guarantees him $1.75 million, so even if he is out of options, it seems unlikely a team would claim him if the Royals tried to send him to the minors.
Jorge Soler appeared in just 35 big league games last year due to injuries and a line of .144/.245/.258 in the big leagues. He will have to stay up in the big leagues all year in 2018, giving the Royals a long look at him.
Others: Players like Billy Burns, Tyler Collins, Terrance Gore, and Ryan Goins are out of options, but they are not currently on the 40-man roster so they can be assigned to Omaha to begin the year. However, if they are called up, they would have to clear waivers to be sent back to Omaha.
Notable players with options: Despite being 32 years old, Paulo Orlando can still be optioned to Omaha, although he is still in the running to be the Opening Day centerfielder. Jorge Bonifacio nearly burned his last option year in 2017, but spent less than 20 days in the minors, so he still has an option year this year (h/t kcstengel). Bubba Starling is in his last option year, and seems likely to at least begin the year in Omaha. Whit Merrifield still has options remaining, but don’t expect the fan favorite to be sent down unless his hitting suddenly turns into a disaster. Brandon Maurer struggled mightily last year and could be sent down one more time, although the Royals may decide to save some money and release him before the end of spring training, which would obligate them to pay just one-quarter of his $2.95 million salary. Sam Gaviglio was claimed off waivers by the Royals, and could start in Omaha this year.