Ranking right up there with the balk rule, one of the least understood rules in baseball are those pertaining to player options. Each year the option rules determine the fate of many players. This year, several Mets players are out of options and may have a leg up making the major league team out of Spring Training. These include Manny Acosta, Pat Misch and Nick Evans.
In Major League Baseball, Rule 11 spells out how clubs are limited in how often they can send players back and forth to the minors. In a side note – in MLB Rules are designated with numbers, while Articles are designated with Roman Numerals. That’s why it is the Rule 5 Draft, not the Rule V Draft.
Here is a primer on Rule 11:
In general, a team may only keep a player in the minor leagues for three seasons after that player is added to the team’s 40-man roster. Each of those years is considered an “option year” or an “optional assignment.” Thus, in other words, a player is said to have three “options” or “option years.”
• Prior to being placed on a team’s 40-man roster, a player is not considered to be on optional assignment, but simply under minor league contract.
• Generally, once a player is added to the 40-man roster, that player must either be: (1) added to the active 25-man roster for the major league team; (2) placed on an inactive list; or (3) on an optional assignment to the minors. If a player is added to the 40-man roster during the off-season, the team has until the first game of the upcoming season to decide whether the player will be optioned.
• Once the player has spent twenty consecutive days on optional assignment, that player’s “option year” burns. However, it is important to note that during an option year, the player is free to move up and down between the major leagues and the minor leagues, while only burning one “option” for that season, regardless of the number of times that the player moves up and down from the minors to the majors.
This is a good rule for players, as it helps them from being stuck with a club that will not give them a shot at a major league job. The tricky thing is to determine when a player was added to the club’s 40-man roster. Clubs can put players on the 40-man roster whenever they want. However, all players in the majors must be on the 40-man and those in the minors have to be on the 40-man once they reach a certain level of service time.
Players who were 18 or younger on the June 5th preceding the signing of their first pro contract must be added after five minor league seasons. Players who were 19 or older must be added after four minor league seasons.
So, Nick Evans was 18 when he was drafted and signed in 2004. By rule, he had to be added to the 40-man roster following the 2008 season. But the Mets called him up to the majors in May of 2008, so he was added to the 40-man roster during the 2008 season. Evans played with the Mets through June 3rd and then was sent back to the minors. He spent more than 20 days in the minors, thus using one of his option years.
He was optioned again in 2009 and 2010. So there were his three options used. Now, Evans has to be on the major league roster or pass through waivers before he can be sent to the minors. In the past, Evans has perhaps gotten a raw deal from the Mets and now the option rules prevent them from doing this to him any longer.
The fact that Evans is out of options, combined with the fact that he can play first base and both outfield corners (and could at least stand at third base in the event of a crisis) gives him an advantage in making the Mets’ Opening Day roster.