We are inside a month until pitchers and catchers report and we can officially start to look forward to the 2020 season. (I mean, you could have before, too. You wouldn’t have gotten arrested or anything.) Spring training is always, if we’re being honest, an overrated point on the calendar. The representation of baseball being back is great and watching even meaningless games on a weekday afternoon is neat, but the actual events that take place don’t really matter for our purposes. It’s obviously important for the players, but we tend to overrate the performance and position battles and things like that, largely because we are so starved to analyze some baseball. I can guarantee I will fall into this trap in early March once again. It’s human nature.
All of that being said, one part of spring that is interesting is tracking the guys who are out of options, particularly the ones who are on the fringe of the roster. On the one hand, they always have the upper hand in any race for a roster spot as keeping them around ensures the team to keep as much depth on hand to start the year as possible. On the other hand, a poor performance puts them that much closer to being in limbo.
Before we get into the specific players, a quick primer on minor-league options for those unfamiliar. Once a player is placed on the 40-man roster, he can only be sent down (or optioned) to the minors in three seasons. Each option is good for an entire season. If he is down for fewer than 20 days, the option is not burned. If a player is out of options, they cannot be optioned and therefore must be placed on waivers before they can be sent down to the minors. Players with more than five years of service time cannot be optioned without their consent regardless of how many options they may have had remaining. Also, players can be eligible for a fourth option in some circumstances, which I am not going to get into here.
Generally, that last part doesn’t really matter as the players with five years of service time are rarely in danger of being optioned. If for whatever reason that is not the case, if they don’t accept their option they must either be kept in the majors or released. The following players fall into that category:
- Mookie Betts
- Xander Bogaerts
- J.D. Martinez
- Jackie Bradley Jr.
- Christian Vázquez
- Chris Sale
- David Price
- Nathan Eovaldi
- Martín Pérez
- Brandon Workman
- Dustin Pedroia
Now, on to the main event. Let’s go through the players who are out of options. I am including anyone in the minors who is out of options as well, but they can be sent back down after spring training since they are not on the 40-man roster. If they are called up after that, they must be placed on waivers to get back down to the minors. For the players on the 40-man roster, they either need to make the roster out of camp or be exposed to waivers right before Opening Day.
We start with a minor leaguer who will get an invitation to spring training. This one is actually one of the least complicated on this list. Bandy is not going to make the major-league roster unless there is an injury. The interesting part of Bandy’s role here is if someone gets injured. Bandy has the major-league experience, but if it’s a short-term injury and Bandy has a solid spring, they may opt to call up someone like Austin Rei or Jhon Nuñez instead, as they can be optioned down. They may not want to risk putting Bandy on waivers for a short-term replacement gig.
Generally speaking, the most interesting battles involving players without options is often at the end of the reliever depth chart, which is exactly where Brice finds himself. The recent acquisition has some interesting qualities — he’s a spin rate guy who could use his curveball to try and take a leap a la Brandon Workman (though not to that extent). That said, he’s in a big group with guys like Heath Hembree, Colten Brewer, Travis Lakins, Chris Mazza, Ryan Brasier, Josh Osich, Jeffrey Springs and Travis Hildenberger. If everyone stays healthy ahead of them (big if, of course), that big group is fighting for three spots.
Hembree is in that group above. I do think he probably has the leg up in that competition. For one thing, he is out of options, which as I said above always helps. Additionally, he has shown success at the major-league level and has done it with this organization. I think he’d have to have a pretty terrible spring to be in danger here.
Johnson was taken off the 40-man roster this winter, but given what the rotation depth looks like right now he could be back on it sooner than later. As was the case with Bandy, if Johnson is promoted at some point this year — whether it be out of camp or later in the year — he would need to be placed back on waivers to be sent back down. Plus, since he’s already been outrighted, he could refuse an assignment and become a free agent.
Kickham, like Bandy, was a minor-league signing who got an invitation to spring training. He probably doesn’t factor in much for the Opening Day roster given that large competition above, but if he shines in Pawtucket he could be a potential call-up later in the year.
I think Lin is the most interesting name on this list. With Marco Hernández off the 40-man things are a little less complicated, but Lin didn’t hit at all last year and seemingly fell down the organizational depth chart. With Jonathan Arauz trying to stick on the active roster after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, C.J. Chatham looking to make a name for himself in camp and Hernández potentially being back if he clears waivers, it’s a crowded infield picture for Lin to compete with. That he can play outfield as well certainly plays in his favor.
Plawecki, honestly, doesn’t really factor in here. He’s going to stick on the roster. If he plays poorly enough that it comes into question — and given the lack of high-minors catching depth it would have to be pretty poor — they wouldn’t have a problem just releasing him, never mind putting him on waivers.
Weber isn’t too far behind Lin in terms of being interesting. I mentioned the lack of rotation depth when I talked about Johnson, and Weber is in that group. However, if there isn’t an injury to the main five would they carry him in the bullpen and bump out someone from that big group of relievers I mentioned above? I find it hard to believe!