Over the upcoming month, we will watch game telecasts, listen to others on the radio or internet, catch highlight shows and of course, read newspapers and websites in an attempt to single out who is playing well and who might be at risk.
While logic tells us that the best 25 players by position, regardless of salary, age or any other considerations should be the ones to head north, that isn't always the case. There is another important set of off-the-field factors to consider.
Specifically, I am referring to the option status of the players. In other words, which ones can be sent down to the minor leagues this season without the risk of losing them?
Several springs ago, I ran a four-part series in which the primary rules and uses of options and outrighting (removing a player from the 40-man roster) were reviewed. Rather than recreate that background information here, the links to those articles are provided for your reference:
Following are the seven players with no options remaining, split between the three former Cardinals draft picks and the four veterans having arrived from other organizations. (Note that service time is measured in years.days, where 172 days is a full season.)
No options-remaining players, St. Louis Cardinals
|Out of options||Service||Last opt used|
Normally, there are a number of these problem cases in camp, where players on the bubble are out of options, but that is not the case this spring.
The final six would have to be considered locks to make the season-opening 25-man roster if healthy. Only the first, Blake Hawksworth, who had a fine 2009 debut season, might be considered to be somewhat at risk. Knowing he would have to be passed through waivers to be sent to Memphis increases his chances of coming north with St. Louis.
As a reminder, the only way to send down a player who has exhausted his options is to outright him. The inherent risk is that any outrighted player must first clear waivers before reaching the minors. In other words, another organization might claim him instead.
If the player has more than three years of major league service or has been previously outrighted, he can declare free agency instead of reporting to the minors, making that path a non-viable option.
With 39 players on the 40-man roster now that Felipe Lopez was added, the Cardinals have room to add just one non-roster invitee if he makes the season-opening 25. As such, the club may choose to outright one or more players this spring to free up more spots.
The good news is that only four players have been outrighted previously and they are all deep-rooted major leaguers, not at risk in any way.
Prior outrights, St. Louis Cardinals
So, what does this all say? To me, it says the Cardinals still have a lot of flexibility in determining which of the youngsters competing for bullpen assignments, a starting pitching job and reserve positions will get to remain and which will be sent down.
In other words, the best man may just win!
In an upcoming article, I will make my early-camp predictions on which players may make the team. So, until then….
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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