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Limiting player options discussed in MLB labor negotiations

Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

There isn’t a ton of optimism that the MLB lockout will end any time soon, not after Saturday’s offer from the owners was seen by the players as underwhelming at best.

However, there was an interesting wrinkle from the latest proposal, revealing an idea that I hadn’t seen discussed previously. From Chelsea Janes at the Washington Post:

The new proposal also includes a limit on the number of times a player can be optioned in one season, initially setting that number at five.

Though this offer came from the owners, limiting options seems to be a goal of the players as well. From Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

There seems to be a catch with offers from the owners quite often. In this case, the owners offering to limit the times a player can be optioned, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN, is “contingent on giving the league the authority to limit the number of minor league players in each organization.”

Putting aside for a moment the idea of MLB continuing to chip away at the minor leagues, it at least seems like limiting player options is something that could be included with the next collective bargaining agreement.

Players generally have three option years when on the 40-man roster, with an option year exhausted in a year in which they spend at least 20 days in the minors. But the number of times they can be optioned within one season is unlimited, for now.

If a limit on options is enacted, the Dodgers are among the many teams who would need to adjust current practices. In 2021, three LA players were optioned more than five times: Mitch White was sent down 11 times, Edwin Uceta eight times, and Luke Raley seven times. Those all include when they were optioned to the minors during spring training. It’s unclear whether those March options would count under the proposed system, but either way those three players were sent to the minors a lot last year.

“I think the frustration of having to go up and down when you want to stick is real, and I understand and am sympathetic towards that,” manager Dave Roberts said in August. “The main thing is the guys we’ve had up here that have gone up and down have performed well, and are going to help or have helped us win a championship this year. There’s a lot of good from that.”

Even Darien Núñez was optioned four times, a remarkable total for someone who wasn’t even added to the roster until July 8. Roster churn is part of the plan for the Dodgers, and several other teams, in recent years.

In 2019, Casey Sadler started the year with the Rays, where he was optioned five times, then after getting acquired midseason by the Dodgers he was sent down four more times that year. “Lots of packing and unpacking, but it’s alright. It’s worth it,” he said.

Brock Stewart was the king of the Los Angeles-to-Oklahoma City shuttle, getting optioned 17 times in a 24-month span from 2016-18. That included eight times getting optioned in 2018, one more than teammate Pat Venditte.

“We’ve never spoken about it out loud,” Venditte told me at the time. “There have been times when I’ve been passing him getting off the flight at the airport, and vice versa. Literally the only thing you can do is pitch well, that’s it.”

Limiting the number of times a player can be optioned won’t be crippling to teams that are used to the roster churn, like the Dodgers. They tend to adjust based on what the current rules allow. But such a change will add an extra layer of complexity with each move.

We probably wouldn’t see, for instance, the Dodgers adding a pitcher to the major league roster nine out of 10 days in August and September, or adding nine pitchers in a 12-day span to start August.

Covering such minutiae would be a welcome change over the current state of MLB.