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MLB options explained: How do options work in MLB?

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For the most casual of baseball fans, MLB roster rules aren’t usually at the front of mind. After all, the Mike Trout’s, Anthony Rizzo’s and Aaron Judge’s of the world aren’t being designated anywhere than the injured list if they suffer an ailment. However, how MLB teams use options to maneuver their roster throughout the season can be extremely important to success.

MLB options explained

Options are generally used on position players at the periphery of the roster, or on bullpen pitchers, but savvy teams know exactly where they stand with regards to the flexibility they have each season.

How many options does an MLB player have?

Before each season, each MLB team selects 40 players to be on their roster. Even though only 26 are eligible to be active in each game, the 40 man roster is the larger pool of players a team can choose from to decide who is on the active roster. On a general level, MLB players on the 40 man roster have three options to be sent to their respective organization’s minor league affiliate.

However, as with most things in sports and in life, that baseline statement doesn’t cover all scenarios. There are different rules for veteran players who have spent at least five years in professional baseball. They do not have a pre-disposed number of options per season like some of their less experienced teammates. Such players would have the right to refuse an option due to the level of service time they have accrued.

What does it mean when a player gets optioned?

When a player gets optioned, it means that they have been taken off of a team’s active major league roster, and been sent down to the minor leagues. This transaction does not take them off of the 40 man roster however, so they can re-join the major league club at a future date. With that said, an optioned player has to stay in the minor leagues for a minimum of 10 days if they’re a position player. That requirement increases to 15 days for pitchers who are optioned to the minors.


Options can be a great tool for younger players on the fringes of the major leagues. Because they can essentially bounce to and from the big club a maximum of three times, it gives them multiple opportunities to show that they can play at the game’s highest level.

Once a player’s options have been exhausted however, it’s possible that the organization could lose their rights. If they were to send the player down a fourth time, they would be subject to waivers, and another team could make a claim on the player.

What is a Rule 5 player?

It’s well known that MLB clubs can improve rosters via free agency, trades or the draft. However, there is another lesser known avenue that franchises can pursue to add talent called the Rule 5 draft.

Held each December, the Rule 5 draft essentially allows teams to pluck players from other rosters who are not on their protected 40 man roster. This opportunity is only allowed for teams who do not have full 40 man rosters, as it is not a requirement come December when the Rule 5 draft takes place.

For example, let’s say that the Cincinnati Reds do not have 40 players designated on their roster come December. They’ll have an opportunity to obtain a player from another team via the draft who is not currently on their 40 man roster.


“Joe Pitcher” is in the Seattle Mariners organization, not on the 40 man roster, and the Reds would like to acquire him. Cincinnati can draft him, but must also pay Seattle $100,000 for obtaining the player. The catch for the Reds is that the player has to automatically be named to their 26 man active roster. As such, Rule 5 players who are drafted really have to be held in high regard because they’re instantly on the major league roster.

From the injured list to compensation picks and more, read more about the details of MLB in our MLB explained section.

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1 thought on “MLB options explained: How do options work in MLB?”

  1. One option covers the entire season. A player isn’t limited to being sent down three times total, but to going to the minors during three separate seasons. In fact, a new rule this year limits a player to being “optioned” (sent down) five times each season.

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