Earlier today the Pirates called up Bryan Morris and designated Chris Leroux for assignment. It seems like a simple process for each player. Usually when a player is DFAd, he is placed on waivers and outrighted to Triple-A. With Morris, he had been optioned to start the year, and was just recalled. But there are some stipulations surrounding each player that make these transactions a little different than the norm.
First there’s Leroux. I mentioned this in the article above, but Leroux isn’t a guarantee to go to Triple-A. Teams can outright a player to Triple-A after that player clears waivers. However, if a player has previously been outrighted, he can refuse the second outright assignment and become a free agent. Leroux has been outrighted before, so he could refuse if he cleared waivers and the Pirates outrighted him again.
In the situation with Morris, it’s an explanation of how options work. The common misconception is that every time a player is called up and sent down, he uses an option. That’s not the case. Options are measured in years, which means that a team can option a player to Triple-A as many times as they want in one season and only use one option year. When Morris was optioned to the minors at the start of the season, his fourth option was used up.
Or was it?
There’s also a stipulation about how many days a player has to be in the minors on optional assignment. Morris has only been down for 11 days. A player needs 20 days or more on optional assignment for the option to trigger. Since Morris hasn’t been on optional assignment for 20 days, technically the Pirates haven’t used his fourth option year. That would only get burned if he is sent down for nine more days this year. If the Pirates keep him up for the rest of the season, he’d have that fourth option year next year, and until it was eventually used.
There’s also another important date for Morris: May 8th. If the Pirates would have kept Morris down until May 8th or later, they would have gotten an extra year of service time. Now that he’s called up, that date would be pushed back. If he’s only up for two days, they’d have to wait until May 10th. If he’s up for good, it probably wouldn’t matter.
It seems the Pirates have two scenarios with Morris. They could keep him up for the rest of the year, at which point he’d keep his fourth option year. However, you’d hope that he’d never need that option, and would be in the majors for good. They could also keep him up for a few days, send him down when they need a spot starter, and bring him up later in the year. If “later” comes after May 8th (plus however many days he’s up), then they’d get an extra year of service time.
My guess is that Morris will be up today and tomorrow to help out the bullpen, and the Pirates will call up a spot starter for Sunday. If that happens, they will have to keep Morris in the minors for ten days before recalling him. That would burn his option year, and would make him eligible for recall on the 24th of April. If that happened, then they might as well wait the extra two weeks before calling him up again, in order to get that extra year of service time. Those two weeks probably won’t be as valuable as an extra year of control when Morris is an established reliever.