First Pitch: Why the Pirates Optioned Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke to the Minors

Over the last two days, the Pittsburgh Pirates have made a few moves to add some short-term depth, sending down players who have and will continue to be a big part of the 2014 season, all to get a few days of extra depth on the bench.

The first move saw the Pirates option Gerrit Cole to Bristol, which allowed them to bring up Andrew Lambo. Then, they optioned Jeff Locke to Indianapolis, bringing up Brent Morel. Both moves probably raise a lot of questions to those who aren’t familiar with the MLB rules on roster construction, playoff rosters, and so on. I thought I’d put together a FAQ, looking at a few of the questions that you might have on the moves.

Why Bristol For Cole and Indianapolis For Locke?

Normally an optional assignment means a player must spend ten days in the minors before he can return to the majors. There are two exceptions. The first exception is that the player can replace someone who goes on the disabled list after he is optioned. The second exception comes at the end of the minor league season. A player can be recalled from his assignment if the minor league team he was assigned to finishes their season, even if that takes place before his ten-day period is up.

In Cole’s case, Bristol ended their season tonight. His next scheduled start was going to be on September 1st, which is after active rosters expand from 25 to 40. Cole can be brought back for that start, and the Pirates won’t have to send anyone down. Meanwhile, they get three extra games from Andrew Lambo off the bench.

Locke wasn’t going to make his next start until September 2nd. Indianapolis has been eliminated from the post-season, which means their season ends on September 1st. So Locke can return on the 2nd.

Aren’t They Burning an Option?

One concern I’ve seen about this involves option years being wasted. In Locke’s case, the option was already used. Options are measured in years, and no how many individual times a player goes back and forth between the minors. Once a player is optioned to the minors, he can be called up and sent down as many times as necessary that season. Since Locke had already used his option year this year, he could be sent down with no worries.

Cole hasn’t been sent down on optional assignment this year, but he also won’t use an option year. A player needs to be on optional assignment for 20 days in a season to use an option. Anything less than 20 days means the player keeps the option, and also gets MLB service time for the amount of time he was on optional assignment. Since Cole will be down for less than a week, he won’t use an option year.

Will They Be Eligible For the Playoffs?

This issue came up when Gregory Polanco was sent down, where it seemed that he might not be eligible for the post-season rosters. It was my previous belief that to be added to the playoff roster, you must be on the 25-man roster by August 31st. However, according to this document from the Seattle Times, MLB Rule 40(a)(1)(A) says that anyone on optional assignment is eligible. This means anyone on the 40-man roster on August 31st is eligible for the post-season. So it doesn’t matter if Cole, Locke, or Polanco are in the majors before rosters expand. As long as they’re on the 40-man roster (and they are), they will be eligible for the playoffs.

In summary, the Pirates can send these pitchers down, rather than having them do nothing off the bench for a few days. The pitchers can then return for their next scheduled starts. In the mean time, the Pirates get extra bench help that could be useful for those few days. The pitchers who were sent down don’t see an option year used in the process, and they maintain eligibility.

It’s weird to see Gerrit Cole optioned to the low-levels of the minors, or Jeff Locke optioned right after a great start. But that’s just the Pirates getting creative with roster moves at the end of the season.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Homers From JaCoby Jones and Stetson Allie

**The Type of Win That Defines a Contender

**Clint Hurdle Looks for Quality At Bats from Andrew Lambo

**Locke optioned, Morel called up

**How is Alen Hanson Adjusting to Second Base?

**Morning Report: Edwin Espinal is Still a Sleeper, But For How Much Longer?

  • Very interesting… several of us looked online for the change to Rule 40 and couldn’t find it. Someone who posted here even contacted Buster Olney a few days ago and Buster, apparently, was unaware of the change to the Rule as well – great article!

  • Dave Noordhoff
    August 31, 2014 6:53 am

    Hypothetically, do these moves have any effect on the Indy and Bristol team rosters?
    Thanks for the thorough explanation.
    What I would like to see is a comprehensive article/e-book that outlines all these rules (such as “MLB Rule 40(a)(1)(A)”) . Is such information available to the public online or elsewhere?

  • Great explanation Tim. I was unclear on the question of why Bristol for Cole and Indy for Locke. Now it’s crystal clear.

  • I’m going to assume this is a common practice amongst all mlb teams? Still a creative move by the FO to milk every lil advantage we can get in these precious games.
    Also, good 4 lambo finally getting a chance and showing some results.

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