I consider myself a generally knowledgeable baseball fan. When it comes to the business of baseball and contracts, I would say that I have a pretty strong knowledge of arbitration, free agency, free agency compensation (for the most part), split contracts, and loads of other minutiae. One thing I’ve never really been able to figure out as well as I should is minor league options. I know that players have 3 option seasons, but that’s about all I’ve ever taken the time to figure out about how the whole thing works.
Luckily, or unluckily, I won’t have to learn this year because MLB Trade Rumors just last week put out a list of players, broken down by division, who have exhausted their options. The Padres have six players currently on the 40 man roster who are newly considered out of options for 2014: CF Cameron Maybin, SP Eric Stults, RP Dale Thayer, 1B Yonder Alonso, RP Alex Torres, and C Rene Rivera. What this means is that these six players have essentially achieved veteran status, and like any veteran player can no longer be designated for assignment (DFA) to the minors without passing through waivers.
There aren’t a lot of decisions to be made on this list. Maybin will have to be placed back on the 25 man roster as soon as his torn bicep is rehabbed, and if Alonso, Torres, Stults, or Thayer struggle mightily, which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility for for any or all of them, it will likely mean the end of their Padres careers. However, all of their roster spots are basically secure. The one player on this list who doesn’t project as a part of the 25 man roster is third catcher Rene Rivera. The problem for the Padres is that they’d certainly like to be able to hang on to Rivera.
The Padres have just three catchers on their 40 man roster: Rivera, Nick Hundley, and Yasmani Grandal. They do, of course, have pants-tightening/zipper-busting/moistness-inducing top prospect Austin Hedges in queue, but Hedges likely needs at least another full year of seasoning in the minors before he assumes the throne. While Hedges could likely hold his own in the event of an emergency call-up, that would not nearly be the ideal way to start his career in San Diego.
Grandal, of course, is coming back remarkably quickly from ACL surgery, but has yet to start playing in games, and is said to be currently lacking both stamina and strength. His status for the start of the season is yet to be determined. If he’s not ready, Hundley will start with Rivera his capable backup, but if he’s ready, Rivera’s out. Carrying three catchers on the active roster for any extended amount of time isn’t feasible in a league where 12 pitchers is the norm, so somebody would have to go. Barring an unlikely Hundley trade (not a bad idea, per se), Rivera would be hitting the waiver wire, and given the value of quality defensive catchers, almost certainly gone.
If the Padres lose Rivera, 26 year old Rocky Gale would likely take over as 3rd catcher. Although seen as a strong defender, he does not have the track record of Rivera and is in just his first big league camp as a non-roster invitee. Another option would be snagging a free agent off the scrap heap and signing him to a minor league deal. Last year’s backup catcher to start the year and reigning Breakfast Player Of The Year, John Baker, is currently with the Cubs on a minor league deal. If he doesn’t make the squad, he could be available for a return to Breakfast Town.
Keeping Rivera will likely require a little bit of both bad and good luck, coming down to whether or not Grandal is ready by opening day. If Grandal’s recovery doesn’t progress fast enough and he’s forced to start the season on the DL, Rivera wouldn’t have to be DFA’d until after rosters are generally set around the league, making it less likely he’d be claimed. It’d still be a gamble, but it’s one the team would have to take to hold on to a valuable piece of depth for 2014.
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