In the old days, organizations were permitted to sign players to minor league contracts in the offseason, assign those players down to the minor leagues as late as the final day of spring training, and keep them in the minors throughout the season, unless they had an arranged upon opt-out date. That changed with the most recent collective bargaining agreement. As Matt Eddy of Baseball America explains, players now have three automatic contract clauses:
1) he must be told five days prior to Opening Day—that’s March 26 this year—whether or not he will make the 25-man active roster, 2) if he does not ask for his release and consents to open the season in Triple-A, then he will receive a $100,000 “retention bonus,” and 3) if he’s still in Triple-A on June 1, then he can opt out of his minor league contract so that he can sign with another organization.
Such players may sign as late as March 21st of this year and still receive the guarantees listed above. The Rays have two players that qualify within these guidelines: Jamey Wright and Juan Carlos Oviedo.
Wright’s case appears to be cut and dry. He looks primed for the Burke Badenhop’s role, which would put him on the 40-man roster from the get-go. Joe Maddon has typically carried a seven-man bullpen in his time managing the Rays and only five of those spots are essentially guaranteed: Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, and Cesar Ramos. Roberto Hernandez is also in the picture, but it is unclear whether he will somehow fit into the rotation, or assume a role much like Andy Sonnanstine had in 2009 and 2010. Wright is competing for that final spot with Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke, both of which have minor league options remaining which further increases Wright’s chances of making the 25-man roster.
Oviedo’s case is less clear because he is not going to pitch in 2013 while recovering from surgery. Oviedo, in his current contract situation, is entitled to the same guarantees as Wright but with limited options due to his injury. He will not make the 25-man roster, and would be foolish to opt-out of his deal on June 1st while still recovering from his surgery. One potential scenario for Oviedo is what Tommy Rancel outlined earlier this month: The Rays add Oviedo to the 40-man roster prior to opening day and immediately add him to the 60-day disabled list. This allows Oviedo to accrue a major league salary and service time which nullifies the $100,000 retention bonus,but it would also gives the Rays some postseason roster flexibility which they have utilized several times.