Optional Assignments

This is still a work in progress. I am uncertain about the number of optional assignments allowed from 1915 to 1931, as well as a few other facts.

In the years before the farm system was developed, Major League teams often faced a quandry. If they had a promising player who wasn't quite ready for the big time, they could either carry him on their roster at the expense of keeping another, more experienced player, or they could sell him to an independent minor league team. The latter course involved the risk that another club would buy the player once he had developed. Therefore, a method was devised that let the big league clubs have their cake and eat it, too. They arranged to sell players to minor league teams with the right to repurchase him at a later date at a fixed price. These became known as optional agreements or assignments.

Although they began in the 19th Century, optional assignments were banned as part of the National Agreement in 1903. However, this rule quickly proved to be unenforceable and in 1905 optional assignments were permitted subject to the approval of the National Commission. This allowed teams to send players to the minors and bring them back without having to request waivers.

Following the 1907 season, a rule was established allowing each player to be sent out on option only once. Starting 1914, teams had the right to send two players out on option a second consecutive year. In 1921, all players were allowed to be optioned two consecutive years, and in 1931, this had been increased to three years, although that number was reduced by one for each year a player had spent in the Major Leagues. Beginning in 1965, players who had fewer than five years professional experience could be optioned for four seasons. However, veteran players could not be sent to the minors without their consent, beginning in 1914. At that time, the requirement was that the player have 10 years experience in the Major Leagues. This was lowered to eight in 1954 and to five in 1973.

Once the permited number of optional assignments had been reached for a given player, he was "out of options" and had to be sent outright to the minors. In this case, he had to go through the major league draft before the Major League team could reacquire him, previous to 1965. Thereafter until 1986, he could be recalled if he cleared waivers.  In 1986 the waiver requirement was removed.

In 1912, major league teams were limited to 8 optional agreements. This was increased in 1916 (just for one year) to 16 players for NL teams and 15 for the AL; 5 of them could be on their second option. By 1921, the limit was apparently at 8 per team. During the 1920's, there were various reports of increases in the limit, including one imposed unilaterly by the Major Leagues in 1924 that was overturned by Commissioner Landis the following year. However, the official limit was apparently eight throughout this time, but in practice teams were optioning as many as fifteen players. In 1931, with the signing of the new National Agreement, the limit was finally increased to 15 per team, where it remained until 1982, when it was changed to 16.

From 1914 to 1916, players had to clear waivers before they could be optioned below Class AA.

With the minor leagues abrogating the National Agreement in 1919, optional assignments were not sanctioned for that year and the next. They were restored in 1921, but in 1922 optional assignments were forbidden to leagues which did not participate in the minor league draft (which included the three Class AA leagues) until 1924.

After 1952, players could not be recalled between July 31 and the end of the minor league season. That restriction was eliminated after the 1964 season.

Once a player is optioned to the minors, he must stay there for 10 days, except under certain specific circumstances. Also, assignments lasting less than 20 days (30 days before 1976) do not count as options. No matter how many times a player is sent to the minors in a single season, only one option is considered to be used.

Contact me at CliffordBlau@yahoo.com

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