Nuts and bolts: KC Royals minor league player options

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /
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KC Royals
(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Baseball’s minor league player options can be mysterious and confusing. Some KC Royals have them, some don’t. Here’s what they are, how they work and why they’re important.

Recent word from the KC Royals that baseball gave Kyle Zimmer another minor-league option is good for Zimmer and the Royals. The promising but injury-prone pitcher can now be sent to the minor leagues this season, which raises these questions: How can demoting him to the bushes benefit Zimmer, why would it be good for the club, and how in the world do the minor league option rules work?

Answering the first two questions is easy, especially when they’re considered within the unique circumstances of Zimmer’s troubled career. The Royals made him a first-round draft pick (fifth overall) in 2012 and anticipated he’d get to Kansas City quickly, but injuries impeded his progress throughout his several minor league seasons. He made it to the majors in 2019, had a disappointing debut, and spent even more time at AAA Omaha. It appeared more minor league seasoning might benefit him.

But Zimmer entered this spring training without minor league options (more on that later), meaning the Royals had two choices: keep him regardless of merit or send him down; demotion, however, would have required subjecting him to waivers and a potential waiver claim (more on that later, too).

And then came baseball’s award of a fourth option (yes, more on that later), which allows the Royals to option Zimmer to the minors if they believe he needs, or could benefit from, more work there. Because that would afford him more time to refine his skills and could make up for similar time lost to injuries, that’s good for Zimmer; it’s good for the Royals because they can benefit from a more experienced Zimmer, and it frees up major league roster space.

The world of options can be confusing. Let’s take a look at it and see how it might affect the 2020 Royals.