A: It boils down to whether the player is already on the 40-man roster. A player who is on the 40-man but on option to the Minor Leagues is "recalled" when he is brought to the big leagues. A player not on the 40-man, on the other hand, has to be added to it in order to be placed on the active roster, and procedurally that player's Minor League contract is said to be "purchased."
Q: How many times can a player be optioned to the Minor Leagues? Does it depend on the player's Major League experience, or is it written into his contract?
-- R. Davis
A: A player has three options, though the first thing to understand is that they don't come into play until the player is placed on his club's 40-man roster.
As for how many times a player may be optioned once he attains 40-man roster status, each option lasts for an entire season, so a team may send a player from the active big league roster down to the farm multiple times within a given season and have it count as only one option.
There is one wrinkle to the options rules that you touched on with your second question. Once a player has accrued five years of service time in the Major Leagues, he can refuse an optional assignment even if he hasn't had three options exhausted.
Q: I know there are rules regarding the length of time a drafted player remains under control of the franchise -- generally, two years for college kids and three years for HS kids -- or something like that. Could you talk about that rule?
A: Actually, the differentiation between high school draftees and college draftees comes into play when determining eligibility for the Rule 5 Draft (generally speaking, a high school pick is first eligible to be drafted at the fourth Rule 5 Draft after he signs if he's not added to the 40-man roster, while a college pick is first eligible at his third Rule 5 Draft -- but there are twists to those rules).
Minor League free agency, which I bet is what you're thinking of, is available to a player who has spent six full seasons with his original club. The summer that the player is drafted doesn't count towards the six-year requirement. That means that players that Texas drafted and signed in 2000 would have free agency rights this coming winter if they're not on the 40-man roster. There are no such candidates as of now. Outfielder Laynce Nix is on the 40-man roster; righthander Erik Thompson, who is sitting the season out rehabbing in Florida, was drafted in 2000 but didn't sign until Texas redrafted him in 2002; and lefthander A.J. Murray was drafted in 2000 but didn't sign until 2001 as a draft-and-follow. Righthander Nick Masset is on the 40-man roster as well but, like Murray, wouldn't be eligible for free agency for another year because he didn't sign until 2001. Catcher Dustin Smith would have been eligible this winter but he retired in May.
A player who has been released by his original organization doesn't need to wait six full seasons to become a Minor League free agent. He becomes a free agent whenever his contract with his new organization expires. Contracts given to Minor League players who have been released by other clubs are generally one-year deals, though you'll see a two-year deal from time to time.
Q: How do split contracts (contracts where a player makes one salary if he's in the Majors, and another if he's in the Minors) work? Are split contracts done for every player on the 40-man roster who has options remaining, or just some? And for the average player with a split contract, how much does he make while in the Minors?
-- Adam, Houston
A: Texas is among the organizations that give split contracts to all of its pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster. The player's contract calls for a daily rate for days spent on the active big league roster and another daily rate for days spent in the Minors.
The daily rate for time spent with the big club is calculated by dividing the player's Major League salary by 183.
The Minor League salary for a player on a split contract depends on his status the previous season. A player who is on the 40-man for the first time will generally receive an annual Minor League salary along these lines: $12,000 for Class A; $14,000 for Class AA; and $16,000 for Class AAA. For a player who was on the 40-man the previous season, the minimum Minor League salary is $54,500.
A Minor Leaguer with prior big league service could, however, earn more than $54,500 on the Minor League half of his split. If 80 percent of his total earnings under a Major League contract from the previous season is greater than $54,500, then that figure instead becomes his Minor League salary.