How do options work?
When a player is added to a 40-man roster for the first time, the major league team is permitted three optional assignments of his contract, or three "option years." This gives them the option to assign that player to the minor leagues without requiring him to clear waivers. For each season thereafter in which the player is assigned to a minor league team, one option is used up.
When a player is out of options, he can still be assigned to the minor leagues, but first he must clear waivers.
A player can receive a fourth option if he has less than five seasons of pro experience. Draftees who immediately sign a major league contract will qualify unless they reach the majors quickly and stick there. Otherwise, they'll have their three options exhausted after their first three years in pro ball. A season is defined as any year in which the player spends 90 days on the active list. Short-season and Rookie leagues don't last 90 calendar days, so a player assigned to those leagues for an entire year won't accrue a season of pro experience. Also if a player has a long-term injury, he usually won't be credited for a season that year. (The exception is if he goes on the disabled list after spending 60 days on an active list, in which case the DL time counts as service time.)
(Hat tip: Baseball America)
After the jump, I'll attempt to sort out who, with the Jays, has options, and why it's important. I won't discuss those for which it is extremely unlikely that they be optioned to the minors, like Romero or Escobar. Also, feel free to correct if I'm wrong on anything below. I'm doing this fanpost as much to educate myself as anyone else.
Adeini Hechavarria: I believe he was put on the 40 man right away so I believe that would give the Jays 4 option years should they choose to keep him in the minors (or bring him up and option him back down at some point). That means he could be down in the minors until 2014 without risking losing him to waivers.
Brandon Morrow: He was not sent to the minors last year, so I believe he has 2 options left. It is very unlikely that they will ever be used, however.
Carlos Villanueva: He was put on the 40 man in 06 and spent some time in the minor is 06, 07, and 10. So, accordingly, I believe he has 1 option remaining.
Casey Janssen: His 1st season was in 06 and he spent time in the minors in 09, 10 and 11. So I believe, he'll have one more option after this season that can be used up.
Jesse Litsch: Hist 1st season was in 07 and he spent time in the minors in 08 and this year (09 and 10 were only rehab assignments). So I think he'll have 2 more options after this season.
Jesse Carlson: He made his arrival in 08 and spent time in the minors in 09, 10 and 11. He'll be out of options next year.
Brett Cecil: He made his debut in 09 and spent time in the minors in 10 and 11. He should have one more option left after this year.
Travis Snider: Snider made his appearance in 08 and spent time in the minors in 09 and 10. He likely has one remaining option should they choose to use it.
Marc Rzepczynski: Zep came on in 09 and spent time in the minors in 10. He has 2 options left. It'll be interesting to see if they ever use them.
Brad Mills: He was put on the 40 man in 09 and should have his last option used up next season.
Robert Ray: Same goes for Bobby
Luis Perez: Same goes for Luis
JP Arencibia: He hasn't had an option used up yet. It'll be interesting to see if they use it later on, to take a look at the other Catchers moving up in the system.
Kyle Drabek: No options used yet.
Josh Roenicke: He's in the same situation as Richmond. Out of options next year.
There you go. Again, feel free to point out any mistakes or misinterpretations on my part. Also, I encourage you to comment on what you think AA is going to with all these players who have options and in some cases, who will soon not have any.