The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Julian Merryweather at the beginning of October 2018, giving him the seventh longest unbroken 40-man tenure on the current roster at 40 months by the time Spring Training is scheduled to start. He has even accrued 1 year and 114 days of service time with them (albeit fewer actual days and just 73 active days). But in one important sense, Merryweather is yet to complete a season of service for the Blue Jays.
Under Major Rule 7 (formerly Rule 11) governing optional assignments, players on the 40-man roster have three option years, not counting years in which they’re optioned less than 20 days. Further, however, “players who...have been credited with less than five seasons in the Major and Minor Leagues...shall be eligible for a fourth optional assignment during that season.”
It is under this proviso that Merryweather was eligible for a fourth option year in 2021, will be eligible again in 2022, and could potentially be eligible again in 2023 or even beyond (if it’s not used in 2022). But having been drafted in 2014, 2022 will be Merryweather ninth season of professional baseball, double the “less than five seasons in the Major and Minor Leagues” needed to qualify. So how does he remain eligible?
The answer lies in the technicality of how “season of service” is defined:
For purposes of this Rule 7(c), 90 days or more on the Active List or Development List during a championship season...shall constitute a “season of service.” [T]ime spent on any Inactive List other than the Development List shall not be counted toward the 90 days required before a season’s service is credited, [unless] a player is placed on the Injured List after the player has been credited with 30 or more days of service.
Let’s go through Merryweather’s career to count which of his seasons qualify. After signing in 2014, he was assigned to Mahoning Valley of the now-defunct New-York Penn League. Since short season leagues were under 90 days, by definition it was not possible to accrue a qualifying season of service. This is the main reason international free agents and high school draftees qualify for fourth options, as they can have multiple years in complex or short season leagues that don’t count towards the five.
In 2015, Merryweather moved up to full season ball, and though he had two injured stints still accrued 90 active days (and even if not, had been active 30 days so IL time would count). Likewise, in 2016 and 2017 he had short inactive stints but had essentially full seasons of 24 and 25 starts. Thus when he was added to the 40-man in November 2017, he had three seasons of professional service, so the fourth option coming into play was a lower probability likelihood.
Optioned in early March 2018, he suffered a sprained UCL that required Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season. Still working his way back in 2019 now with the Jays, he was optioned out in March and spent the first half of the season on the IL. By late June he was back in game action, and had he stayed healthy could have got to 90 active days, but made just a couple outings before a setback and missed the rest of the year. Still at three qualifying seasons, but now with two option years burned, the fourth option year was now in play.
2020 makes for a peculiar case. Again optioned in March just before the shutdown, he ended up at the alternate training site for nearly a month. Those 26 days exhausted his third option year, then he was recalled and active for 34 days before missing the last week of the 67-day season. Had it been a normal season, even if he had missed the rest of the season, he would have accrued his fourth “season of service” for the purposes of Rule 5 having first been active 60 days.
However, the entire season being less than 90 days resulted in uncertainty as where it could count as a season of service under the rule. MLB and the union had agreed on pro-rating service time, but it didn’t automatically carry over to this. The situation was still up in the air in March, subject to an arbiter’s ruling. A flurry of rulings in late March granted fourth options in 2021 to players who would have five seasons of service if 2020 were counted, so it appears it wasn’t (with one exception, to which we’ll return).
Based on those precedents, it appears unlikely 2020 counted for Merryweather either (it wouldn’t have been directly subject to a ruling, since at most it would have been his fourth qualifying season and he had 2021 eligibility regardless). As it turned out, he wasn’t optioned at in 2021, but after only two weeks active, went on the IL for over four months before returning the last 26 days (for a total of just 40 active). You guessed it, not a qualifying season of service either.
Thus, entering 2022 Merryweather has a fourth option year. Further, it would appear that even if not optioned and he accrued a season of service, the fourth option year would carry over to 2023 or beyond as he’d still only have four qualifying season for the purposes of Rule 7.
Another player whose option status is similarly affected by 2020 is Trevor Richards. He signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, and rocketed through the minors, promoted to the Marlins in April 2018. At that point, he had only one qualifying season of service (2017), plausibly putting him in line for a fourth option year if needed down the road.
He was later optioned in 2018 for 40 days, burning his first option year. Traded to Tampa at the 2019 deadline, they optioned him before recalled him within 20 days on August 18th, thereby preserving the option year. At this point he had three qualifying seasons, and two option years remaining, so it wasn’t foregone a fourth option year would come into play.
In 2020, Richards was up and down multiple times, ultimately just exceeding the 20 days to burn his second option year. He spent most of the beginning of 2021 in the minors before being traded to Milwaukee, burning his last option year. But since 2020 doesn’t count as a qualifying season, he has only four (2017-19, 2021) and will be eligible for a fourth in 2022. In an ideal world for the Blue Jays, of course, this will never come into play and he spends the entire year as a productive member of the bullpen.
Give these two situations, my first thought was that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. should also still remain eligible for a fourth option year in 2021. He was optioned from 2017 to 2019, which were also his first three “seasons of service” and making him eligible for a fourth option year in 2020 or 2021 since he had no minor league experience prior to signing his major league contract.
The Jays did not avail themselves of that in either year, but if 2020 wouldn’t count, then he’d still only four professional seasons and there’d still be a fourth option into 2022. This is where the case of Erick Feede comes into play, who wasn’t granted a fourth option for 2021.
As detailed above, he had a fourth option year for 2020, having only four qualifying seasons of service, but spent the entire year in the majors. While most other players did not have 2020 counted, presumably the fact that he spent the entire year in the majors and accrued a full year of major league service was the decisive difference for the arbitrator in deciding for 2021 he did have five seasons. The same would apply to Gurriel, and thus he is out-of-options for 2022 (though things would already be quite wrong for the 2022 jays if it even mattered).
Will 2022 be Merryweather’s first Rule 7 "season of service" with the Blue Jays?
This poll is closed
He’ll never have one with the Jays