In my first installment on fourth minor league options, which you can find here, I outlined the fourth option rule and made my case for why Cards’ 40-man roster infielder Edmundo Sosa should be eligible for a fourth minor league option for the 2020 season. In this piece, I will outline all the cases that I know of where the Cards have exercised a fourth option on a player. It takes a very narrow set of circumstances for a player to be eligible for such an option, and I know of only three prior cases in Cardinal history. I will start with the most recent case and go backwards in time.
The Cardinals signed the 21-year old left-handed changeup artist out of Gonzaga in the 1st round of the 2013 draft.
After signing on June 19th, Gonzales was assigned to the GCL Cardinals and pitched 4 games before being promoted to Class A-Advanced Palm Beach on August 2nd. He pitched 4 games for that club and was on their roster until the regular season ended on September 1st. With only 62 days on an active roster, no “season of service” was accrued.
Gonzales started the 2014 season back at Palm Beach when their season started on April 3rd, made 6 starts and was active for 43 days before he was promoted to AA Springfield on May 16th. Meanwhile, the major league club had several members of their starting rotation suffer injuries that year, including Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. After Gonzales had pitched 7 games with AA Springfield and had been active 40 days on that roster, the Cardinals decided to add Gonzales to the 40-man roster to make a start on June 25th. I talk extensively about this move in an article you can find here, as it resulted in a bizarre transaction involving Pete Kozma that you will never see again.
Gonzales had only 21 prior games in the minor leagues and 19 starts before being asked to make this start for the big club, and he didn’t work out too well in the rotation. After 3 starts and 12 days on the Cards’ 25-man roster, the Cards optioned him to AAA Memphis on July 7th. Over his 3 starts, he allowed 21 hits and walked 11 batters in 14 IP, while only striking out 10.
He then spent 54 days on the Memphis roster before being added as the 26th man to start game 2 of an August 30th doubleheader against the Cubs at Busch Stadium. He picked up his first major league victory over the Cubs, throwing 6 IP and allowing 3 H, with 2 BB and 5 SO. He was returned to Memphis after the game, spent 2 more days on the Memphis roster and then was recalled to the Cards on September 2nd when the Memphis regular season was over.
Gonzales pitched 6 more games for the Cards the rest of the regular season, including 1 start, during which time he spent 27 more days on the active roster. He still had some issues with walks, but increased his strikeout rate, and only allowed 8 hits in 60 batters faced over 14.2 IP.
Although it did not count for purposes of the fourth option rule, Gonzales made the Cardinals’ playoff roster as a reliever. This was the first year that players were automatically eligible for the postseason by virtue of being on the 40-man roster as of midnight on August 31st. Gonzales actually got the win in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. After pitching a scoreless bottom of the 6th with the Cards losing 6-2, the Cards came from behind to take a 10-6 lead in the top of the 7th that they would not relinquish. He pitched a scoreless bottom of the 7th the next night with 2 strikeouts in a 3-2 Game 2 loss. Three days later, he would also be the winning pitcher in the deciding Game 4 at Busch Stadium. He entered the game in the bottom of the 7th with the Cards down 2-0 and although he gave up a walk and a single, he got out of the inning unscathed. In the top of the 8th, Matt Adams hit a dramatic 3-run HR off of Clayton Kershaw that ended up giving Gonzales his 2nd win of the series. His line for the NLDS was 3 G, 3 IP, 11 BF, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO.
Gonzales would also appear in 3 games in the 2014 NLCS. In Game 1, he relieved Adam Wainwright with the Cards down 3-0 and 2 outs in the top of the 5th after Wainwright had walked 2 Giant batters that inning. He retired the last man in that inning, pitched a scoreless top of the 6th and was relieved by Carlos Martinez after allowing a leadoff single in the top of the 7th. His next appearance was in Game 3 in San Francisco when he relieved John Lackey to begin the bottom of the 7th with the score tied 4-4. Gonzales retired the side in order with 1 strikeout, with Pat Neshek coming out for the top of the 8th. The Cards would lose that game 5-4 in the 10th inning when Randy Choate misplayed a bunt.
Unfortunately, Gonzales would take the loss in Game 4 of the NLCS the next night. He came into the game in the bottom of the 6th with the Cards ahead 4-3 and after the club had already used 2 other relievers. He allowed 1 hit and 1 walk, but ended up being charged with 3 earned runs after a sacrifice bunt, a wild throw from Matt Adams on a fielder’s choice, a groundout that could have been a double play but was misplayed by Matt Adams, and Seth Maness allowing one of his runners to score on a single. His line was basically the same in the NLCS as it was in the NLDS with 3 G, 3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, and 2 SO, but this time he faced 13 batters and was charged with 3 ER.
With well more than 90 days on an active roster, this would turn out to be the only “season of service” that Gonzales would accrue before being optioned in four separate seasons. This was also option #1, as he spent more than 20 days on option between July 7th and August 30th. After 10 games with 5 starts in the regular season and 6 additional appearances in the 2014 postseason, Gonzales would only pitch 2 more games in a Cardinal uniform.
Gonzales was optioned to AAA Memphis in spring training to start their 2015 season that began on April 9th. But he was plagued by shoulder trouble all year. After only 13 days on the active roster, he went on the Memphis 7-day DL on April 22nd, not coming off until he was activated on May 9th. He spent another 12 days active before going back on the DL on May 21st. He was lost for another 50 days before he was activated on July 10th and his option converted to Palm Beach for 5 days and Springfield for 7 days.
After 40 days active with AAA Memphis beginning on July 23rd, the Cardinals recalled Gonzales on September 1st to make a spot start, where he allowed 7 H and 4 ER in just 2.2 IP. The Cards optioned him to Memphis the next day, where he finished out the Memphis season that ended on September 7th. Gonzales was not included on the 2015 NLDS roster.
Gonzales was only on an active roster for 84 days due his injured shoulder. None of the days he spent on the disabled list counted toward the 90 days because he never did spend 30 days on an active roster before being placed on the disabled list. Option #2 was exercised, but he did not accrue a “season of service” for purposes of the fourth option rule.
Gonzales was optioned to Memphis during spring training, but blew out his elbow before the Memphis season. Because he was optioned during camp, he was placed on the Memphis 7-day DL on the first day of their season, and option #3 was exercised. He was never on an active roster and did not earn a “season of service.”
Gonzales was optioned to Memphis during spring training, and this was his fourth minor league option. Although he had been pitching off a mound, it was determined he was not ready to pitch and he was placed on the Memphis 7-day IL on April 4th, which was the first day of that club’s season. He later ended up being added as the 26th man by the Cardinals to pitch the 2nd game of a June 13th doubleheader against the Brewers. He lasted 3.1 IP, gave up 6 H, 5 ER and 3 HR, and was returned to Memphis after the game.
The Cards then traded him to the Seattle Mariners on July 21st straight up for OF Tyler O’Neill. Since that time, Gonzales has been a mainstay in the Mariners rotation.
The Cards drafted OF Shane Robinson in the 5th round of the 2006 draft out of Florida State.
The 21-year old Robinson signed on June 21st, and played the next day for Class A Quad Cities, but their season was over on September 4th, well short of the 90 days required to accrue a “season of service.”
Robinson started the season with Palm Beach on April 5th. Disabled list information from that far back is spotty, but he broke his foot, and appeared to be out between May 22nd and June 10th and again from June 11th through August 19th. He thus appeared to be active for 46 days until being placed on the DL for 14 days, then active for 1 day before being lost for another 70 days. He was activated again on August 20th, and stayed active for another 14 days until the Palm Beach regular season ended on September 2nd.
Back in 2007, the rules for counting disabled list time for purposes of the fourth option rule were different than they are today. In 2007, disabled list time did not count towards the 90 days until the player had spent 60 days on an active roster before being place on the disabled list. I may be off by a day here or there, but it is clear that he did not spend 60 days active before going on the disabled list, and it is also clear that he fell well short of spending 90 total days on an active roster.
The rules on counting disabled list time were changed in 2012 to make the disabled list time count toward the 90 days if the player had only spent 30 days on an active roster before being place on the disabled list. But under the old rule in effect in 2007, the disabled list time did not count against Robinson, and again, he did not accrue a “season of service.”
Robinson easily accrued a “season of service” this season, as he batted in 105 total games across AA Springfield and AAA Memphis. This was “season of service” #1.
Robinson also accrued a “season of service” this season, as he batted in 100 games alone with AAA Memphis. On May 4th of that year, Rick Ankiel crashed face-first into the Busch Stadium wall catching a fly ball from Pedro Feliz in center field. On May 7th, the Cards placed Ankiel on the 15-day DL with a bruised right shoulder and added Robinson to the 40-man roster. Slashing .357/.419/.482 with Memphis at the time, albeit in only 65 PA, Robinson was the first outfielder called up over Nick Stavinoha, Jon Jay or Allen Craig. But after 11 games, 4 starts and 26 PA, Robinson was optioned when Chris Carpenter was activated from the DL.
Robinson stayed in Memphis the rest of the year, with “season of service” #2 accrued and option #1 exercised.
Robinson was optioned to Memphis in spring training to start the season for Memphis on April 8th. After 31 days active, he went on the Memphis 7-day IL on May 9th with a broken collarbone, never to return that season. He injured himself sliding into 2nd base and had to have surgery. Under the old rules, the disabled list time did not count, because he had not spent 60 days on an active roster before going on the disabled list. Under the new rules, the time would have counted.
Robinson’s option #2 was exercised, and then the club outrighted him to AAA Memphis and off the 40-man roster in October.
Robinson started the 2011 season with Memphis on April 7th. On April 16th, he was patrolling center field when he had a nasty head-on collision with LF Andrew Brown while both were attempting to field a bloop to left-center. Brown escaped with a concussion, but Robinson was not so lucky, suffering a broken cheekbone and a fractured finger.
Robinson then spent 88 days on the disabled list until he was activated and assigned to Springfield after a 6-game rehab assignment with the GCL Cardinals. But Robinson would claw his way back to the majors, and after 7 games with Springfield and 37 games with Memphis, the Cardinals would purchase his contract again on September 2nd and add him back to the 40-man roster. From the time he was activated to Springfield until the major league club added him back to the 40-man roster, he slashed .320/.395/.506 in 207 PA with a 128 wRC+.
Robinson would only get 8 PA with no hits and 1 walk with 1 start in CF, but he remained on the Cards’ active roster until the regular season ended on September 28th. He did not make the 2011 postseason roster. The disabled list time would not have counted against Robinson under either the old rule or the new rule. As it turned out, he only spent 87 total days on an active roster, just 3 shy of the 90 it would have taken to accrue a “season of service” for purposes of the 4th option rule. And he wasn’t optioned this season at all.
Robinson cracked the Cards’ opening day roster in 2012, but was optioned on May 13th when Lance Berkman came off of the 15-day DL. He was recalled just two days later on May 15th when Jon Jay went on the 15-day DL, so his option was not burned just yet. But Robinson was optioned again on July 14th when Berkman came off of the disabled list again, and was not recalled until August 3rd, when Berkman went on the disabled list yet again. That was a 20-day stint in Memphis that burned his option all by itself.
Robinson made the 2012 postseason roster. He entered the Wild-Card game against the Braves in LF to replace Matt Holliday as part of a double switch in the bottom of the 8th immediately after the infamous infield fly rule play that resulted in a 19-minute delay when the Atlanta Braves fans started throwing trash on the field. He then flied out to center field in the top of the 9th. Robinson pinch hit for Joe Kelly in the bottom of the 6th and flied out to right in a 12-4 win in Game 2 of the NLDS at Busch Stadium. He pinch ran for Holliday in the top of the 8th with the Cards ahead 8-0 in Game 3 on the road, and played the last 2 innings in LF without a fielding chance. With the Cards down 6-1 in Game 5 and runners on 1st and 3rd, he pinch hit for Kelly, walked to load the bases, and would later score when Allen Craig walked with the bases loaded.
In the 2012 NLCS, Robinson pinch hit for Mitchell Boggs in the top of the 9th in Game 1 of a 6-4 win and flied out. With the Cards ahead 2-1 in the top of the 7th with 1 out at home in Game 3, he came in to play RF as part of a double switch with Matt Carpenter moving from RF to 1B and Allen Craig coming out of the game. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th, he grounded out to 2nd base for an RBI to give the Cards a 3-1 lead that would constitute the final score. After that inning, there was a 3 hour and 28-minute rain delay, and Adron Chambers came in as part of another double switch to replace Robinson in the top of the 8th. He would go on to pinch hit in the next 4 games without reaching base.
2012 was only “season of service” #3 for Robinson and the Cards burned his 3rd option.
Because Robinson only had 3 “seasons of service” for purposes of the fourth option rule and all 3 of his options were burned, he would have been eligible for a fourth option this season. But Robinson cracked the opening day roster again, and aside from a disabled list stint from July 31st through August 15th, he remained on the Cardinals’ active roster all year. He was not optioned at all.
Although he was on the postseason roster, the only time he saw action in the 2013 NLDS was when he pinch hit for Seth Maness in the top of the 7th in Game 3 against the Pirates with 1 out and a runner on first and the Cardinals behind 3-2. He grounded into a force play for a fielder’s choice and was stranded when Matt Carpenter grounded out.
In the NLCS, he pinch hit for Carlos Martinez in Game 2 at Busch Stadium with the Cards ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the 8th with 2 outs and a runner on 1st base and flied to right to end the inning. With 1 out in the bottom of the 7th in Game 4 and with the Cards ahead 3-2, Robinson pinch hit for Seth Maness and hit a solo HR off of lefty J.P. Howell. This was Robinson’s first career postseason hit and the homer gave the Cards a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish. Robinson stayed in for the rest of the game in LF. With Clayon Kershaw taking the mound for Game 6 at Busch Stadium, Mike Matheny decided to start Robinson over Jon Jay in CF and bat him 7th in the order. He first hit a 2-out single in the bottom of the 2nd. Then, in the bottom of the 3rd, after the Cards had already scored 2 runs in the inning, he hit a single to right field with the bases loaded to score 2 more runs.
Matheny decided to platoon Robinson with Jay in CF for the World Series. Robinson started in Games 1 and 5 when lefty Jon Lester pitched and he went 1 for 6 with a single and 2 strikeouts in those games. He also pinch hit in Games 3 and 4 with a 2-out double off of lefty Felix Doubront in the bottom of the 7th in Game 4. He came around to score on Carpenter’s single, but the Cards lost that game 4-2 when Kolten Wong was picked off to end the game.
Robinson was not optioned in 2013 and earned “season of service” #4 for purposes of the fourth option rule.
Because 2013 was only Robinson’s fourth “season of service” and all 3 of his options had been burned, Robinson was still eligible for a fourth minor league option. By this time, the Cards had traded for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk and Oscar Taveras was coming on strong. The Cardinals exercised Robinson’s fourth option on April 28th and recalled Randal Grichuk. Grichuk was optioned a little later in favor of Joey Butler, but then Butler was optioned and Robinson was recalled on May 21st. That stint in Memphis burned Robinson’s fourth option. After Butler was released a couple of days later, Robinson went down on May 30th in favor of Grichuk again. Robinson was sent back and forth a couple of additional times, but then broke a bone in his left shoulder on this play while diving into second base trying to steal at Pittsburgh on August 25th. Robinson was placed on the disabled list and was then out for the rest of the year after having arthroscopic surgery.
Robinson had already been marginalized with only 66 PA in 2014 compared to over 150 PA the prior 2 years. The club had already exhausted all of his four minor league options, and interestingly enough, Robinson was now eligible for arbitration as a Super Two. The club decided to move on and released him in November.
“Suga Shane” still carried on however, finding major league playing time in each of the 2015-2018 seasons. He spent the entire 2019 season with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and will turn 35-years old this upcoming October.
The Cards drafted Anthony Reyes in the 15th round of the June 2003 draft after his senior year at USC, but he did not sign until August 29th, and would not pitch until 2004. He slipped as far as he did in the draft because he had 2 seasons in college slowed by elbow problems.
Reyes was fast-tracked through the system making 7 starts at Palm Beach before being promoted to AA Tennessee for 12 starts, beginning in late June. He had a little shoulder problem while in Palm Beach, but just destroyed minor league hitters, with 140 strikeouts and only 19 unintentional walks in 111 IP across both levels. He accrued his first “season of service”
Invited to spring training for 2005, Reyes was sent to AAA Memphis to start the year. The rotation for the 2005 Cardinals was remarkably stable, with starters Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris, Jeff Suppan, Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis starting all but 2 of the club’s games. Even though none of them were injured, the club had a period from July 26th through August 31st with only 1 off day, which would comprise 36 games in 37 days. Wanting to give the rotation a breather, the Cards decided to add Reyes to the 40-man roster and have him make a spot start on August 9th in Milwaukee (bonus points if you knew that Cal Eldred made the other start on August 28th). John Gall was optioned to take the Cards to a 4-man bench to make room for Reyes on the 25-man roster. By this point in Memphis, Reyes had 106 SO in 104.1 IP with just 28 BB, despite a brief stint on the disabled list.
Only allowing a single to Carlos Lee and a 2-run HR to Bill Hall in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Reyes went 6.1 IP with just the 2 hits, 1 walk and 5 strikeouts to pick up the win in a 5-2 Cards victory. Reyes was optioned the next day, and Skip Schumaker restored the Cards to a 5-man bench. Reyes finished the rest of the season in Memphis and in 23 starts, he walked only 34 and struck out 136 in 128.2 IP. Recalled to the Cards when the Memphis season was over on September 5th, he pitched 3 more games out of the bullpen. Reyes accrued “season of service” #2. When the Cards burned his first option year this year, that set the stage for the possibility of a fourth option.
After Matt Morris moved on to the San Francisco Giants, the Cards decided to sign Sidney Ponson in the off-season, despite the Orioles releasing him in September of 2005 and voiding the last year of a 3-year deal due to his alcohol-related arrests. Ponson was then awarded the #5 starter job in 2006 spring training after Reyes had an ERA over 8.00. The Cards optioned Reyes to AAA Memphis to start the season so Reyes could prove his durability and Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa wanted him to learn a two-seam fastball.
Ponson strained a muscle in his pitching elbow during his May 7th start, and was placed on the disabled list 2 days later. The Cardinals went with a 4-man rotation until the 5th starter’s spot came up on May 20th, then recalled Reyes to make a spot start that night against the Royals in Kansas City. Reyes got the win, going 5.2 IP with 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB and 1 SO in a 4-2 Cardinal victory, but he was optioned to Memphis the next day.
Reyes would be recalled again to make a start on May 30th when Chris Carpenter went on the DL, and then became a regular in the rotation on June 22nd after Mark Mulder went on the disabled list in late June and Ponson was released in early July. In his June 22nd start, he threw a complete game 8 IP 1-hitter, losing 1-0 on a solo HR by Jim Thome. The Cardinals decided to try to give Mulder 2 additional starts in late August, and optioned Reyes to Memphis on August 18th. When it was clear that Mulder was not going to be able to pitch, Reyes was brought back when rosters expanded in September and made 17 total starts in the regular season.
Despite not being on the active roster by midnight on August 31st, Reyes was eligible to be used as an injury replacement for Ricardo Rincon, who was on the 60-day DL. Left off the NLDS roster, Reyes replaced Jason Marquis on the roster for both the NLCS and the World Series. After a 4-inning start in a 12-4 loss in Game 4 of the NLCS to the Mets, Tony Larussa surprisingly started Reyes in Game 1 of the World Series in Detroit against the Tigers. Reyes scored the win in 8 IP and just 4 hits allowed.
Reyes was dominant in AAA Memphis in 2006 with a K/BB ratio of 7.45 in 13 starts and 84 IP (84 SO to 11 BB), and many thought if LaRussa and Duncan would just leave him be, he would be a rotation mainstay for years to come. Reyes’s FIP in the majors was 5.49 and he was inconsistent, but he definitely looked promising. 2006 was “season of service” #3 and his second option was burned.
Reyes cracked the opening day starting rotation, but was optioned on May 27th after starting the season 0-8, with only 1 quality start in his 9 tries. At the time his FIP- was only 101, but he had very poor run support, and his strand rate was only 56.8%. After spending exactly 20 days on option and starting 3 games in Memphis, he was recalled on June 16th. That stint burned his third minor league option.
Reyes was optioned again on July 2nd, and made 3 more Memphis starts before being recalled for good on July 28th. He finished the 2007 Cardinal season with a total of 22 games and 20 starts with a 2-14 record and a FIP of 5.25. This was “season of service” #4 and with his third option having been burned before his fifth season of service, Reyes was eligible for a fourth option for the 2008 season.
With Reyes not performing to the expectations of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan, he made the opening day roster but as a reliever, with Brad Thompson winning the fifth starter job in spring training. After 9 outings in the bullpen and 13.2 IP with 16 H and 8 ER allowed, the Cards exercised his fourth option and sent him to AAA Memphis on May 4th. Over his last 4 outings, he allowed 12 hits and 6 runs in 7 innings.
Deciding that the experiment to make Reyes a reliever was over, the Cards had him start 7 games for Memphis to get more regular work and keep him sharp. Reyes was recalled on June 14th to give the club an 8-man bullpen. On June 15th he came into the game against the Phillies in the top of the 10th and retired the side in order. The Cards won the game in the bottom of the 10th on a walkoff error and Reyes was credited with his first win of the season. The Cardinals had planned to start Reyes in place of Todd Wellemeyer on June 19th, but instead placed Reyes on the 15-day DL that afternoon with an inflamed elbow.
While on a rehab stint with AAA Memphis, the Cards traded Reyes to the Cleveland Indians on July 26th for a minor league reliever named Luis Perdomo. The San Franciso Giants would draft Perdomo from the Cardinals organization in the major league phase of the December 2008 Rule 5 draft, and then lose him on outright assignment waivers to the San Diego Padres, who kept him on their roster for the whole 2009 season.
The Indians would recall Reyes from AAA to make 6 starts to close out the 2008 season. After starting 8 games for the Indians in 2009, Reyes would be shut down for the year, never to pitch in the majors again. Reyes had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and spent the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons rehabbing his elbow, with only 7 official rehab appearances across those two years. He was outrighted after the 2010 offseason and released by the Indians in August of 2011. After one last try with the San Diego Padres organization in 2012, he retired after 7 games to become a firefighter.
I hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. As you can see, fourth minor league options are very rare and typically fall into a few patterns. The first pattern is seen by Reyes and Gonzales, players who made the 40-man roster quickly after being drafted but did not stick due to injuries or ineffectiveness. The second is seen by Robinson, who had major portions of several minor league seasons wiped out due to injuries. And the last is seen by Sosa who was drafted when very young and then spent several seasons in short-season leagues before being added to the 40-man roster.