An arbiter has ruled that Nationals right-hander Erick Fedde does not have a fourth minor league option season, reports Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (Twitter link). That means that Fedde, a former first-round pick, is now out of minor league options and thus cannot be sent to Triple-A without first being exposed to waivers.
As MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman outlined in February 2020, the Nationals were granted a fourth option over Fedde for the 2020 season because the league’s rules stipulate that such an option be granted when a player has exhausted all three minor league options despite not completing five “full” seasons (between the Majors and Minors combined).
A “full” season, under those terms, entails 90 or more days on an active roster, be it a big league or minor league roster. Time on the injured list does not count toward that definition. As such, Fedde’s 2015 season — what would’ve been his first “full” season after being drafted 18th overall in 2014 — did not count because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery for much of the year and did not accrue the requisite 90 days. Heading into the 2020 season, he’d played four “full” seasons but expended all of his options. A fourth option was granted to the Nats.
The Nationals didn’t use that option last year on Fedde, keeping him at the MLB level all season. The confusion surrounding Fedde, and others, was whether last year’s shortened schedule constituted a “full” season. It was fewer than 90 days in length, but service time and salary were prorated, so it could be argued that time on the roster for the purposes of determining minor league option eligibility should be treated similarly. Fedde and agent Scott Boras likely appealed that because he spent the 2020 season on the roster for the maximum time possible (67 days), he now has five “full” seasons under his belt, voiding the fourth option.
It’s a notable development for the Nationals’ pitching staff. Fedde had previously looked to be a potential odd man out behind fellow righties Joe Ross, the likely fifth starter, and Austin Voth, who’ll likely open the year in the ’pen. Both Ross and Voth had a leg up in the competition by virtue of the fact that they were out of minor league options, but Fedde is now in a similar position and thus much more likely to make the Opening Day roster.
There’s room for the Nats to carry all three hurlers, but the sudden lack of an option for Fedde would deprive them of some bullpen flexibility. Brad Hand, Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson obviously aren’t going anywhere at the back of the ’pen, and Wander Suero seems to be on solid ground as well. Voth is quite likely penciled into a long relief spot because of his own lack of options. Adding Fedde to that mix could make it tougher for a non-roster hopeful like Javy Guerra, Luis Avilan or T.J. McFarland to crack the roster. It’s also not great news for 40-man relievers like Kyle Finnegan and Ryne Harper, each of whom does have minor league options remaining.
Earlier this spring it came to light that several players were awaiting word on whether they do or do not have a fourth minor league option. The Cardinals’ Justin Williams, the Cubs’ Adbert Alzolay and the Angels’ Jaime Barria were among the many players who are currently in this state of limbo. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweeted earlier this afternoon that some from that group have been informed that they are indeed out of options, so it seems Fedde is the first known player among that bunch.