What happened with Kozma in June?

Remember back in June when the Cardinals designated Pete Kozma for assignment and then after he passed through waivers he was optioned to Memphis and kept on the 40 man roster? Well, it was confusing to me because the Cardinals had optioned Kozma to the minors back in April without waivers, so there shouldn’t have been a need to go through waivers based on my understanding of the roster rules.

I was confused, so I questioned and never really came up with a good answer other than “they needed to.” While most fans moved past it, I wanted to know why. I wasn’t able to get a clear answer from anyone nor find one in the CBA (which is really hard to read, by the way).

I generated my own theory that perhaps it was based on the number of years since he was drafted to protect a player from being held in the minors as long as possible and then optioned out every year to keep him even longer. But I was wrong. Thanks to a discussion we were having at CardsClubhouse about optioning Craig to Memphis and the ensuing research, we found the answer.

Optional Assignment Waivers must be secured before a player can be optioned to the minors once he has reached the third anniversary of being added to an MLB Active List (25-man roster) or MLB Disabled List for the first time, or the two-year anniversary if the player spent one full season on Optional Assignment to the minors prior to being added to an MLB Active List (25-man roster) or MLB Disabled List for the first time, or the one-year anniversary if the player spent two full seasons on Optional Assignment to the minors prior to being added to an MLB Active List (25-man roster) or MLB Disabled List for the first time.

So once a player reaches the third anniversary of his addition to the 25 man roster (or second or first, based on the caveats), he has to clear waivers before being optioned to the Minor Leagues.

For Kozma, his MLB debut was May 18, 2011. So his three year anniversary was May 18, 2014, which was right between his two stints with the Cardinals this season.

So when the team needed to option him to make room for him on the 25 man roster for Marco Gonzales, they had to pass him through waivers first. Since he may not have cleared before game time, they designated him from assignment. That move immediately removed him from the roster for up to 10 days, which made room for Gonzales.

Then later in the day after Kozma cleared waivers, the team added him back to the 40 man roster and completed the option.

If a player still has an option and less than 5 years of MLB service time, he can’t refuse an assignment to the minor leagues. But if it’s been three years since his debut, he will need to pass through waivers. It’s a way to limit a team’s ability to demote a player who has established himself on the Major League level.

I thought I should share because I know there were a number of people unsure why waivers were required in June but not in April. It wasn’t something I was aware of. But now we know.

Edit: This also explains why Allen Craig can’t just be optioned to the minors without going through waivers. While Craig has options and less than 5 years of major league service time, he cannot refuse the optional assignment. However, since it is past the third anniversary of his arrival on a Major League roster (his debut was April 8, 2010), he will have to clear waivers for the team to send him down.

Considering he’s been the most valuable hitter per at bat the last two seasons and is due just $26.5 million over the next three years (if the claiming club doesn’t pick up his $13 million option for 2018). It’s safe to say that most, if not every team would place a claim on him. If he turns it around you have a trade chip or the centerpiece of your lineup. If he doesn’t, it was a good gamble.

Edit #2: Though according to Ken Rosenthal, optional waivers are just a procedural thing. Nobody will claim your player.