Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the 2019 season will constitute a fourth option year for Dodgers pitcher Brock Stewart. Teams typically have three option years with their players, meaning they can yo-yo the players between the minors and majors an unlimited amount of times. Because Stewart hasn’t logged five full seasons in professional baseball — he appeared in only 17 games in his rookie season in the minors — the Dodgers have a fourth option year as prescribed in the collective bargaining agreement.
As DiGiovanna further illustrates, an option year can be grueling. Last year, Stewart was promoted to the majors twice and sent back down to the minors twice. One particular instance was particularly harrowing:
Stewart was informed after a triple-A night game in Oklahoma City on May 5 that he would be needed by the Dodgers for the final game of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres in Monterrey, Mexico, the next day.
Stewart boarded a 7 a.m. flight from Oklahoma City to Dallas on May 6, but 20 minutes into the trip the plane was forced to return to Oklahoma City because of landing-gear issues. He took another flight to Dallas and, after a 2½-hour layover, flew to Monterrey.
“I landed in the top of the fourth inning, got to the field in the top of the sixth and pitched the eighth,” Stewart said of the one-hit, scoreless inning he threw in a 3-0 loss to the Padres.
“I flew with the team to Los Angeles after the game and was told when we landed that I would be optioned back to triple A. I took two flights back to Oklahoma City the next day. It was pretty exhausting, for sure. That was nuts.”
Stewart, to his credit, is staying positive about his situation. He said, “I mean, I was looking forward to being more stable, for sure. Then I step back and think about how grateful and blessed I am to be pitching for the Dodgers organization and be competing for a championship every year.” Stewart added, “I definitely wouldn’t rather be in any other organization. I get that some guys have to do what I’ve done the past three years, and if I have to do it for another year, I’m gonna do it. I’m not going to say I love it, but I’ll do it.”
Option years are one of the myriad ways MLB teams take advantage of their players. More prominently, teams manipulate their players’ service time in order to gain an extra year of contractual control, as was the case with Kris Bryant and Ronald Acuña, Jr., and as will be the case with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Eloy Jiménez, among others.
Stewart, 27, owns a career 4.84 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 40 walks across 80 innings in the majors. Those 80 innings of work were spread out among 11 starts and 22 relief appearances.