Why Is a Player Designated for Assignment, and then Optioned to the Minors?
There seems to be some confusion (not here, but elsewhere) about why a player would be Designated for Assignment (DFA), and then subsequently be optioned to the minors.
A lot of fans (and media) have gotten into the habit of using the term "Designated for Assignment" (or "DFA") as short-hand for cutting a player, but that is not exactly the correct use of the term. Remember, it's called Designated for Assignment. And in MLB transactions, there are three types of assignments... Trade Assignment, Outright Assignment,and Optional Assignment
So I suspect the confusion has to do with not understanding that an optional assignment to the minors is one possible outcome of a DFA, and that involves the relationship between Designated for Assignment and Optional Assignment Waivers.
Last Friday afternoon about a half-hour prior to the 4 PM (Eastern) non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs acquired RHSP Dan Haren from the Miami Marlins for two minor league players (RHSP Ivan Pineyro and INF Elliot Soto), and then right at the deadline the Cubs acquired RHRP Tommy Hunter from the Baltimore Orioles for OF Junior Lake.
Because the Cubs MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) was full at the time of the two trades, a player had to be immediately dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for Haren (players acquired by a club in a trade or claimed off waivers must be added to the club's 40-man roster immediately), but a second slot was not needed because Hunter took Lake's slot on the 40. So RHRP Ben Rowen was Designated for Assignment, and Haren took Rowen's slot on the 40. (Rowen was subsequently placed on Outright Asignment Waivers on Saturday, and was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays yesteday).
At this point, neither Hunter nor Haren were on the 25-man roster, because neither player had physically reported to the Cubs in Milwaukee, and so the Cubs played with a 24-man active list in Friday night's game.
Then last Saturday afternoon, RHP Yoervis Medina was Designated for Assignment by the Cubs to make room on the MLB 25-man roster for RHP Tommy Hunter, who reported to the Cubs in time for Saturday night's game with the Brewers. Again, the Cubs did not need a slot for Hunter on the 40-man roster, because Hunter took Junior Lake's slot on the 40 when he was acquired Friday afternoom. (Dan Haren also reported to the Cubs on Saturday, but he took the slot on the 25-man roster that was vacated when Ben Rowen was Designated for Asignment on Friday). But Lake was not on the Cubs 25-man roster (he was on Optional Assignment to Iowa at the time he was traded), and so once Hunter physically reported to the Cubs on Saturday, he was activated and took Medina's slot on the 25-man roster, as Medina was Designated for Assignment. Then prior to Sunday's Cubs-Brewers game (about 18 hours after he was Designated fior Assignment), Medina was optioned to Iowa. (The Medina transaction in the mlb.com transactions page was eventually changed-conflated, with the original "designated for assignment" line from Saturday night changed to "optioned to Iowa" on Sunday afternoon).
But why was Medina Designated for Assignment on Saturday and optioned to Iowa 18 hours later on Sunday, instead of just simply being optioned tio Iowa on Saturday?
The reason Yoervis Medina was Designated for Assignment and not immediately optioned to Iowa was because Optional Assignment Waivers needed to be secured before Medina could be optioned to the minors.
Optional Assignment Waivers are revocable (the waiver request can be withdrawn if the player is claimed), and so in practice clubs almost never claim a player off Optional Assignment Waivers. Each MLB GM knows that if he claims a player off Optional Assignment Waivers, the waiver request will just be withdrawn. So why bother? (NOTE: The one time a claim would make sense is if it is a tactical "blocking move" used to keep another club from opening up a roster slot it desperately needs, especially if the two clubs are in contention for the same spot in the standings, or are scheduled to play each other in a key "showdown" series).
Optional Assignment Waivers had been secured on Medina in the previous waiver period (the one that started on the 31st day of the MLB regular season and ended on July 31st), and once secured, the Optional Assignment Waivers were "good" (in effect) for the balance of that waiver period. But because Medina was to be optioned after July 31st, the Optional Assignment Waivers secured in the previous waiver period had expired, and so Medina needed to be run through Optional Assignment Waivers again so that Optional Assignment Waivers could be secured in the new waiver period (and only then could he be optioned to Iowa).
By backtracking the transaction, it is clear that the Cubs placed Medina on Optional Assignment Waivers on Friday at 2 PM Eastern (with the Waiver Claiming Period ending 47 hours later at 1 PM Eastern on Sunday in the new waiver period), probably in anticipation of Medina being the player who would be dropped from the 25-man roster and optioned to Iowa when Clayton Richard was recalled to start the game on Sunday, thus keeping Medina "active" (available) in case he was needed in the games on Friday and/or Saturday night, since a player can remain on an MLB 25-man active list and play in MLB games while he is on assignment waivers. (Again, Medina was placed on Optional Assignment Waivers three hours before the Hunter trade, but it had to do with the Cubs eventually needing Medina's 25-man roster slot on Sunday to make room for Richard, not knowing they would need the Medina slot on Saturday for Hunter),
So then when Clayton Richard was recalled on make his "spot start" Sunday, the Cubs had to make another move to clear a slot on the 25-man roster for Richard, since Medina had been dropped to make room for Hunter on Saturday. At this point Taylor Teagarden was Designated for Assignment, but Teagarden is out of minor league options, so he is not being run through Optional Assignment Waivers as happened with Medina. Rather, the Cubs will need to either trade, release, or outright Teagarden to the minors within ten days. So while the Cubs just needed Teagarden's slot on the 25 (for Richard), it also had the unintentional effect of removing him from the 40 (and probably exposing him to Outright Assignment Waivers, which unlike Optional Assignment Waivers, are irrevocable), even though the 40-man roster was not full and Teagarden's slot on the 40-man roster was not needed .
Last month the Cubs acquired Clayton Richard from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a cash deal, because Richard had a special covenant in his minor league contract that allowed his contract to be purchased by any MLB club willing to add him to their 40-man roster if the Pirates did not elevate him to their 40-man roster by July 1st. Richard made two starts and one relief appearance for the Cubs in July, before he was optioned to Iowa. But prior to being optioned, Richard was Designated for Assignment while he was being run through Optional Assignment Waivers, because Optional Assignment Waivers needed to be secured before he could be optioned to Iowa. (Because he has accrued five-plus years of MLB Service Time, Richard also needed to give his consent before he could be optioned to the minors, which he did).
Rchard was recalled from AAA Iowa on August 2nd to make just one start (newly-acquired "5th starter" Dan Haren started a game for Miami last Thursday, so he wasn't available to start the Cubs game at Milwaukee on Sunday). but then his slot on the 25-man roster was needed again the next day because the Cubs temporarily had 14 pitchers on their 25-man roster (on Sunday) and wanted to exchange the 6th starting pitcher (Richard, who was no longer needed) for a position player (OF Matt Szczur).
So now having made his "spot start" on Sunday, Richard has been Designated for Assignment again (second time in two weeks), and the Cubs are presumably running him through Optional Assignment Waivers (like they did with Medina over the weekend), and once the waivers are secured (probably by Wednesday), the Cubs will ask for Richard's consent to be optioned to the minors (the same consent he gave last month). Of course, Richard could always just say no, but I doubt that the Cubs would have recalled Richard from Iowa to make the spot start on Sunday if they didn't have some good reason to believe that he would once again consent to an optional assignment if requested to do so. (The Cubs could have just reinstated Tsuyoshi Wada from the 15-day DL and had him make the "spot start" at Milwaukee on Sunday instead of making another minor league rehab start for Iowa on Saturday, since Wada's Article XIX-C Minor League Rehab Assignment expires on Thursday anyway).
DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT
Sometimes a club wants to remove a player from its MLB Reserve List (40-man roster), but it has to be done immediately because the player's roster slot is needed. Or sometimes a club wants to remove a player only from its MLB Active List (25-man roster), but Optional Assignment Waivers must be secured before the player can be optioned to the minors. In those cases, a player can be Designated for Assignment, the "Designated Player" is removed from his club's MLB Reserve List (40-man roster), and then the club has up to ten days to either trade, release, non-tender, or outright the player to the minors, or return the Designated Player to its MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) and option the player to the minors (if the player has minor league options available and Optional Assignment Waivers are secured if needed, unless the player has the right to refuse an Optional Assignment and does not give his consent), but a player who has been Designated for Assignment can be returned to the club's MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) and optioned to the minors only if the Designated Player was not replaced on the club's MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) by another player after being Designated for Assignment. (A club might have to DFA a player to buy time while it attempts to secure Optional Assignment Waivers).
A pllayer on Optional Assignment to the minors must be "Recalled - Not to Report" before he can be Designated for Assignment.
The player continues to be paid and the player accrues MLB Service Time while he is Designated for Assignment.
OPTIONAL ASSIGNMENT WAIVERS
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.
Optional Assignment Waivers are revocable and can be withdrawn if a claim is made, but if a player is claimed off Optional Assignment Waivers and the waiver request is subsequently withdrawn, the player cannot be placed on Optional Assignment Waivers or Trade Assignment Waivers for at least 30 days from the date the waiver request is withdrawn, and if a player is placed on Optional Assignment Waivers a second time in the same waiver period, the waivers become irrevocable and the request cannot be withdrawn. A player who has a "no trade" right (full or partial) cannot be placed on Optional Assignment Waivers a second time before the end of the waiver period unless the player first waives his "no trade" right.
Optional Assignment Waivers secured during the waiver period that commences on February 16th and during the waiver period that starts on the 31st day of the MLB regular season are in effect for the entire waiver period, but Optional Assignment Waivers secured during the waiver period that begins on August 1st are in effect only through the conclusion of the MLB regular season.
Optional Assignment Waivers secured on a player who is on an MLB Disabled List expire after 72 hours.
If a player on an MLB Disabled List is placed on Optional Assignment Waivers, he must be eligible to be reinstated from the DL and healthy enough to play. If waivers are secured, the player must be reinstated from the DL within 72 hours. If the player is claimed and the waiver request is subsequently withdrawn, the player must be reinstated from the DL immediately.
A club does not have to option a player to the minors after Optional Assignment Waivers have been secured.
Optional Assignment Waivers cannot be requested after October 1st or secured prior to February 16th.
Optional Assignment Waivers are not required if a player is being sent to the minors using a 4th minor league option, or if a player is being optioned to the minors within 24 hours after being acquired in a trade, or if a player is being optioned back to the minors after being recalled to serve as the "26th man" in a doubleheader.
OPTIONAL ASSIGNMENT WAIVERS MUST BE SECURED BEFORE PLAYER CAN BE OPTIONED (updated 7-31-2015):
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Starlin Castro, INF (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Chris Coghlan, OF (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Dexter Fowler, OF (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Justin Grimm, RHP
Dan Haren, RHP (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Jon Lester, LHP (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Yoervis Medina, RHP
Miguel Montero, C (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Jason Motte, RHP (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Clayton Richard, LHP (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
James Russell, LHP (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)
Brian Schlitter, RHP
Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP (also must give his permission before he can be optioned)