Fort Myers, Fla. — Kayla Farmer saw the tweet.
It said, definitively, that her husband Buck was out of minor-league options. That fact, as it turns out, was as much a source of confusion for Farmer as it was for the media.
“My wife saw the tweet and told me, ‘You better get this squared away,’” said Farmer, the Tigers right-hander who is fighting to retain his spot in the Tigers’ bullpen.
Because he had used up his first three options within four big-league seasons, he was granted a fourth-year option last year. The assumption was, since he spent the entire season in the big leagues last year, he still had that option in his pocket.
“The emails I got from the players’ association and the commissioner’s office last year, by the language, just stated that it was for 2018,” Farmer said. “But I asked my agent and a couple of other people about it and they were like, ‘No, once you have that option, it’s there until you use it.’”
Turns out, the fourth-year option can only be used within five years of time on the 40-man roster. Once a player is outside the fifth year, which Farmer is, the fourth-year provision doesn’t apply.
“After we saw the tweet, I texted my agent and said, ‘Hey look, we need to get this squared away and make sure everybody is on the same page,’” Farmer said. “We contacted the players’ association and the commissioner’s office again and they said, yep, the rule is set up to use the three options in five seasons.
“I had four, and once I got to the sixth (year), it was gone.”
Without that option, Farmer is in more of a do-or-die situation this spring. If he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, he will be taken off the 40-man roster and subjected to the waiver process.
“If anything, it maybe lifts some weight off me,” he said. “And then again, having that option, there’s always a sense of security. There’s that luxury of being sent to the minor leagues, staying on the 40-man roster and being able to work on whatever you need to work on and then get back up.
“Now it’s either you do or you don’t.”
Farmer watched both Blaine Hardy and Drew VerHagen go through this last season. Although Hardy has options left, they were both designated for assignment, cleared waivers and then resigned to minor-league deals.
“It’s not what you want,” he said. “It would kind of be the same thing as getting optioned and coming back, except the difference of being on the 40-man or not.”
The numbers don’t reflect it, mostly because he gave up three runs after two were out in his first outing, but Farmer has pitched well this spring. His mid-90s fastball has been lively, and he’s been getting some ugly swings on his hard change-up (87 mph).
He has seven strikeouts in five innings this spring and, more importantly, just two walks. His walk percentage spiked last season, from 9.1 to 13.3 percent.
“Everything is there,” Farmer said. “It’s spring training, so who cares about the numbers. I’d rather focus on keeping the walks down. That’s all I am focusing on.”
That was the point of emphasis for pitching coach Rick Anderson, too.
“The biggest thing coming off last season that Andy wanted from me was to build the consistency,” Farmer said. “Everything was about cutting down the walks for me. The numbers last year, they weren’t the greatest and they weren’t the worst — but obviously my best year in the big leagues.
“But as far as on mine and Andy’s end, the number of walks I had last year was astronomical compared to what I’ve been.”
Farmer has worked on his mechanics, getting a consistent pace and rhythm and most of all, channeling his adrenaline and staying within himself.
“Some of it might have been a function of knowing I was only going to pitch one or two innings and trying to do something I am not capable of — like throw 100 mph,” he said.
The battle for the last couple of bullpen spots seems destined to go to the wire. Presuming that closer Shane Greene, set-up men Joe Jimenez and VerHagen, lefty Hardy and Victor Alcantara are fairly set, if healthy, that leaves three spots open if the Tigers carry eight relievers.
It’s only two spots if the Tigers decide to carry Rule 5 right-hander Reed Garrett, another power arm who has been impressive this spring.
Farmer, lefties Daniel Stumpf and Jose Fernandez seem at this point to be the primary contenders — although right-hander Zac Reininger has pitched effectively and veteran Louis Coleman offers a different look with the three-quarters delivery.
“I’ll be interested to see what the outcomes of a lot of things are,” Farmer said. “Not even just on the pitching staff, but on the position side, too. There’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse that can bang it around and play this game.
“If you can get some of these guys who don’t make the opening day roster through waivers and get them to Triple-A, Toledo is going to have a heck of a team.”
A team, all due respect, Farmer would prefer not to be a part of.