A lot of doubt has been raised over whether the Tigers would still owe a player money if they refused assignment. Let's apply this to the case of Nate Robertson, a player who is clearly taking up space on the roster and is incapable of giving the Tigers high leverage innings.
Let's take a look at the CBA:
I want to break Article XIX A (2) down line by line to attempt to answer this question.
The contract of a Player with five or more years of Major
League service, not including service while on the Military List (or
seven or more years of Major League service, including service
while on the Military List), shall not be assigned otherwise than to
another Major League Club, without the Player’s written consent.
As this applies to Robertson, because his service time exceeds five years, he needs to provide written consent to be sent on an optional assignment, despite the fact that he has options remaining.
Not earlier than 4 days prior to the contemplated date of
an assignment requiring the Player’s consent under subparagraph
(a) above, or 8 days, if the Player has no options remaining or if
the assignment is during the period from the close of the championship
season to the opening of spring training, the Club shall
give written notice to the Player, with a copy to the Association,
which shall advise the Player that he may (i) consent to the
assignment, (ii) refuse the assignment or (iii) elect to become a
There are a few things in this sentence. First, the Tigers would need to submit the paperwork to Robertson four days before he is to be optioned. Second, this is different for players without options, but it doesn't matter in that case, because those players are typically designated for assignment. The final clause of this sentence is crucial. The player can either consent to the assignment, refuse the assignment, or elect to become a free agent.
REFUSING AN ASSIGNMENT DOES NOT MEAN THE PLAYER IS ELECTING FREE AGENCY. HE IS JUST STAYING ON THE MAJOR LEAGUE ROSTER!
That is important, thanks in large part to XIX A (2c), which led to some confusion.
A Player who elects to become a free agent under this
paragraph (2) shall immediately be eligible to negotiate and contract
with any Club without any restrictions or qualifications.
Such Player shall not be entitled to receive termination pay. Such
a free agent shall receive transportation and travel expenses in the
same manner as he would if he had been unconditionally released
except that he shall be limited to receiving travel expenses to his
new club if he reports to it directly, provided such expenses are
less than to his home city.
If a player opts for free agency, the team is no longer on the hook for his salary. This is not the case for a refused assignment. Because refusing an assignment and opting for free agency are different cases for players with options, the loss of termination pay does apply when the player decides he wants to stay on the Major League roster.
If the Tigers try to option Nate Robertson, he has the right to stay on the roster and still get paid. This is likely what happened.