Dylan Bundy is out of options and thus cannot be sent to the minors without being subject to a waiver claim. Most players are entitled to be optioned in three different seasons; because Bundy used three options before his fifth professional season, he was eligible for (and used) a fourth option year. Bundy has pitched 63 innings over the past two seasons; clearly Bundy and the Orioles would benefit if he could get more minor-league seasoning - even though he had an additional option year.
After drafting Bundy, the Orioles signed Bundy to a major-league contract, which put him on the 40-man roster (a practice outlawed in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement). So when Bundy was sent to the minor leagues for his first professional season (2012), that used his first option year. Bundy was optioned to Bowie on March 16, 2013; he was placed on the disabled list on March 31 and missed the entire season. That used his second option year. In 2014, he was again optioned to Bowie; that used his third option year. And in 2015, he was optioned to Bowie a third time; that used his fourth and final option year.
The Orioles' 2013 opening day was April 2. The Orioles optioned Bundy on March 16, even though they didn't have to reduce the roster to 25 until April 2. They optioned him then to streamline their spring training. But this turned out to be a costly convenience. For if they had known that he would go on the disabled list on March 31 - before opening day - they could have waited until March 31 and put him on the disabled list from the major-league spring training roster. And if they had done that, then he wouldn't have used an option that year, and he would still have an option for this year.
Players spend time in the minor leagues to develop their skills. Players have only a limited number of option years to prevent teams from hoarding players, allowing players an opportunity to play in the major leagues and allowing other teams to add players they can use. Surrendering one of Dylan Bundy's years of optional assignment in a year in which he didn't pitch because of injury doesn't help him develop. It doesn't help the Orioles in that they have to keep Bundy on the 25-man active roster before he's presumably ready. It's a lose-lose for both player and team.
Of course, other teams are helped because the Orioles must carry Bundy on their active roster or allow one of them to acquire him. However, I believe the penalty to both Bundy and the Orioles is so severe that the rule should be changed. While it's arguable that some organizations just don't know how to keep players healthy, it's more likely that this is an arbitrary situation that wouldn't help - or hurt - one organization more than another.
I see three possible rule changes:
1. Simply change the rule so that an option year is not used if a player does not play in any game during the season. This is the easiest rule to understand and to apply, but is most subject to manipulation. For instance, a player may start the season on the disabled list but be able to come back late in the season. The team would have to weigh the benefit of holding back a healthy player in exchange for not burning an option year. And, because players on optional assignment are on the major-league team's 40-man roster, the Players' Union would get involved. I imagine there would be little controversy if a player were held out of the games of late August, but there might be issues if he were ready to come back at the end of July.
2. Allow options made before opening day to be "revocable," thereby allowing players to be "recalled" without burning an option year provided the recall is before opening day. This would, essentially, allow a player to be placed on the disabled list from the major-league roster. I don't know if there are any roster limits during spring training (I think not), so there shouldn't be any implementation issues. The disadvantage of this change is that it doesn't adequately address the cases in which an injury proves to be more serious than first suspected, and a player misses the entire year even though his option wasn't revoked.
3. Allow teams to apply to the Commissioner's Office for, essentially, an additional option year. If this rule was in effect, after the 2013 season the Orioles would have applied to the Commissioner's Office to cancel the option (or to award an additional option). This is similar to the NCAA practice through which players may be granted an additional year of eligibility in extraordinary circumstances. The Commissioner's Office would evaluate the request, and (presumably, based on the facts provided) grant or not grant the extra option. This provides the best protection against abuse by the team (holding back a healthy player to retain the option) while introducing another possible abuse (arbitrary action by the Commissioner's Office).
In the big picture, this is not a major problem. But it does seem to be an issue which both the players and the teams have an interest in addressing. It's an issue that at least both players and teams should agree on the desirable outcome. If this is addressed in the next CBA negotiations, and an agreement can quickly be reached, it may contribute to a spirit of cooperation and smooth the rest of the negotiations.