Last week, I noted that a number of players in the Blue Jays organization were set to become minor league free agents as of 12:00 AM this morning. Among the more noteworthy was catcher A.J. Jimenez, but last night the Blue Jays pre-empted his free agency by adding Jimenez back to the 40-man roster.
Jimenez, 26, was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 9th round of the 2008 draft and worked his way up through the system, reaching AA New Hampshire in 2012 and showing enough promise to be protected from the Rule 5 draft by being added to the 40-man in November of that year despite having his season cut short by Tommy John surgery in his elbow.
Injuries continued to plague him over the next three years, as all three of his option years were exhausted without reaching the majors, and consequently he came into this spring needing to make the 40-man roster or go through waivers to be removed from the 40-man. He was designated for assignment March 28 and outrighted to Buffalo on April 7th where he played just 67 games posting a mediocre .241/.290/.377 line and missed a month with injury.
In that respect, it's a little surprising to see this move, especially as I expect 40-man spots to be at a premium this winter (more on that coming Thursday). With all his option years exhausted, Jimenez will once again be in the position of having to make the Opening Day roster. Presumably, the front office sees him having at least some shot of winning the back-up job in Spring Training, though surely other options will be brought in to compete.
With Josh Thole the only catcher after Russ Martin on the major league roster - and at the least in peril of being non-tendered - they may just want to preserve their options. If better options can be secured or the roster spot is needed, he can easily be removed, though this time would be able to elect free agency rather than being obligated to accept a minor league assignment.
In other developments, the Blue Jays transactions page on their website was finally updated to reflect free agent declarations from last Thursday. Surprisingly, both Darwin Barney and Josh Thole are listed as having "elected free agency", which is curious in that they do not have the six years service time necessary to elect free agency under Article XXB of the Collective Bargaining agreement.
UPDATE 8:00 PM ET: The Barney and Thole "transactions" are now gone.
I believe this is simply a mistake. It's possible that both had specific provisions in their contract allowing them to elect free agency, but it would be highly unusual especially for Thole who was not a free agent who had some leverage to negotiate provision like Barney. Beyond that, on the 40-man roster list, both are still listed (as of noon eastern), whereas all the other free agents have been removed. And I see no media reports that either is a free agent, which one would expect to see.
In terms of other impending minor league free agents, the Blue Jays re-signed RHP Carlos Ramirez last week, who in my view had the most potential off all the minor league free agents. He should start 2017 in the New Hampshire bullpen.