With the offseason now kicked off with free agency opening, the focus has naturally been on the big league side. But following right on its heels is minor league free agency, which kicks off five days are the World Series begins. It obviously doesn’t have the same impact as on the minor league side, but there is still value to be had.
What follows is an overview of impending free agents in the Blue Jays minor league system. It's a little tricky since re-signings and multi-year deals aren't always reported, so we'll have to see who is actually granted free agency shortly.
By my count, there are up to 24 Blue Jays minor leaguers at least eligible for free agency this winter, in addition to the eight having already declared. The only way to retain these players for sure is to add them to the 40-man in advance of next Tuesday, as they did with A.J. Jimenez last year. I don’t expect a repeat this year.
There are three ways for a minor league player to be declared a free agent:
- A player sent outright to the minors off the 40-man for a second or subsequent time can elect free agency after the season by October 15th (unless returned to the 40-man). A player outrighted for the first time can do so provided he has three years of Major League service
- A player whose initial minor league contract has been renewed six times (ie, for six seasons after his first) is granted free agency five days after the end of the World Series
- A player whose free agent contract expires becomes a free agent five days after the end of the World Series.
Eight players have already elected free agency since the end of the regular season: Jeff “Jean” Beliveau, Mike Bolsinger, Lucas Harrell, T.J. House, Brett Oberholtzer, Mike Ohlman, Nick Tepesch, and Cesar Valdez (who had a 2010 outright I was not aware of yesterday).
Most of these were minor league free agent signings last winter to fill up Buffalo’s roster and provide organizational depth. All would have qualified in other ways anyway, so this just allowed them to hit the open market sooner. None made any real impact for the Blue Jays.
Six Year Free Agents (8)
This group has both prospects signed/drafted as amateurs by the Jays, and those acquired otherwise who are now off a 40-man roster for the first time since reaching six years from signing their initial contracts.
- Util Jon Berti (2011 draftee)
- RHP Adonys Cardona (2010 IFA)
- OF Darrell Ceciliani
- RHP Jeremy Gabryszwski (2011 draftee)
- Util Emilio Guerrero (2011 IFA)
- OF Derrick Loveless (2011 draftee)
- RHP Bo Schultz
Cardona signed for $2.8-million as the headliner of Alex Anthopoulos’ first international class when the Jays dove headlong back into that market, but he ultimately never could harness his considerable raw stuff. Emilio Guerrero kept pushing his way up the system after being signed at the ripe old age of almost 19, but has stalled out in AA.
Gabryszwski didn’t pitch at all in 2017, in fact not even being assigned to a roster. It’s possible he retired, in which case he would have gone on a reserve list and won’t be a free agent.
Potential Six Year Free Agents (4)
In addition to the above players who definitely have exhausted their renewals, there’s a gray area for some other 2011 draftees because the signing deadline used to be so late. The four players below didn’t debut until 2012, so it’s possible their first contracts were signed for the 2012 seasons rather than 2011. My guess is most will be free agents, as they should have had the leverage to get 2011 as the initial year despite not signing in time to debut.
- 1B/3B Matt Dean
- IF Christian Lopes
- RHP Tom Robson
- RHP John Stilson
Stilson has dealt with a lot of injuries, but still has a mid-90s fastball and posted solid numbers in Buffalo. I would have liked to see him in September, but he got hurt. A fresh start might make sense for him.
Robson similarly has been derailed by injuries, and though the raw stuff is still there has had major command issues. He seemed to have harnessed it some mid-season, but shortly after being promoted to AA got hurt and spent the the rest of the year on the DL.
Lopes and Dean both received high-six figures bonuses, and have ascended to the upper levels. Dean showed big raw power, but way too much swing-and-miss. Lopes has been a solid if unspectacular performer at the upper levels.
2017 Free Agent Signees (13)
For a variety of reasons, there’s a lot fewer players in this category than last year’s 26. Alphabetically, they are: RHP Daniel Canellas, 1B/coach George Carroll, C Luis Liriano, C Jose Mayorga, RHP Blake McFarland, C Alex Monsalve, IF Shane Opitz, IS Gregorio Petit, RHP Chris Smith, Murphy Smith, RHP John Straka, OF Jose Tabata, RHP Kender Villegas.
There’s really not much further to discuss here, with many of the players signed during the season to fill holes - Jose Tabata never even made it into a game after Spring Training. It’s possible some signed multi-year deals and won’t hit free agency.
Murphy Smith is an organizational solider and could well be back, Chris Smith still has a big fastball and would be interesting to bring back. Blake McFarland of course is familiar, but had a second straight season largely wiped out after five appearances. But on the whole, there’s no one who sticks out to me as Carlos Ramirez did last year as a priority.