With the World Series potentially a few days from being over, the offseason beckons ever closer on the horizon, starting with free agent declarations the morning after. Following right on its heels is minor league free agency, which kicks off five days after the World Series ends. It obviously doesn’t have the same impact as on the major 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 likely 23 Blue Jays minor leaguers at least eligible for free agency this winter, in addition to the five having already declared. The only way to retain these players for sure is to add them to the 40-man in advance the deadline, as they did with A.J. Jimenez in 2016. It’s rare for that to happen, but there’s a name or two below where it’s at least worth mentioning as a possibility.
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.
Five players have already elected free agency this month since the end of the regular season: Brandon Cumpton, Preston Guilmet, Mike Hauschild, Luis Santos, and Darnell Sweeney.
Most of these were minor league free agent signings last winter to fill up Buffalo’s roster and provide organizational depth. All would have presumably qualified via expiring contracts anyway, so this just allowed them to hit the open market sooner. None made any real impact for the Blue Jays, though I’d reckon Santos is a good bet to return in 2019.
Six Year Free Agents (11)
This group is an eclectic mix of prospects signed/drafted as amateurs by the Jays, and those acquired otherwise. Some have been previously been 40-man roster player, now off it for the first time since reaching six years from signing their initial contracts.
Five have been Blue Jays their entire career:
- OF/RHP Josh Almonte (2012 draftee, 22nd round)
- 1B Juan Kelly (2012 IFA)
- Util Jason Leblebijian (2012 draftee, 25th round)
- LHP Angel Perdomo (2011 IFA)
- C Andres Sotillo (2012 IFA)
There’s no huge bonus players here, but a couple names of note here. Leblebijian got a lot of time in Spring Training, and has two years in AAA but hasn’t pushed himself over the top. The other is Perdomo, who has big stuff from the left side but has battled injuries the last couple years as well as control struggles. The Jays finally put him in the bullpen towards the end of the season, and I’d like to see what he can do as a reliever. I can’t see adding him to the 40-man, but given that he didn’t receive a big bonus I’d think he could be enticed to re-sign before free agency with a reasonably modest contract.
There’s one more name who could possibly qualify: RHP Francisco Rios was signed in July 2012 but only debuted in 2013. Unlike 16 year-olds who must sign a contract for the next season, he was 17 and thus eligible to sign a 2012 contract, in which case his renewals would be up and he’d join the list.
The other six were acquired from their original teams but their renewals have now been exhausted:
- C Patrick Cantwell (2017 trade, 2012 draftee)
- IF Ivan Castillo (2017 AAA Rule 5, 2012 IFA)
- 2B Tim Lopes (2016 trade, 2012 draftee)
- C Alberto Mineo (2017 AAA Rule 5, 2011 IFA)
- OF Eduard Pinto (2017 trade, 2012 IFA)
- OF Harold Ramirez (2016 trade, 2011 IFA)
The two Rule 5 players were solid contributors for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Castillo joined the influx from Cleveland, and tied for the league lead in hitting with teammate Rodrigo Orozco at .304 while playing all over. He’s only 23, so he’s sort of intriguing and I wouldn’t mind seeing what he can do in AA. The Italian import Mineo split time behind the plate with Riley Adams, posting a quality .305/.387/.424 line, albeit in only 250 PA.
Lopes came over from Seattle in September 2016 to complete the earlier Pat Venditte deal. Like brother Christian (2011 Jays draftee), he’s been a decent performer but nothing overwhelming to put himself in the big league picture. Pinto was acquired in July 2017 when the Jays cast off Jason Grilli. He hit for average at every level with Texas, but it’s been choppy since the trade as he struggled immensely in 2017 before hitting in Dunedin this year and being the toughest FSL player to strike out. But he didn’t hit at all in AA when moved up, and ended up consigned to the bench for the playoff run.
That leaves Harold Ramirez, who came over in the Francisco Liriano/Drew Hutchison 2016 deadline trade. He signed for a bonus over $1-million, but was a corner outfielder who hit for .300+ averages with modest power, making for a tough profile. After a huge debut, he missed the rest of the season and turned in a poor 2017 repeating AA which cost him his 40-man spot last winter. After a slow start to 2018, he got back on track and just mashed the last couple months, putting himself back on the radar. The issue is there’s already so many outfield question marks with 40-man spots at a premium. That might be the only way to retain him though, as it would make sense for him to look for a less crowded opportunity as a FA.
2018 Free Agent Signees (12)
This is a similarly sized cohort to last year. Alphabetically, they are: 2B Jon Berti, LHP Craig Breslow, RHP Emilio Guerrero, OF Jose Abel Hernandez, RHP Emerson Jimenez, C/coach Jose Mayorga, LHP Shawn Morimando, 1B Anthony Rogriguez, 2B Brayan Rogriguez, RHP Murphy Smith, RHP Zach Stewart, RHP Matt Tracy
There’s really not much further to discuss here, with many of the players signed during the season to fill holes. It’s possible some signed multi-year deals and won’t hit free agency, in particular three DSL players who were signed in mid-August.
Smith and Berti both fit in the organizational solider category and it wouldn’t be surprising if either were back having both debuted in 2018. Morimando was assigned to the AFL, so it’s possible he’s already in the fold for 2019. Jimenez was the guy I was most intrigued by, but he was hurt to start the season and disappointingly ineffective thereafter, and with lesser stuff than reported in 2017.
Not listed here is RHP/C Daniel Canellas whose status in the organization is unclear, but he’s potentially another.