With the World Series over and 131 major league free agent declarations yesterday under Article XX(B), the next part of the offseason is its cousin minor league free agency. That happens five days after the end of the World Series, so by the beginning of next week. It obviously doesn’t have the same impact as on the major league side, but there is still value to be had, especially for a rebuilding team with plenty of openings for players who can take put things together and breakout.
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 22 Blue Jays minor leaguers at least potentially eligible for free agency this winter, in addition to one 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, and there aren’t any names this year that stick out as even possibilities to discuss, especially with a 40-man that’s already overfull.
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.
The knuckleballing lefty Ryan Feierabend elected free agency on October 14th, the only player eligible to do so. This is notable only in that the last two years there were eight and five respectively, but then Zach Godley and Neil Ramirez had already elected free agency after outright assignments in late August and early September with the minor league season already over. So some of it’s timing, some of it is just less roster churn (of these type of veteran minor leaguers) than in the past couple years.
Six Year Free Agents (8)
This group is a 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.
Six have been Blue Jays their entire career:
- RHP Danny Barnes (2010 draftee, 35th round)
- LHP Matt Dermody (2013 draftee, 27th round)
- C Michael De La Cruz (2012 IFA)
- C Javier Hernandez (2012 IFA)
- OF Dalton Pompey (2010 draftee, 16th round)
- RHP Francisco Rios (2012 IFA)
It appears that the Dalton Pompey era and saga will soon wrap up, its immense promise largely unfulfilled for many reasons. The other notable was fellow 2010 draftee Danny Barnes, who missed most of the year after being outrighted before the season. It’s too bad he couldn’t sustain the promise of his 2017 season, but his tendency of leaving fastballs in the zone too often outweighed the quality of his changeup.
Javier Hernandez won plaudits for his defensive prowess behind the plate, but never really hit and stalled out the low minors and then has barely played the last couple years. Michael De La Cruz was had a weird progression, initially going rung-by-rung before jumping up and sticking in Buffalo the last two years, albeit sparingly. He actually hit a little this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s back in some capacity.
Matt Dermody was back in thes econd half after Tommy John surgery, and the stuff was there, though the results lagged as he got hit pretty good.
There’s one more name who could possibly qualify: RHP Juan Nunez was signed in July 2013 but only debuted in 2014. Unlike 16 year-olds who must sign a contract for the next season, he was 17 and thus eligible to sign a 2013 contract. That probably wasn’t the case, but if so then his renewals would be up and he’d join the list.
The other two were acquired at the bookends of the 2019 season:
- OF Socrates Brito (2010 IFA)
- RHP Ryan Dull (2012 draftee)
If there are any good Socrates puns/bits of wisdom, this might be last time to use them. Brito had a solid run with Buffalo after his abysmal run in Toronto, but then that’s why he was available in the first place. Dull will presumably end his Blue Jay tenure shy of 50 days having been outrighted twice.
2018 Free Agent Signees (14)
This is a similarly sized cohort to recent years. Alphabetically, they are: RHP Josh Almonte, RHP John Axford, RHP Buddy Boshers, IF Andy Burns, C Patrick Cantwell, RHP Emerson Jimenez, IF Patrick Kivlehan, RHP Mark Leiter Jr., C Alberto Mineo, LHP Shawn Morimando, RHP Willy Ortiz, OF Jordan Patterson, RHP Gerardo Santana, C Andres Sotillo
The usual caveat applies that a few of the above won’t end up free agents, either signed multi-year deals or having re-signed before free agency. Emerson Jimenez, who had a nice rebound season for Dunedin, is a decent bet to again be an example of the former while Vinny Nittoli has apparently re-signed or he would have been in the above list but there could or probably will be others.
Some notes on a few of the above:
- Axford and Leiter Jr. both missed the entire season. If Axford plans on continuing his career I’d imagine there’s a good chance he comes back on a minor league deal. Leiter had Tommy John surgery early this year, but spare a throught for barraqudie as her favourite player departs the organization.
- Former outfielder Almonte finished his second season on the mound. He’s flashed real potential with a low-90s fastball and slider when he’s on, but the consistency hasn’t been there and too often he can’t stay in or near the zone
- Kivlehan had a nice year in Buffalo, with 25 home runs and a .870 OPS
- Gerardo Santana had one of those seasons you only see in the low minors: in 9 innings for the DSL Jays, he walked 23 and hit another 6 batters, while striking out just 3 batters. Despite averaging four runners an inning, somehow he managed only to give up 18 runs (15 earned).