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Impending minor league free agents

Up to 21 players who will likely soon be departing the Blue Jays organization

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

With the World Series over and 147 major league free agent declarations Wednesday plus another 13 yesterday under Article XX(B) of the Collective Agreement, the offseason’s next phase is its cousin minor league free agency. That happens five days after the end of the World Series, so by the end of this weekend. It obviously doesn’t have the same impact as on the major league side, but every year there’s value to be had finding diamonds in the proverbial rough

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 21 Blue Jays minor leaguers at least potentially eligible for free agency this winter, in addition to three having already declared. The only way to retain these players for sure is to add them to the 40-man in advance of the deadline, as they did with A.J. Jimenez in 2016. It’s rare for that to happen, but there’s a couple this year for whom it’s at least plausible (though less than likely given how many players are likely to be available this winter).

There are three ways for a minor league player to be declared a free agent:

  1. 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.
  2. A player whose initial minor league contract has been renewed six times (ie, for six seasons after his first) is granted free agency at 5 PM ET on the fifth day after the end of the World Series.
  3. A player whose free-agent contract expires becomes a free agent five days after the end of the World Series.

Outrights (3)

Wilmer Font (Sept. 28), Brandon Drury (Oct. 6) and Caleb Joseph (Oct. 15) have already elected free agency after having been sent outright at various points in August. Unlike in previous years where most of the free agents in this category were minor league free agents pressed into service, Drury and Font were both players tendered contracts last winter. All would have qualified for free agency in one of the following groups anyway, so this just allowed them to hit the open market sooner.

Six Year Free Agents (8 or 9)

This group is a mix of prospects signed or drafted as amateurs by the Jays and those acquired otherwise. Some have previously been 40-man roster players, now off it for the first time since reaching six years from signing their initial contracts.

The most notable is Thomas Pannone, a 2013 draftee acquired for Joe Smith three trade deadlines ago but didn’t make any MLB appearances this year before being sent outright on August 28th. Another who may in the same boat is Sam Gaviglio, who was reported as having been released Sept. 4 after being DFA’d to make room for trade deadline additions. But the transactions page list him as both having been sent outright and released, and some sources only have the former. That kind of makes him Schrodinger’s pitcher right now, but in any event, come Monday he’ll assuredly be on the open market.

The two more interesting cases are LHP Tim Mayza and perhaps OF Forrest Wall. The latter was acquired from Colorado in the July 2018 Seung-hwan Oh deal, performed servicable in AA and AAA but was buried in a crowded 40-man outfield mix. That’s now thinned out with just five outfielders on the 40-man, and maybe less if the Jays internally are over Derek Fisher.

Wall was part of the 60-man player pool for 2020, so he’s at least somewhat on the radar despite not having been protected on the 40-man. As a 2014 draftee, his renewals are now up and might be inclined to look for better opportunities elsewhere. If the Jays did want to make sure he stayed around, even as depth or insurance this winter, adding him to the 40-man would foreclose his free agency. The downside is he’d become a Rule 6(e) Draft Excluded player who cannot be removed from the 40-man until March, and it’s not clear he’s ahead of Josh Palacios, so I don’t expect this to happen.

Mayza regrettably blew out his elbow last September, requiring Tommy John surgery that would sideline him for 2020. Consequently he was sent outright last November (presumably with some gainful contractual arrangement for him since there are otherwise restrictions against doing so in the manner that Jays did). Now over 13 months removed, if his stuff is back and he’s on track to be fully recovered for 2021, the Jays could add him to the 40-man to keep him in the fold. The Jays currently look thin in bullpen southpaws, with Ryan Borucki the only other option on the 40-man horizon.

Three others have been Blue Jays their entire career:

  • RHP Conor Fisk (2014 draftee, 24th round)
  • RHP Juan Nunez (2013 IFA)
  • OF Norberto Obeso (2013 IFA)

I was a little surprised the Jays never gave Fisk a real go as a pure short reliever since his fastball would at least touch into the mid-90s, and a breaking ball would flash potential. But he was used mostly as a swingman to fill innings.

The other two are org types acquired from outside:

  • C Jesus Lopez was an infielder acquired from Oakland for Kendrys Morales, a $950,000 bonus baby who never hit. The Jays tried converting him to catcher, and...let’s just say it didn’t take in Vancouver.
  • OF Luis Silva was purchased from Texas in July 2017, but didn’t play after that year and wouldn’t be assigned or have in-season transactions listed until at some point phantom IL stints for the entire year would retroactively appear. This has usually been the case when a player is transitioning to a coaching role, so that may be the case here.

2020 Free Agent Signees (12)

This is a similarly sized cohort to recent years, the only difference being that many of them never actually played for the Jays beyond Spring Training (or at least since being re-signed in some cases). Alphabetically, they are: RHP Philippe Aumont (formally), IF Deiferson Barreto (who’s likely also been in a coaching capacity), IF Andy Burns, C Patrick Cantwell, RHP James Dykstra, RHP Ryan Dull, OF Gabriel Guerrero, C Mac James, RHP Vinny Nittoli, RHP Willy Ortiz, RHP Connor Overton, and 3B Mitch Walding

The usual caveat applies that a few of the above won’t end up free agents, either having signed multi-year deals or having re-signed before free agency. An example of the former is RHP Emerson Jimenez, who I haven’t listed above because he hasn’t been a free agent the past few offseasons, but there’s always a chance he could turn up there this winter as a 13th name on the list.