During the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up fan festival, players sign autographs during a set two-hour period for a fee which goes to the Cardinals Care charity. Either before or after they face the public, they also meet the media for a question and answer session.
Among the Cardinals players to participate was left-handed reliever Sam Freeman. The 27-year-old took his turn in the barrel last Sunday, January 18.
Looking ahead to spring training, I asked the former University of Kansas pitcher whether the fact that he is out of minor league options creates a greater sense of urgency for him.
No options remaining would mean that the only way Freeman could return to the minors in 2015 would be to successfully pass through waivers first. That would not happen. He would undoubtedly be claimed by another organization and therefore lost to the Cardinals, such as what has occurred in recent years with a number of home-grown pitchers, including Adam Ottavino, Eric Fornataro and Jorge Rondon.
With the Cardinals featuring a number of other experienced left-handers competing for the same two or three bullpen spots this spring, the answer to my question initially may have seemed obvious.
In fact, general manager John Mozeliak had commented that left-handed relief has been the number one commodity that other teams have asked the Cardinals to trade them this off-season.
Yet against this seemingly familiar and straight-forward backdrop, Freeman’s reply was completely unexpected.
“I have an option left,” Freeman stated. “I fell into a loophole. I have one left.”
Another writer followed with a question about how long he has been aware of this.
“I’ve known that for a couple of seasons,” the lefty replied.
You can hear this exchange around the 1:45 mark of Freeman's WWU interview located here.
Immediately following the media session, I tweeted the news and noted it in my summary of Freeman's remarks that accompany the audio Q&A posted here at The Cardinal Nation.
That night, I searched for the details behind the exception, such as those that had created a fourth option year for other Cardinals in the past, including Shane Robinson and Brendan Ryan. They are usually injury-related and/or the result of a player using his options very quickly.
It turns out that there is no such exception available for Freeman. A baseball official who has familiarity with the situation has confirmed that the 27-year-old cannot be granted a fourth minor league option.
This certainly does limit St. Louis’ bullpen flexibility for 2015 and has to create that sense of urgency I wondered about originally. Freeman’s numerous competitors include Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist and Nick Greenwood plus perhaps starters Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales and even Jaime Garcia if used in a relief role. All seven lefties hold spots on the Cardinals organization’s 40-man roster.
Shortstop Pete Kozma is the other Cardinals player facing the same out-of-options challenge as Freeman this spring. He is expected to battle newcomers Dean Anna and Ty Kelly as well as returnee Greg Garcia for the reserve infield spot vacated by Daniel Descalso. All four are already members of the 40-man roster.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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