Projected Cardinals Minor League Free Agents

At least 17 St. Louis Cardinals farmhands were eligible to seek minor league free agency this off-season.

Though the official lists have yet to be released, the St. Louis Cardinals already have one confirmed minor league free agent and three more recent additions. First baseman Dan Johnson, removed from the 40-man roster at the start of August, has already elected free agency due to having been outrighted a second time in his career. The three players outrighted by the Cardinals on Monday – shortstop Pete Kozma and catchers Ed Easley and Travis Tartamella – will be eligible for minor league free agency as a result of their change in status and years of play.

In sort of balance, three eligible players were offered new contracts by the Cardinals for 2016 and accepted. They are Springfield outfielder/first baseman David Washington, Springfield reliever Jhonny Polanco and State College pitcher Gerwuins Velazco. The latter just finished his first season pitching after converting from catcher.

To generalize, players who have completed seven seasons in the minor leagues or have been previously released may test free agency each off-season. As such, the 2009 draft class will be eligible for the first time for what is commonly called "six-year minor league free agency."

By my estimation, at least 17 Cardinals farmhands had the right to test the free agent market. That is up from 12 a year ago. Nine are homegrown, including all three re-signed players, with the others having spent time in other organizations, as well. One of the 17 finished the 2015 regular season with St. Louis, nine with Memphis, four at Springfield, two with Palm Beach and one at State College.

The Triple-A Redbirds are being hit particularly hard among the position player ranks, losing two catchers, their two first basemen and all three outfielders.

Like Washington, Polanco and Velazco, any could re-sign with the Cardinals now or later instead of moving on – but only if a 2016 contract is offered and accepted.

2009 Draft Pos Tm Notes 
Keith Butler RHR PB Reached StL in 2013/2014
Anthony Garcia OF Mem Strong bounceback season in 2015
Pete Kozma SS StL Spent entire 2015 season with StL
Jonathan Rodriguez 1B/3B Spr 2014 Texas League All-Star
Xavier Scruggs (2008) 1B/OF Mem Removed from 40-man in September
Travis Tartamella C Mem Sept MLB debut due to Molina injury
       
Free Agent Signees Pos Tm Notes 
Ed Easley C Mem Onto 40-man last Nov, off this week
Jose Gonzalez C PB Originally signed with COL in 2005
Marcus Hatley RHR Mem Two-game MLB debut in July
Jeremy Hazelbaker OF Mem Signed in May and took off at Spr
Dan Johnson 1B Mem With StL for 3 weeks when Adams out
Alberto Rosario Spr Signed in December 2014
       
Other Additions Pos Tm Notes 
Nick Greenwood LHP Mem Part of 2010 Ludwick-Westbrook trade
Rafael Ortega OF Mem Waiver claim in January 2014 (TEX)
       
Re-Signed Pos Tm Notes 
Jhonny Polanco RHR Spr Moved to relief in 2013
Gerwuins Velazco RHR SC Originally signed in 2008
David Washington 1B/OF Spr 2009 15th-rounder
Robby Rowland RHR Spr Now pitching in Arizona Fall League

Home-Grown Cardinals

Five of the six Cardinals-drafted free agents came from the class of 2009. Though Xavier Scruggs was selected a year earlier, he was not eligible for free agency one year ago because he was on the 40-man roster then. His potential replacement at first base for Memphis, Jonathan Rodriguez, is also eligible for free agency.

In addition to Scruggs and Kozma, reliever Keith Butler also reached St. Louis for brief periods in 2013 and 2014 before being shuffled all the way down to A-Advanced Palm Beach this past season.

Free Agent Signees

The catching ranks were augmented from the outside, including three from this category – Easley, Jose Gonzalez and Alberto Rosario - and will likely have to be again in 2016 to replace them.

Jeremy Hazelbaker was the last of these players to join the Cardinals – in May – but the outfielder may have made the greatest impact during 2015, first at Springfield then Memphis.

Again, half of this group of six reached St. Louis during the 2015 season – Easley, Johnson and reliever Marcus Hatley.

Other Additions

Outfielder Rafael Ortega is the only Cardinals 2014 minor league free agent to re-sign with the organization for 2015. Whether he will be back again remains to be seen.

Did you know that Indians ace Corey Kluber was part of the 2010 three-way trade that also included San Diego which brought Nick Greenwood and since-retired Jake Westbrook to St. Louis? Greenwood had stints with the Cardinals in each of the last two seasons.

In Closing

These players will be joined in the open market by another 500 or more minor league free agents from the other 29 organizations. The Cardinals will likely make a handful of signings from this population in the upcoming weeks to fill projected 2016 roster gaps, especially at Memphis and Springfield. The best free agents tend to sign fast so it will be interesting to watch the Cardinals’ actions.

Update – Robby Rowland

When preparing this article initially, I overlooked reliever Robby Rowland. Currently participating in the Arizona Fall League, the right-hander was signed as a free agent this spring, so would have been eligible to return to that status after the season. However, the 23-year-old recently signed a 2016 contract with the Cardinals and has been added to that section of the above table.

Update – Anthony Garcia

On Thursday, November 5th, the Cardinals added Memphis outfielder Anthony Garcia to the 40-man roster. That pre-empts his potential free agency and also protects him from December’s Rule 5 Draft. It was not a surprising move, given that the Puerto Rican native is still just 23 years of age and his career trajectory remains on the upswing. It also protects the 2016 Memphis outfield a bit, with Ortega and Hazelbaker eligible to leave.

Update – Jonathan Rodriguez

On Friday, November 6th, Springfield 1B/3B Jonathan Rodriguez announced on Twitter that he has re-signed with the Cardinals for 2016. After two Double-A seasons and a large group of free agents at Triple-A, Rodriguez should be a regular in the Memphis lineup next season.

The Roster Matrix has Who is Where

Every one of the 276 players in the Cardinals system is documented by level and position as is each free agent and every transaction all year long. The place is the Cardinals organization Roster Matrix, free at The Cardinal Nation Blog.

These free agents will be noted as such on a new, refreshed Roster Matrix once their status is officially confirmed. On 2015 team roster pages here at The Cardinal Nation, these players will be indicated by “FA” in place of their uniform number.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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