David Washington (Scott Rovak / USA TODAY Sports Images)

Identifying minor leaguers who appear poised to leave the St. Louis Cardinals organization as free agents.

At least 16 St. Louis Cardinals farmhands may be eligible to seek minor league free agency this off-season.

Though the official lists have yet to be released, with the conclusion of the 2016 minor league season, it is a good time to check in on which St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers are slated to be eligible to test for minor league free agency this off-season.

In a general sense, players who have completed seven seasons in the minor leagues or have been previously released may test free agency each off-season. As such, 2010 signees will be eligible for the first time for what is commonly called "six-year minor league free agency."

By my estimation, at least 16 Cardinals farmhands will have the right to test the free agent market, starting on the fifth day after the final game of the World Series. That is comparable to the 17 eligibles from a year ago.

Seven are homegrown, including three previously-eligible players who chose to return to the Cardinals for 2016. Of the other four, two were 2010 draftees, with the other two first-time free agent signees who first suited up in 2010.

The other 10 spent time in other organizations before coming to the Cardinals. Eight joined the organization as free agents for the first time in 2016. One other free agent decided to come back for a second year and the final eligible player became a Cardinal via the 2015 Rule 5 Draft.

In terms of their most recent levels of play, the potential free agent group is top-heavy. The largest group, seven, finished at Triple-A Memphis, with four more ending the year with Double-A Springfield. Two were with the high-A Palm Beach club, one from Class-A Peoria and the final two finished the year with short-season Class-A State College.

From a position perspective, 12 of the 16 are pitchers, including four starters and eight relievers. Position players include three corner infield/outfield types and a second baseman-outfielder.

Caveats: Like Jonathan Rodriguez, Robby Rowland, Gerwuins Velazco and David Washington did last year, any of the 16 could re-sign with the Cardinals now or later instead of moving on – but only if a 2017 contract is offered and accepted. In fact, I have no way of knowing if one or more has already agreed to terms for next season, though that will become clearer during the fall and winter.

In addition, the Cardinals could decide to add one or more players to the 40-man roster to keep him from walking. Last November, this is what happened with outfielder Anthony Garcia.

It could also work the other way around if players are taken off the 40-man between now and November, but are not taken by another organization and clear waivers.

2010 Draft (2) Pos Tm Notes 
Josh Lucas RHR Spr Tall closer saved 16 games at AA
Justin Wright  LHR Mem Moved up from Spr for playoffs
2010 Free Agents (3) Pos Tm Notes 
Jonathan Escudero RHR SC Signed 10/09, 1st pitched in 2010 VSL
Breyvic Valera 2B/OF Mem Signed 5/10, took off after Mem promo
Silfredo Garcia RHR PB DL 2016 NRI, but injured, out since May
Re-signed Cardinals (3) Pos Tm Notes 
Jonathan Rodriguez 1B/3B Spr 2009 draftee re-signed for 2016
Gerwuins Velazco RHR SC Orig. signed as C in 2008, back for 2016
David Washington 1B/OF Mem 2009 draftee re-signed for 2016
Free Agent Signees (9) Pos Tm Notes 
Daniel Bard RHR PB Rough time in attempted comeback
Jeremy Hefner RHS Mem 30 y/o missed 2 months due to injury
Deck McGuire RHS Mem Made 27 AAA starts, 1 at AA
Efren Navarro 1B/OF Mem Signed as Peguero fill in in July
Robby Rowland RHR Spr 2015 FA signee re-signed for 2016
J.C. Sulbaran RHS Spr Moved down from Mem to Spr
Johnny Walter RHS PB Indy signee bounced bet Spr, PB
Bob Wheatley  LHR Peo January free agent signee
Jose Fernandez
OF PB Free agent OF/2B signed in mid-Aug.
Other Additions (2) Pos Tm Notes 
John Brebbia  RHR Mem 2015 Rule 5 pick previously released
Tyler Waldron RHR Mem DL 2014 Rule 5 pick missed all of 2016

Home-Grown Cardinals

Two of the five Cardinals-drafted free agents came from the Class of 2010 and two are from the 2009 draft. One free agent from 2008 has re-signed twice.


First-time eligibles from the 2010 draft include Springfield closer Josh Lucas and lefty reliever Justin Wright. Both split the year between Double-A and Triple-A with the latter being back moved to Memphis rather than being put on Springfield’s playoff roster.


The other two potential free agents first joined the Cardinals as international free agents back in 2010. They are reliever Jonathan Escudero and utilityman Breyvic Valera.

Update: Initially, I omitted Silfredo Garcia from this group. The right-handed reliever was a non-roster invitee to 2016 spring training, but was injured and immediately sent to minor league camp.

The 25-year-old Venezuelan was bumped back down to Palm Beach from Springfield to open the season and after 11 relief appearances, went on the high-A club’s disabled list in early May, where he remained for the rest of the season. Garcia originally signed with the Cardinals in May 2010 and suited up with the Venezuelan Summer League Cards that season.


A pair of 2009 Cardinals draftees who decided to take the team’s offer to come back for 2016, are eligible for free agency again. They are first basemen Jonathan Rodriguez and David Washington, with the latter becoming the system’s home run champion in 2016.

The originally-signed player from 2008 is catcher-turned-relief pitcher Gerwuins Velazco. The right-hander spent six years in the system before his position change in 2015.


Free Agent Signees

Among the seven new free agents who joined the Cardinals this past season were three-fifths of the initial Memphis rotation. Deck McGuire remained all season, with the exception of one start with Springfield. J.C. Sulbaran was also sent down to Double-A, but did not return to Triple-A. Oft-injured Jeremy Hefner spent two months on the DL.


Johnny Walter was added during the season from independent ball, making 14 starts between Palm Beach and Springfield. The other is a former MLB starter and setup man. A move to a sidearm delivery did not help Daniel Bard, who was knocked around as a reliever after being activated at Palm Beach in mid-August. 

Lefty reliever Bob Wheatley did not advance beyond Peoria while returning reliever Robby Rowland missed much of the season recovering from spring surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and missing out on a non-roster invitation to MLB camp.


That leaves first baseman-outfielder Efren Navarro, who was signed out of the Mexican League in early July, when another free agent signed over the off-season, Carlos Peguero, opted out to play in Japan.


Other Additions

The final projected free agent became a Cardinal in early December via the Rule 5 draft. Reliever John Brebbia spent half the season with Springfield before hitting trouble at Memphis (6.23 ERA in 19 games).

Update: In my first cut, I missed a second player in this category. Memphis reliever Tyler Waldron, selected by St. Louis in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, made his professional debut in 2010. Initially, the right-hander was a non-roster invitee to MLB camp this spring, but after suffering a shoulder impingement, the 27-year-old missed the entire 2016 season.

The inclusions of Waldron and Silfredo Garcia makes the potential free agent total 18, up one from one year ago.


October 13 update

The list grows to 20 with the outrighting of catchers Michael Ohlman and Alberto Rosario, as both become free agent eligible. Details here.

October 22 update

Make it 21. I had forgotten about the August signing of journeyman free agent outfielder-second baseman Jose Fernandez, added to provide depth at Palm Beach.


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 weeks following the World Series to fill projected 2017 roster gaps, especially at Memphis and Springfield.

The best free agents tend to sign fairly quickly, so it will be interesting to watch the Cardinals’ actions in November.


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

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