Josh Lucas / Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos

Those among St. Louis Cardinals minor league free agents who will be returning for 2017 and why.

Those among St. Louis Cardinals minor league free agents who will be returning for 2017 and why.

Back on September 20, I went through a detailed analysis of the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league players projected to become free agent-eligible this fall. This bottoms-up work, based on a number of qualifying factors, identified 21 potential free agents.

Now that the World Series is over and the off-season has officially begun, it is time to return to the list.

I am not going to re-create the original work here, so please check out that article for background if need be. The way I listed the 21 at the time is by how they originally joined the Cardinals organization and qualified for free agency.

Some were drafted by St. Louis, others were signed as free agents internationally or after leaving another system. Others arrived via the Rule 5 Draft and yet others had been free agents before, but decided to return to the Cardinals. Finally, two players who were outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this fall also became free agent-eligible.

In the table below, the rows continue to follow the above orientation. However, the news is in the columns, which denote the current status of each of the 21.

13 have declared free agency. Four have been offered contracts by the Cardinals for 2017 and have accepted. One, Breyvic Valera, was added to the 40-man roster. The final three – two of whom joined the Cardinals during the 2016 season – already have 2017 deals in place, likely from when they originally signed with St. Louis.

    Current Status    
How FA qualified Free agent (13) Re-sign StL (4) To 40-man (1) Not FA (3)
2010 Draft (2) Justin Wright  Josh Lucas    
2010 Free Agents (3) Jonathan Escudero   Breyvic Valera  
  Silfredo Garcia      
Re-signed Cards (3) Jonathan Rodriguez      
  Gerwuins Velazco      
  David Washington      
Free Agent Signees (9) Jeremy Hefner Robby Rowland   Daniel Bard
  Deck McGuire Bob Wheatley    Johnny Walter
  Efren Navarro      
  J.C. Sulbaran      
  Jose Fernandez      
Rule 5 Additions (2) Tyler Waldron     John Brebbia 
Outrights (2) Michael Ohlman Alberto Rosario    

The four returnees

Among the four returnees for 2017, on October 29, we had already reported on Bob Wheatley’s re-signing. The inconsistent reliever is still in A-ball. It is difficult to even squint and see St. Louis in his future, but maybe he will be a prototypical late-blooming lefty.

Josh Lucas, tall and rangy at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, has had success closing at Springfield, where he was named to the mid-season Texas League All-Star Team and was our 2016 Double-A Reliever of the Year. Lucas is liked by the organization, having been invited to Spring Training Early Program (STEP camp) last spring. The right-hander re-signed on November 2.

The final two deals were announced on the last day before official free agency, on November 7.

Robby Rowland pitched in the 2015 Arizona Fall League and had received a coveted invitation to MLB spring training camp in 2016. However, before the right-hander could officially report, surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow scuttled his spring and most of his season, though he worked his way back to Springfield.

Both Rowland and Lucas are expected to compete for spots in the Memphis bullpen in the spring and if healthy, should open the 2017 season there.

Perhaps the only minor surprise among the four re-signees is Alberto Rosario. The 29-year old journeyman was in the right place at the right time to not only make his MLB debut, but spent the final three months of last season with St. Louis. Rosario was the primary beneficiary of the combination of Brayan Pena’s ongoing knee problems, the loss of veterans Eric Fryer and Michael McKenry due to roster manipulations and top prospect Carson Kelly not quite being ready for the majors. As noted above, Rosario was removed from the 40-man roster last month.

Even if Pena is ready to roll in the spring, the Cardinals will need a veteran alongside Kelly to catch at Memphis in 2017, so it makes sense that the organization asked Rosario to return for another year. Though his path back to St. Louis appears unlikely, so it was a year ago, and it still happened, so why not give it another shot?

By re-signing now, all four - Wheatley, Lucas, Rowland and Rosario - will be Rule 5-susceptible for the December 8 draft, but it seems unlikely any will be chosen by other organizations.

One release

Though not related to the minor league free agent process, another Cardinal has joined those looking for a new 2017 home.

Johnson City right-hander Julio Mateo was released by St. Louis on November 1st. Signed in August 2012 for a reported $125,000 bonus, the Dominican Republic native could not advance beyond the rookie-level Appalachian League in three years trying – 2014, 2015 and 2016 – either as a starter or out of the bullpen.

This past summer, the now-21-year old pitched in long relief and had his worst season yet. Mateo logged an 8.03 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. He fanned 24 and walked 12 to go with 26 hits allowed.

What is next?

The team rosters here at The Cardinal Nation will be updated with this information. Departing free agents will remain on the 2016 team rosters, but with the designation of “FA”. Released players are removed.

A new Roster Matrix covering the off-season will be posted at The Cardinal Nation Blog. It will show all free agents separately, subtracted from the organization totals and will later reflect where they sign, if they do.

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

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