15 Cards Six-Year Minor League Free Agents

Soon, 15 St. Louis Cardinals farmhands can walk away via six-year minor league free agency, including 11 members of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. Is that all bad?

It is again nearing the time each year when a number of minor league players earn the right to taste free agency. While the term is called "six-year minor league free agency", actually a player can experience free agency only following the sixth renewed year of his minor league contract.

In other words, that means players who signed for the 2001 season are becoming free agents for the first time. Players originally signed prior to then could have the option of becoming a free agent at the conclusion of each subsequent season, hence adding credence to the term "minor league journeyman".

You will also note one free agent on the list below who signed his initial contract after 2001. Troy Cate, who originally joined the Seattle system in 2002, is free agent eligible because he was previously released by his original organization before the expiration of that initial six-year period.

None of this applies if the minor league player is added to the organization's 40-man roster. So, for example, reliever Brian Falkenborg would have appeared on this list had he not been called up and added to the Cardinals' 40-man near the end of the season. Conversely, had they not been designated for assignment during the season, neither Cate, pitcher Randy Keisler nor catcher Brian Esposito would have appeared here.

Before becoming too alarmed about the large number of eligible players, note that only two of the 15 were originally drafted by the Cardinals. That small group consists of Chris Narveson and Joe Mather. The former returned to the Cardinals after being claimed off waivers from the Boston Red Sox in 2005.

Mather, the only career-long Cardinal among the 15, represents a player that seems most certain to be added to the Cardinals' 40-man roster. Drafted in 2001, Mather is expected to be protected to ensure he remains in the organization.

Interestingly, Mather was eligible for the Rule 5 draft last December, but was not taken. Avoiding that greater possibility this year is another reason to add him to the 40-man now. As an aside, to see the list of top Cardinals' Rule 5 eligibles, click on this link.

Narveson, on the other hand, is out of minor league options. So, even if re-added to the 40-man now (he was there last off-season), he would have to again be removed and exposed to waivers next spring if the organization wanted to return him to the minors for 2008.

The deadline for the initial decision (add to the 40-man or re-sign for the next season) is the conclusion of the World Series, a change from the previous October 15 date. Of course, a transaction could work in the other direction, too, increasing the list if another player or players are removed from the 40-man, ala Cate.

Esposito, Juan Richardson and Rico Washington are all repeaters on this list from the 26 potential free agents last year. Each had the opportunity to test free agency, but chose instead to re-sign with the Cardinals for 2007. They will now be faced with the same decision 12 months later.

There would have been one more player on this free agent-eligible list, former Memphis second baseman Edgar Gonzalez. However, he requested and received his release at the end of the season, removing him from free agent and Rule 5 consideration.

The current free agent group consists of eight pitchers - four right-handers and four lefties with five labeled as starters and three relievers. The rest of the group includes three catchers, three infielders and just one outfielder. Seven of them have prior major league experience - three with the Cardinals – Cate and Esposito this season and Narveson last.

One of the eligible free agents ended on Palm Beach's roster (A-Advanced), while three more finished with Springfield (Double-A). The remaining 11 were with Memphis (Triple-A).

Name Pos Roster 1st signed MLB debut
Ardoin, Danny  Memphis    6/17/95 (Oak) 8/2/00 (Min)
Bozied, Tagg  1B  Memphis    11/9/01 (SD)
Castellanos, Hugo RHS  Memphis    5/10/00 (Tor)
Cate, Troy LHS Memphis    6/16/02 (Sea) 5/27/07 (StL)
Christianson, Ryan C Memphis    7/18/99 (Sea)
Esposito, Brian Memphis    6/27/00 (Bos) 6/2/07 (StL)
Keisler, Randy LHR  Memphis    7/21/98 (NYY) 9/10/00 (NYY)
Mather, Joe  OF Memphis    6/30/01 (StL)
Narveson, Chris  LHS  Memphis    6/27/00 (StL) 9/8/06 (StL)
Richardson, Juan  3B  Springfield 7/1/98 (Phi)
Russ, Chris  RHS  Springfield 6/11/01 (NYY)
Sanchez, Julio  RHR  Palm Beach unknown
Smith, Mike RHS  Memphis    6/15/00 (Tor) 4/16/02 (Tor)
Venafro, Mike  LHR  Memphis    6/10/95 (Tex) 4/24/99 (Tex)
Washington, Rico  SS Springfield 6/12/97 (Pit)

Following are the players' results in 2007 with leaders listed in bold.

Name 2007 club







Ardoin, Danny  Memphis    1 4 0 0.296 0.424 0.519
Round Rk 1 7 1 0.194 0.301 0.271
Bozied, Tagg  1B  Memphis    24 82 3 0.264 0.349 0.490
Christianson, Ryan C Memphis    5 13 0 0.211 0.280 0.386
Esposito, Brian Memphis    4 16 0 0.178 0.217 0.252
St. Louis 0 0 0 0.000 0.000 0.000
Mather, Joe  OF Memphis    13 31 6 0.241 0.329 0.443
Springfield 18 46 4 0.303 0.387 0.647
Richardson, Juan  3B  Springfield 18 78 0 0.291 0.369 0.472
Washington, Rico  SS GCL Cards 1 5 0 0.429 0.579 0.786
Springfield 4 20 0 0.263 0.324 0.432
Memphis    7 23 2 0.315 0.374 0.536

Name Pos 2007 club W SV ERA K/BB BAA
Castellanos, H, RHS  Springfield 1 0 2.45 11/7 0.268
Memphis    3 0 3.49 33/32 0.243
Cate, Troy LHS Memphis    2 0 6.81 60/30 0.304
St. Louis 0 0 3.38 12/9 0.290
Keisler, Randy LHR  Memphis    8 0 4.79 102/51 0.292
St. Louis 0 0 5.19 5/5 0.309
Narveson, Chris  LHS  Palm Beach 0 0 2.70 6/3 0.270
Memphis    3 0 5.72 35/21 0.244
Russ, Chris  RHS  Min. (Mex.) 3 7 4.03 21/13 0.288
Springfield 0 0 2.59 12/13 0.198
Memphis    0 0 5.40 2/1 0.231
Sanchez, Julio  RHR  GCL Cards 1 5 1.23 11/3 0.241
Palm Beach 0 0 13.50 1/2 0.375
Smith, Mike RHS  Memphis    11 0 5.19 127/49 0.288
Venafro, Mike  LHR  Rochester 1 2 5.40 5/7 0.277
Syracuse 0 0 2.78 18/7 0.287
Memphis    0 0 12.79 32/33 0.448

You probably noted that the names of a few hitters and pitchers appear repeatedly with the best stats among this group. It seems like these few leaders would be good targets to try to re-sign to help fill out rosters short of high-flyers, though none other than Mather is considered a hot prospect at this stage, with Cate and Narveson on the next tier, perhaps.

Assuming a majority of the Triple-A players do not return, combined with the fact that a crop of Springfield prospects look ready to move up, makes one point clear. The 2008 Memphis roster will look decidedly different from the disappointing 56-88 club of this past season.

All in all, that's not a bad thing.

Clubs, including the Cardinals, are most certainly already working on re-signing players they want to retain. In the upcoming days, I will check with the Cardinals on their progress in this area and of course, report back to our readers.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2007 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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