To be fair, the term "six-year free agency" can be somewhat misleading at first glance. As our colleague Brian Walton from Scout.com's St. Louis Cardinals site (The Birdhouse) points out, a player can experience free agency only following the sixth renewed year of his minor league contract.
"In other words," Walton notes in his column, "that means players who signed for the 2000 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 weight to the term ‘minor league journeyman.'"
Thus, players such as Gary Cates and Michael Restovich, who both signed as free agents this past off-season, will have the option to sign with another club if not re-signed by the organization or added to the 40-man roster. (The same holds true for players picked up by the Cubs during the season from Independent League's.)
The Cubs, like everyone else, will know more about which of their 2006 stock may or may not be back with the organization next spring come the 15th.
In the meantime, the players referenced below represent a small sample of those that could test free agent waters beginning next month.
Lets start with OF Nic Jackson. Jackson has been plagued with injuries all throughout his career, but the former third-round pick returned healthy long enough to garner a Southern League All-Star selection in July. He hit .297 after joining the Double-A club from Class-A Daytona, but injured his hip flexor in late July and missed the remainder of the year.
OF Luis Montanez, meanwhile, was somewhat of a late-bloomer whose career began to take a positive turn after he was moved to the outfield in 2004. The problem was that Montanez was already in his fourth full season since being taken as the Cubs' first-round pick out of high school in 2000, and many had long since given up hopes of seeing him at Wrigley one day.
INF/OF Brandon Sing, who was drafted in 1999 and thus eligible for free agency a year ago, had his worst season to date in the Cubs' farm system in 2006. Seemingly poised for his first stint at Triple-A to open the season, he combined to hit below .200 between Iowa and West Tenn after battling through an assortment of eye problems that affected his swing.
Like Sing, OF Aron Weston was also drafted in 1999. Weston joined the Cubs via trade in 2002 and managed a .270 average at Double-A this past season after injuring his wrist in ‘05.
As far as pitchers go, left-hander Carlos Vasquez, a past resident on the 40-man roster, sat out all of 2005 with an injury but returned this past year to put up respectable numbers between Class-A Daytona and West Tenn.
And down in Mesa, left-hander Cliff Bartosh spent all of 2006 in Arizona recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. The southpaw came to the Cubs from the Cleveland Indians in a trade that involved minor league starter Ronald Bay in Spring Training 2005.
Joining Bartosh in Mesa this was year right-hander Lee Gwaltney. He, too, underwent shoulder surgery last year and could possibly become a free agent as well. That would seem unlikely, however, as both Gwaltney and Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita implied that the right-hander will be back with the organization and ready to pitch some time next year.
Either way, whether any of these names are back with the Cubs next spring will hinge on both the organization and the players themselves. The Cubs will comment on the status of such players after the Oct. 15 deadline.
For now, though, Carmen Pignatiello was one name on the list of those facing possible free agency, but the left-hander recently re-signed with the organization and will avoid free agency this fall.
Pignatiello hopes to battle for a spot in the major league team's bullpen in Spring Training. The Cubs are hoping he can become a lefty specialist.