Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is up for renewal this offseason, calls for minor league players to have a path to free agency. They're somewhat erroneously called six-year minor league free agents, but they have to play in all or part of seven minor league seasons. The six-year term comes from the fact that they must have their minor league contract renewed in six seasons, but have to play seven seasons before they can become a free agent. Also, they, of course, can not be on the major league club's 40-man roster and can't have a valid contract for the next season. Considering that players sign one-year minor league deals, a player would only have a deal for the next season, if he negotiates one at or near the end of the season.
Generally speaking, minor league free agents provide insurance for a team. Maybe they think they might need a guy to bring to the majors rather than rushing a young player. Or, maybe they have a hole in the organization at a particular position that can be best filled by a veteran minor leaguer. Minor league free agents are often looked at to provide leadership for younger players that may be coming up through the system.
Some baseball people, including Dave Huppert, who managed the IronPigs for their first three seasons, aren't especially fond of veteran-type minor league players. Huppert once referred to players like Andy Tracy and Dane Sardinha, who had signed with the Phillies as minor league free agents as "whores for hire."
A minor league free agent can sign with any team and can be signed to either a major league or minor league contract. Players who are eligible become free agents immediately following the end of the World Series, but can't sign with another team for five days, giving their original team exclusive negotiating rights for those five days.
Minor league players in the Phillies organization who are eligible for free agency include:
INF Taylor Featherston (LV), DH Jake Fox (RDG), LHP Mario Hollands (RDG), OF Cedric Hunter (LV), RHP Gregory Infante (RDG/LV), OF Christian Marrero (RDG), C Chace Numata (CLW), RHP Miguel Nunez (RDG), LHP James Russell (LV) and RHP Anthony Vasquez (LV)
At 34, Fox is the oldest of the Phillies minor league free agents. He served almost as a player/coach for Double-A Reading this season, while putting up some impressive offensive numbers for the team. It will be interesting to see whether the Phillies look to have him return in a similar role or possibly bring him back as a minor league coach for one of their minor league clubs if Fox were to decide his playing days were over.
Featherston, Hollands, Hunter, Infante and Russell have all had stints in the majors. Featherston and Hunter played big roles for Lehigh Valley this season, but could be replaced by other players. Russell also helped the IronPigs through some tough times both as a starter and reliever at various points in the season and might be worth another season. Hollands still hasn't rebounded fully from Tommy John surgery, but lefties are always in demand. Infante struggled through much of the season and likely won't be brought back.
Vasquez has allowed the Phillies to not have to rush some of their young pitchers as he filled a starter's spot with both Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2016. He's the type of pitcher who can help an organization have a veteran starter in their rotation and has some value. Nunez served as Reading's closer for part of the season and did a nice job in that role.
Chace Numata signed with the Phillies when he was 17 and is still just 24-years old. He showed some signs of life in his bat later in the 2016 season and could be brought back on another minor league deal to see how his development continues.