Free Agency Isn't Just For Major Leaguers

Free agency isn't just for major league players. Any player who has played all or part of seven seasons in either the major leagues or minor leagues can become a minor league free agent if they're not on the 40 man roster of their parent club. That rule means that 20 minor leaguers from the Phillies organization are now minor league free agents and can negotiate with other teams.

Don't worry, top prospects rarely, if ever, show up as minor league free agents. We're not talking the cream of the crop here, but there are some interesting names for the Phillies to consider whether they want to bring back or not.

David Coggin is the first name that jumps out at you. Coggin was once a top prospect and looked like he was on his way to having a solid major league career. Then, the injury bug hit and Coggin's career took on the look of a failed prospect. Coggin last pitched in the majors in 2002 when he went 2-5, 4.68 for the Phillies. Overall, he is 10-12, 4.52 as a major leaguer. This past season, he was with the Phillies in spring training and then cleared waivers when they optioned him back to AAA. It looked for a while like he might be on his way back, but then injuries hit once again and he was shut down late in the year, finishing the season 2-3, 4.73 at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

The Phillies might give Coggin another minor league contract offer, but he might also seek some new scenery. Many in the Phillies organization have seemingly given up on Coggin and perhaps, a fresh outlook with another organization might be what he needs. That is, if he's healthy.

Bud Smith can relate to Coggin's problems. Smith was a key part of the deal that sent Scott Rolen to St.Louis, but he's been an injured shell of himself ever since he arrived in Philly. Keep two things in mind about Smith. One, he has a major league no-hitter to his credit. And two, he just turned 25. He was again hampered by lingering injuries this past season and was limited in how often he could pitch. He has yet to pitch at the major league level for the Phillies, but has a 7-8, 4.95 mark with St.Louis. His numbers are skewed upward thanks to a horrible 2002 campaign when his injury problems were just beginning.

Again, like Coggin, Smith might need a change of scenery. He's part of a sour taste that the Phillies fans - and front office - have from the whole Scott Rolen debacle. Smith was supposed to help fans forget about Rolen, instead, he is a reminder that the deal doesn't look too good from this side of the ledger.

Cary Hiles once seemed to have a pretty bright future with the Phillies. Hiles recorded 75 saves through five minor league seasons for the Phillies. Then, in 2003, the injury bug hit and slowed his progress. In 2004, he was looking to rebound when more injuries flared. It looked like he was on the road to recovery and finally had to be shut down for the season. Rumor is that Hiles may miss the entire 2005 season. It's unlikely that the Phillies - or any other team for that matter - will make much of an attempt to sign him. Hiles may be one of those players that winds up out of baseball and then looks for a way back in when he's completely healthy.

Not all of the Phillies minor league free agents had injury problems. Clay Condrey (9-9, 5.46 at AAA), Robert Ellis (5-8, 4.23 at Scranton), Martire Franco (4-4, 3.30, 15 saves at Reading), Hayden Gardner (2-1, 3.09 in 7 games at Reading), Greg Kubes (5-3, 3.84), Spike Lundberg (6-3, 3.26 at Scranton) and Ed Yarnall (5-5, 3.97 at Scranton) will each receive at least some interest from the Phillies and perhaps, from other organizations as well.

Of the position players, there are also some interesting names.

Mark Budzinski hit .283 at AAA Scranton and gives the Phillies veteran depth. Mark Smith was Budzinski's outfield mate at Scranton and hit .281 with 11 homeruns. If nothing else, Budzinski and Smith give the Phillies some experienced players to keep around the organization. The Phillies have filled up their AAA roster with players like them the past few seasons, eliminating the need to rush younger players and still keeping Scranton competitive.

Pablo Ozuna did a great job at shortstop for the Red Barons in 2004, hitting .307 with 31 stolen bases. With the Phillies re-signing Tomas Perez, any shot that Ozuna might have had of making the big league club is pretty much gone. He might look for another organization with a hole on their major league bench and look to sign there. The Phillies also have Danny Gonzalez coming up from AA Reading, so Ozuna might be a spare part.

J.P. Roberge has been in the organization for four years, and has played most of the last three seasons at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. The 32 year old Roberge has never gotten a shot at the majors, but is still hoping for his fifteen minutes of fame. Again, since there isn't much opportunity with the Phillies, Roberge may look for a better shot elsewhere.

Ralph Santana hit .289 at Clearwater. He's a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield, second and third base, which is always attractive. Santana is just 24 and may be an attractive player to keep around as a filler. He's not a real prospect, but he can help out at a number of positions and isn't a bad player to hang onto.

Other minor league free agents in the organization include pitchers Shane Bowers, Carlos Chantres and Jason Jimenez. Third baseman Zack Roper and second baseman Nick Tempesta are also eligible for minor league free agency.


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