Free Agency Isn't Just For Major Leaguers

While Major League free agency turns into an open shopping mall today, Minor League free agents are shopping themselves as well. Of course, the paydays are smaller, but for some players, Minor League free agency may provide a path to bigger and better things.

This time of year, Minor League rosters are pretty much in disarray. Nobody knows where players will be assigned for next season and over 600 players are on the open market via Minor League Free Agency. In the minors, free agents are termed "Six Year Free Agents", which is somewhat of a misnomer, since they must play in all or part of seven seasons - either in the majors or minors - to be granted free agency; don't ask why it's called "Six Year Free Agency". To become a free agent, a player must not only have the required service time, but must have been left off the 40 man roster after October 15th.

The Phillies have 33 players who are Minor League free agents. Some of the more recognizable names are Ryan Cameron, Brian Sanches, Eude Brito, Gary Burnham and Danny Sandoval. Brito is particularly interesting because of the time that he had spent in the majors with the Phillies and the fact that at one point, he was considered to be a pretty good left-handed pitching prospect. For players like Burnham, Minor League Free Agency is almost like an annual ritual.

Burnham has been playing in the minors since the Phillies drafted him in the 22nd round of the 1997 Draft. While most of his time has been spent in the Phillies organization, he's also spent time in both the Toronto and St. Louis organizations and played in independent ball. Burnham, who turned 33 a month ago, is still waiting for his first taste of the majors. Burnham is a career .294 hitter in the minors, so it's not that he hasn't produced the numbers that might warrant a shot with a major league club. In fact, Burnham's career numbers are very close to those of Chris Coste, who made his Major League debut in 2006 after struggling in the minors for 11 seasons.

There are also a number of former Phillies on the list of Minor League free agents. Names like Elizardo Ramirez, Anderson Machado, Cliff Politte, Jorge Padilla, Ricky Ledee, Frank Brooks, Randy Ruiz, Jesus Merchan, Ezequiel Astacio, Alfredo Simon, Bruce Chen, Desi Relaford, Chris Booker and yes, even Tomas Perez. Some of those names were bantered about as being potential Major League talent, while others have had some pretty good days in the majors. Many of those names - particularly the pitchers - were players that fans hated to see go, but were part of a deal to bring other talent to the Phillies organization.

Of those names, Elizardo Ramirez might be someone the Phillies will contact. They lost him to the Reds on a waiver claim three years ago and after a good start for the Reds organization late in 2004, he's stumbled a little before returning to form this past summer and posting a 3.74 ERA at Triple-A. Ramirez doesn't turn 25 until January and could at least give the Phillies some insurance at the upper levels of the minor league system.

Other players who could be worth a look include names like Joe Borchard, who spent a good amount of time with the Florida Marlins and provided some key hits off the bench. Pitchers Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert and Franklyn German have all spent some time in the majors. German was with the Tigers and put up decent strikeout numbers thoughout his career at both the Major League and Minor League levels. While none of these players are going to be exciting finds and are unlikely to be able to contribute a lot to the Phillies lineup, some of them would be nice insurance policies and could possibly turn into decent players who could fit on the Phillies bench or the bullpen, if necessary.

With over 600 players to choose from, there are bound to be some players who can contribute something in the right situation. For players like Burnham, finding that situation with a club who will simply give him a chance could be the difference between squeaking out a few seasons in the majors, ala Chris Coste, or being a career minor leaguer, who never fully gets to realize his dream of playing Major League Baseball. In real estate, location is everything. In life, some believe timing is everything. For Minor League free agents, timing and location could mean a world of difference.

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