Market opens Friday for Phils minor leaguers

The Phillies have 28 players who qualify for minor league free agency. They've contacted some of them about returning, but starting Friday [November 20], free agents - both in the majors and minors - can negotiate and sign with any club.

By the time a player qualifies for minor league free agency, teams can pretty well tell whether or not they're going to be a quality major leaguer. A player needs six full seasons in the minors to qualify for free agency, so they've had ample time to show what they've got.

But even though minor league free agents don't generate the interest that major league free agents do, doesn't mean that there aren't some diamonds in the rough. Or, at the very least, some players that can help you in the minors and provide some insurance for the big league club.

With the Phillies blowing up their bench, eyes may turn to some of the Phillies minor league free agents who could conceivably fight for a spot on the revamped Phillies bench in 2010.

Left-handed hitting Andy Tracy hit a franchise record 26 home runs for Lehigh Valley last season and hit .417 in nine games with the Phillies in September. Tracy turns 36 in December and has logged almost 1,400 games in the minors and 139 in the majors, primarily with Montreal in 2000 and 2001.

The problem with bringing Tracy north is that he can only play first base, but if they find versatile enough players for other bench spots, they could conceivably carry Tracy on the roster.

A guy with a little more versatility is Mike Cervenak. While Cervenak didn't get a September call, he hit .305 with Lehigh Valley in his eleventh minor league season. The left-handed hitting Cervenak can play at first, third and in right.

David Newhan and Terry Tiffee both have some major league experience and could potentially fight for a bench spot, although there is some talk that Newhan could potentially retire as a player and go into coaching or another facet of baseball.

Without anybody to push Tracy off of the first bag at Lehigh Valley, the Phillies are likely to do all they can to re-sign him and Cervenak, who have both become team leaders and fan favorites with the IronPigs. Both said at the end of the season that they would give a return to the Phillies serious consideration, but both also realized that anything can happen.

The Phillies are also looking for a backup catcher. They haven't ruled out re-signing Paul Bako, who is a major league free agent, but they've also got Paul Hoover and Kevin Nelson as minor league free agents. Even if neither one of them would make the majors, they would give the Phillies a good catcher to stash at Triple-A. Hoover would be especially well equipped having played 31 games in the majors. The 33 year old Hoover surpassed the 1,000 minor league game plateau this past season and was well respected among the pitchers at Lehigh Valley.

For the bullpen, left-handers Cedric Bowers and Jake Woods were workhorses at Triple-A. Both have been around the block a couple of times and either could potentially give the Phillies a story much like Tyler Walker did in 2009, should the Phillies need another southpaw at some point in the season.

The strength of the Lehigh Valley bullpen could also be very important, because prospects like Kyle Drabek and Mike Stutes should be with the IronPigs in 2010 and teams hate when a bullpen gives up a lead that a young starter has. For that reason, Phillies minor league free agents like Jason Anderson, Alex Concepcion and veteran Gary Majewski could join Bowers and Woods as pitchers who could be good targets for the Phillies to pursue.

While young pitching prospects should dot the Lehigh Valley rotation, a couple of veteran left-handers like Gustavo Chacin and Brian Mazone could be potential candidates to be re-signed as well.

Of the 28 Phillies free agents, here's our best educated guess on what happens:

Most Likely To Return
Pitchers: Cedric Bowers, Gustavo Chacin, Alex Concepcion, Brian Mazone and Jake Woods.

Catchers: Paul Hoover.

Infielders: Mike Cervenak, J.J. Furmaniak, David Newhan, Terry Tiffee and Andy Tracy.

Outfielders: Kevin Mahar and Brian Stavisky.

Possible That They'll Return
Pitchers: Jason Anderson and John Ennis.

Catchers: Kevin Nelson.

Infielders: Orlando Guevara, Carlos Leon, David Newhan and Jorge Velandia.

Outfielders: Javis Diaz, Jason Ellison.

Not Likely To Return
Pitchers: Tristan Crawford, Santos Hernandez and Gary Majewski.

Infielders: Fidel Hernandez.

Outfielders: Rich Thompson.

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