Earlier this week we discussed the players that our Milwaukee Brewers are likely to lose to free agency at the big league level. There’s another, much-less talked about tier of free agency as well, on the minor league side of the game. There are several avenues for a player to qualify as a minor league free agent, as explained here by ‘The Cub Reporter’:
MLB RULE 55: Sometimes called a "Six-Year Minor League Free-Agent," an unsigned minor league player is automatically declared a free-agent at 5 PM (Eastern) on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series if the player has had his first contract renewed six times and has spent all or any part of at least seven separate seasons on a minor league roster (including all or parts of any season spent on Optional Assignment to the minors), and/or if the player has been previously released or non-tendered in his career and his present contract (known as a "second contract" even if it's his third or fourth minor league contract) has expired. For purposes of determining eligibility to be a free-agent, a player does not accrue a minor league season if the player spends the entire season on an MLB Active List, MLB Disabled List(s), and/or other MLB Inactive List, or if the player spends an entire season on the Restricted List, Disqualified List, Suspended List, Ineligible List, Voluntarily Retired List, and/or Military List. Also, participation in a post-season instructional league or winter league and/or the Arizona Fall League (AFL) does not count toward a minor league season if the player otherwise did not accrue a minor league season that year. Note that a player who ordinarily would have been declared a Rule 55 minor league free-agent is NOT eligible to be a free-agent if the player is either added to an MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) or agrees to a minor league successor contract with his previous club by 5:00 PM (Eastern) on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series. (The deadline is 5:00 PM Eastern on October 15th if the World Series is canceled). The deadline for an MLB club to tender a contract to an unsigned minor league player who had previously agreed to a successor contract is January 15th. If an unsigned minor league player is not tendered a contract by January 15th, the player becomes an unrestricted free-agent.
According to our friends over at Brewerfan.net, the Brewers have 18 players who have either already elected minor league free agency or will become minor league free agents five days after the completion of the World Series. Those players are:
RHP Hiram Burgos
RHP Tim Dillard
RHP Brooks Hall
RHP Stephen Kohlscheen - re-signed by Brewers on 25 Oct
RHP Austin Ross
RHP Daniel Tillman
RHP Kender Villegas
LHP Sam Freeman - signed with Miami 21 Oct
LHP Michael Kirkman
C Michael McKenry
C Rene Garcia
C Fidel Pena - re-signed by Brewers on 27 Oct
C Rafael Neda
UTIL Tom Belza
INF Will Middlebrooks
INF Gabriel Noriega
OF Ramon Flores
OF Shane Peterson
Players who make it to minor league free agency aren’t typically more than depth pieces or roster filler, but sometimes an organization will uncover a gem on a minor league contract. Hernan Perez, for example, was a minor league free agent last winter before re-signing with the Brewers. He earned his way back on to the 40 man roster in late April and wound up taking over 400 trips to the plate for Milwaukee during his incredibly useful season.
With that being said, here are the players I would consider keeping around if I were Slingin’ David Stearns:
The veteran starter spent all of 2016 in Colorado Springs, putting up a 4.40 ERA with 7.22 K/9 and 3.45 BB/9 across 143.1 innings. The 29 year old has some big league experience and is valuable not only as rotation depth, but as an example and a veteran presence for the top prospects that figure to come through the minor league’s highest level next season.
A couple years ago the Brewers thought enough of Hall to place him on the 40 man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, but he has since been outrighted and gone unclaimed. The 26 year old is a former 4th round pick (2009) and a command/control specialist who posted some solid numbers as a swingman for AA Biloxi this year. In 20 appearances (7 starts), he worked to a 3.48 ERA with 7.08 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9. He did struggle in 13 appearances out of the bullpen for the Sky Sox, but that’s not atypical of most pitchers that are sentenced to Colorado Springs.
Ross was an 8th round pick of the Brewers back in 2010 and is coming off a strong season for AAA Colorado Springs. The 28 year old appeared in 47 games, pitching 71.2 innings with a 3.89 ERA. He averaged nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings while walking just 2.9 batters per nine. Ross features a fastball that tops out around 94 MPH and an excellent slider, and seems like a decent candidate to get a bullpen audition as the team continues to rebuild.
The Brewers picked up Villegas from the Cardinals in the minor league portion of last year’s Rule 5 Draft. He’s only 23 years old and though his ERA in Brevard County wasn’t all that impressive at 4.16 across 71.1 innings, his peripherals certainly were. Villegas struck out nearly a batter per inning, 70 in total, and walked just 4.3% of the hitters he faced, leading to a much more impressive 2.87 FIP.
The Brewers picked up Flores in a minor trade last winter that sent Luis Sardinas to the Mariners. The left-handed hitting outfielder was long a notable prospect in the Yankees organization but was given his first real chance in the major leagues this year with Milwaukee, and it did not go well. Flores had a solid stretch in May but otherwise hit a meager .205/.294/.261 in 289 plate appearances and was a well below replacement level contributor. He was designated for assignment on August 19th and outrighted to AAA Colorado Springs, where he finished the season by collecting seven hits and two walks in 31 plate appearances. Still, Flores is only 24 years old, capable of playing all three outfield spots, and did walk nearly 11% of the time in the big leagues this year. There might still be a fourth outfielder in there somewhere, and he’d be solid depth to have even with a somewhat crowded outfield situation.
Finally, of course...
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs