Minor League Free Agents

When we talk abut a player’s value above replacement level, such as referring to stats like WAR, one of the questions that commonly arises is who these mythical replacement level players are. The best example of freely available talent – guys who can be had for nothing and still produce at an acceptable level in some role on a major league team – are minor league free agents. These players receive non-guaranteed contracts, are not placed on the 40 man roster, and teams have no requirement to keep them beyond spring training.

Their acquisition cost, for all intents and purposes, is zero. They represent the group of players that you really can get for nothing. The list of players eligible for minor league free agency has been made available, so with that, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting guys available for free this winter.

Ruben Gotay, 2B/3B

A second baseman for most of his career, Gotay spent more time playing third base in Reno this year, and that position may be a better fit for his particular skill set. He’ll never win a Gold Glove, but his bat is interesting enough to get him back to the big leagues.

While playing for the Diamondbacks affiliate in the PCL, Gotay racked up a .272/.429/.450 line that shows off a strong ability to control the strike zone. He drew 102 walks and struck out just 69 times, and unlike some minor league walk aficionados, he actually flashed some power – 42 of his 101 hits went for extra bases.

As a switch-hitter with plate discipline and power, Gotay has a good enough bat to play in the majors. His defense is the question mark, but teams with an opening at 3B or a willingness to sacrifice some range at 2B should be willing to give him a shot. Heading into his age 27 season, his best days may still be ahead of him.

Ben Davis, RHP

You may remember Davis as a busted catching prospect. These days, he’s working on a late career comeback as a knuckleball-throwing pitcher. While he’s new to the craft, his first impression on the mound was a strong one. He pitched well enough in independent ball in 2008 to catch on with the Reds last year, and he pitched well in nine games for Sarasota out of the bullpen. He even racked up 14 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings, which is not something you usually see from knucklers.

Knuckleball pitchers are lottery tickets – for every Tim Wakefield, there are a bunch of Charlie Zinks. But there’s always a chance that Davis’ knuckler is better than the guys who wash out in the minors throwing the pitch, and if it is, he could be a pretty decent innings eater for a major league club. Plus, he could always serve as an emergency catcher.

Bobby Brownlie, RHP

At one point back in 2002, Brownlie was considered the best college prospect in the country. He was getting buzz for the top overall selection in the draft, but questions about his health pushed him down to the 21st pick, where the Cubs snatched him up. His career has been a frustrating series of injuries since then. However, through persistence, he’s managed to work himself up to the doorstep of the majors.

He split time between the rotation and the bullpen with the Braves Triple-A affiliate this year and pitched fairly well. His stuff is no longer what it used to be, but he can throw strikes and miss bats occasionally. His command of the strike zone makes him an interesting option as a middle reliever with some long term upside if he can stay on the field for an entire season.

Jerry Owens, CF

Owens has been the focus of scorn and derision from White Sox fans who had to endure Ozzie Guillen‘s attempts to make him an everyday player, which he simply isn’t cut out for. However, as a fourth outfielder, Owens is actually a useful player. His defense is a real positive at all three spots and he’s a very good base stealer. He doesn’t have any power, but he’s an excellent contact hitter who is willing to draw a walk from time to time, so he won’t kill you at the plate.

For a team with a lumbering corner outfielder who could use a pinch runner/defensive caddy, Owens is a good use of a roster spot.

These aren’t the only four interesting players on the list – they’re just the four I wanted to talk about today. Teams looking for value will be perusing this list very carefully, looking for guys who offer a bit of potential and come at no real cost.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Joe
Guest
Joe
6 years 10 months ago

Thanks Dave. I had no idea Davis was still alive, let alone a pitcher now.

Could we maybe see this as a regular column for the off season; perhaps a profile of a few recently signed interesting minor league players the next few months?

joser
Guest
joser
6 years 10 months ago

I hate Ben Davis, but I love the idea of combo bullpen innings-eater and backup catcher. What would be especially hilarious is the game where he spells the starting catcher for the first few innings, then takes over on the mound.

tom s.
Guest
tom s.
6 years 10 months ago

as the president and sole member of the brian barden fan club, i have to put in a plug for my guy. while barden put together a lamentable offensive effort (.292 wOBA) for the cardinals this year, he showed himself to be one of the better defensive 3b around with a tolerable SS glove.

he racked up a +20 UZR/150 at 3B over 200 innings which doesn’t mean much, except that he previously put together in the minors: a +20 TZR/150 at third in 2006; a RAW score of +11 TZR at third in 2007; and a +6 TZR/150 at SS in 2008. even though he managed only 200+ innings and 114 PAs, he had a positive value in that small sample.

he would be a terrific get as a backup utility IF for clubs in need.

Nathaniel Stoltz
Member
Member
6 years 9 months ago

Hey, I like Barden too, and always thought he’d be a good utility guy. Guess that makes two of us.

Mark
Guest
6 years 10 months ago

Owens would be a nice fourth outfielder and especially as a September/playoff player. Like you said a nice base stealer and good defensive player which is something to be valued in a pennant race.

Andres
Guest
Andres
6 years 10 months ago

Jerry Owens? Excellent contact hitter? Draws a walk or two? HAHAHAHA.

Maybe Kenny Williams can trade John Danks for him?

AA
Guest
AA
6 years 10 months ago

People who say hahahaha on article message boards are a small step above child molesters.

Andres
Guest
Andres
6 years 10 months ago

ooh, internet tough guy here.

joe mayo
Guest
joe mayo
6 years 10 months ago

Please don’t remind me of that ridiculous Danks trade proposal. It’s quite clear Mr. Cameron only believes in arbitrary statistical measures such as WAR, UZR, FIP, etc. Anyone who has actually observed Jerry Owens on the field can clearly see that he is not a big league player. The only time he belongs on a big league roster is in September when rosters are expanded and he can be used as a pinch runner, defensive replacement.

B-Chad
Guest
B-Chad
6 years 10 months ago

Love the article and the link to the list of minor league free agents. There are a few names that stick out to me as be interesting “dumpster diving” choices. The first name that jumped out to me was Chris Capuano. Obviously given his extensive injury history the last few years, and the fact that his actual ERA exceeded his FIP ERA he still strikes me as a good choice. The same can be said about Chad Cordero. These are the types of guys that I’d like to see my Major League team sign and audition in the spring, as there is essentially no risk attached.

wt
Guest
wt
6 years 10 months ago

Hey rocco,

Not that dave needs me to defend him, – but did you just really use douch nozzle? I mean seriously can’t we talk about baseball here. Oh and it looks like owens started in 83 games in 07 with 398 plate appearances. And he has decent walk and strike out rates for some one with no power.

Good article Dave

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 10 months ago

he was talking about 2007. you know, the year you decided to cut off?

Rocco
Guest
Rocco
6 years 10 months ago

I believe he was talking about how valuable he was as a 4th outfielder? That would have been 08 and 09.

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 10 months ago

read it again.

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
6 years 10 months ago

If Jerry Owens could learn to hit the ball in the gaps for the occasional double, he could be an offensive contributor. Till then, he’ll be a 25th man. At best.

Rick
Guest
Rick
6 years 10 months ago

UZR has fluctuations and shouldn’t be trusted with one year of data. That being said, Jerry Owens is an awful offensive player with no arm and an unproven defensive track record. Why anybody would want him on a major league clue is beyond me.

But Dave Cameron is always, 100% of the time, right. Nope. Never wrong. And arguing him will get you nowhere, so let’s all just blindly trust his opinion because, again, he’s always right.

AA
Guest
AA
6 years 10 months ago

The whole point of the post was listing a few guys–out of many–who might be worth a zero-risk flyer. The point of this isn’t to be right or that someone has to be right. It’s that with minor league free agents, it’s worth your time and money to make an educated guess. Your post, on the other hand, was about being a dick. Well done.

Vincenzo
Guest
Vincenzo
6 years 10 months ago

I’d add Dallas McPherson, Josh Barfield and Hector Luna. For the complete list of the six-year minor league free agents you can visit http://thegameofbaseball.myblog.it

Mark
Guest
Mark
6 years 10 months ago

Or

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/minorleagues/y2009/free_agents.jsp

Which has links to all their minor league stats.

Felonius_Monk
Guest
Felonius_Monk
6 years 10 months ago

All good choices. McPherson’s crazy K rates may look ugly, but it’s not stopped Russell Branyan. Of course, not sure he’s exactly a Branyan-quality hitter, but there’s some talent there.

Mark
Guest
Mark
6 years 10 months ago

How exactly is a replacement player valued at 0$? Once you add them to the 25 man roster to replace (whomever you’re talking about) they will make league minimum at least. So shouldn’t a replacement players value be .4 mill? Thus the value of 1 WAR should be reduced by .4 mill.

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 10 months ago

no, because the $.4M is a sunk cost. you have to pay out that $.4M no matter what.

WAR measures marginal wins.

just as a team of 25 replacement players wouldn’t be expected to win 0 games, but something like 40-45 games.

Mark
Guest
Mark
6 years 10 months ago

535 Minor League Free Agents and you bothered to write an article about 4 of them?

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 10 months ago

would you prefer a 200 page article covering all of them?

The Hit Dog
Guest
The Hit Dog
6 years 10 months ago

These posts only come after Cameron’s articles… probably because Cameron is the most contentious writer here. But just because he has gotten on your nerves for something he has written in the past, don’t waste everyone’s time by posting something completely worthless and looking like an asshole at the same time.

I don’t think Cameron is perfect either, but criticizing him for picking 4 mlFA out of ~500, when beforehand he specifically says that he is just going to take a look at some of the “more interesting,” is just a baseless point. Shut up.

Mark
Guest
Mark
6 years 10 months ago

Don’t be a dbag. Why waste your time writing an article when you only pick out 4 players. There are probably 50+ of those players who have played in the bigs, at least a few dozen who were once considered top ten organizational prospects. Why not point some of those things out.

Charlie
Guest
Charlie
6 years 10 months ago

I see former Giants 1B Lance Niekro is also attemting a comeback as a knuckleballer. He’s two years younger than Davis, and of course he has those Hall of Fame genes.

neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma
6 years 10 months ago

Trashing Charlie Zink who owns that 3.36 FIP? With the 16+ ERA, he was quite unlucky or had an ungodly LD% + BB.

Nathaniel Stoltz
Member
Member
6 years 9 months ago

Or it could be the 6.19 FIP in AAA this year instead of a 3.36 FIP in ONE BIG LEAGUE START…just sayin’.

Paul Thomas
Guest
Paul Thomas
6 years 10 months ago

Jeff Fiorentino is projected at 2 runs above average with the bat by CHONE. He’s only 27. And he appears to play decent defense.

I’m riding that horse this offseason.

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