In an interview with the Sun Times
yesterday, Lou Piniella discussed some of his ideas about the upcoming season, including a desire for added bullpen depth.
Cubs beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer speculated that in their quest to add depth, the Cubs would probably be looking at minor league free-agents
Of course, teams do that every year.
Players on a minor league roster who have been previously released or non-tendered, players outrighted during the previous season who deferred their right to be a FA until after the season, and players who have played at least seven seasons in the minors, are eligible to be free-agents on October 15th of every season.
There is a one-week period starting on October 15th where teams retain exclusive negotiating rights with their own minor league free-agents, and then beginning on October 22nd, minor league free-agents can sign with any of the 30 MLB clubs.
Last year, the Cubs signed 23 minor league free-agents after October 22nd, nine in November (one of whom was selected in the Rule 5 Draft), none during the "frozen" period between November 20th and the Rule 5 Draft, and then 14 more (including two recently de-rostered Cubs players, one of whom had been released on 11/17, and the other who had been non-tendered on 12/12) after the Rule 5 Draft:
MINOR LEAGUE FA SIGNED BY CUBS PRIOR TO 11/20/06
, LHP (11-06-06) - was released at end of ST
, RHP (11-09-06) - got NRI to ST, was released at end of ST
, OF (11-09-06)
, INF (11-09-06) - selected by TOR in Rule 5 Draft
, C (11-10-06) - got NRI to ST
, LHP (11-10-06)
, RHP (11-12-06) - got NRI to ST
, RHP (11-13-06) - got NRI to ST
, 1B-OF (11-20-06) - got NRI to ST
MINOR LEAGUE FA SIGNED AFTER 2006 RULE 5 DRAFT
, RHP (12-11-06)
, OF (12-11-06)
, C (12-11-06)
, LHP (12-11-06) - got NRI to ST
, RHP (12-17-06) - got NRI to ST
, C (12-17-06) - was released at end of ST
, C-INF (12-17-06) - was released at end of ST
, INF (12-17-06) - was released at end of ST
, OF (12-19-06) - was released at end of ST
, LHP (12-19-06) - was released at end of ST
, OF (01-05-07) - was released at end of ST
, OF (01-12-07)
, INF (01-12-07) - got NRI to ST, was traded to LAD (AAA) at end of ST
, INF (01-26-07) - got NRI to ST, but flunked physical
Only twelve of the 23 minor league free-agents signed by the Cubs last off-season survived Spring Training to play in the Cubs organization in 2007, and of the twelve "survivors," only Koyie Hill accrued any MLB service time.
So expect the Cubs to sign upwards of two dozen minor league free-agents again this off-season, some prior to November 20th, and then some more after the Rule 5 Draft. They have already re-upped LHPs Les Walrond
and Geoff Jones
for '08 (and both will likely get an NRI to ST), but the Cubs have probably also already signed a few minor league FA from other organizations, too. However, clubs usually announce signings of minor league free-agents in batches. (Last year, the first "batch" of minor league free-agent signings was announced by the Cubs on November 16th).
If the Cubs are indeed looking at minor league free-agents to add potential bullpen depth for the big club in 2008, let's "Round Up the Usual Suspects" and take a look at the Top 15 relievers with MLB experience who are available as minor league free-agents (listed alphabetically):
Of the 15 pitchers listed above, those with Cub Connections include Francis Beltran (ex-Cubs prospect who was dealt away in the Nomar deal in 2005), Franklyn German (a member of Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell's bullpen in Detroit 2003-05), Vic Darensbourg (pitched for Jim Hendry when Hendry was managing in the Marlins system), and Mike Venafro (a member of Lou Piniella's bullpen in Tampa Bay in 2004).
Anytime a club signs a minor league FA to a minor league contract with an NRI to ST, it's a crap shoot. But sometimes you can catch lightning in a bottle, so it's probably worth a shot. It doesn't cost much. But of course it's not something you can count on, either.