One of the less attention-grabbing rituals of the baseball off-season is the signing of minor league free agents. Most or all of the major league teams will sign a significant number of free agents, most of whom will end up in AAA. Teams use their AAA rosters partly as the equivalent of taxi squads, to maintain depth in the event of injuries or other problems in the majors.
Of course, if all your AAA players were obtained as minor league free agents, that’s a bad sign. Not only does it show you have no prospects at that level, it means your drafting and international scouting has been so bad that even the players who aren’t great prospects are dropping out at the lower levels of your farm system. Every team needs some experienced players in AAA as depth, but the more free agents the fewer the prospects.
The minor league free agent ritual has been much more limited than usual for the Pirates in the 2010-11 off-season. With spring training about to start, they’ve signed a relatively small number. The obvious reason is that, with the impact of Dave Littlefield’s mismanagement fading, the Pirates’ farm system is finally producing enough players to fill out most of the AAA roster. The following table compares the minor league free agents signed during the off-season prior to the 2007 season who appeared in AAA for the Pirates with the minor league free agents signed this off-season who may appear in AAA. The table largely speaks for itself.
|Corner IF||Mike Edwards
|Middle IF||Don Kelly
–Some of the players listed for 2007 also played in AA and some listed for 2011 may play in AA.
–I didn’t list Joe Beimel for 2011 because he has an out clause in his contract that leaves little chance that he’ll play in AAA. Other players, especially Fields, Marte and Atkins, may have similar clauses but their status hasn’t been made public.
–John Wasdin and Don Kelly both surprisingly made the major league roster in 2007 as non-roster invitees, but both ended up in AAA.
As striking as the table above may be, the next one is even more so. It shows the minor league free agents who played only below AAA in 2007 and the ones who may in 2011.
|Corner IF||Brett Roneberg
|Middle IF||Jason Bowers|
–Gerardo Alvarez spent 2009-10 coaching in independent ball. He may be slated to serve as a coach for the Pirates rather than as a player, but I’m not sure.
–Emsley-Pai was a Diamondbacks’ tenth round draft pick in 2010, but was released after only half a season in their system. He’s not a minor league veteran.
Clearly this is a fundamentally different farm system from the one the Pirates had several yeas ago. Whether it’ll produce more talent at the major league level remains to be seen.