The Productive Minor-League Free Agents of 2014

Last year around this time, the author published a study in consideration of those players who’d entered — at the end of the 2011, 2012, and/or 2013 seasons — who’d entered minor-league free agency and what sort of production those same players recorded at the major-league level the following season.

In most cases, the unsurprising result was “zero” production. A minor leaguer is granted free agency when he (a) has played for more than six years in the affiliated minor leagues and yet (b) remains absent from his (or any other) club’s 40-man roster. Of those players who meet both criteria, it’s generally the case that there’s something less than overwhelming demand for their talents.

Even in those instances where a minor-league free agent somehow does sign with a different organization and eventually makes his way to the org’s parent club, he’s unlikely to begin that following season as part of his new team’s 25-man roster. As such, he’s less likely to earn a full complement of playing time such as would allow him to record even a major-league average WAR — even if were he to exhibit the ability of doing so on a per-plate-appearance basis.

And yet, despite these barriers, every year there is a small population of players who, after ending one season as a minor-league free agent, prove themselves to be useful major leaugers in the next one. Of those players who entered minor-league free agency between 2011 and -13, 19 of them — or, about six per season — produced a 0.5 WAR or higher* in the year following their free agency. Some of those signees (Jesus Guzman with San Diego in 2011, for example, and Gregor Blanco in 2012 with San Francisco) managed to produce more than two wins, even, in abbreviated seasons.

*The somewhat arbitrary threshold above which we’ll regard a player as “productive” for the purposes of this post.

What follows is a collection of two tables — one for hitters, one for pitchers — of the seven players who both (a) entered minor-league free agency at the end of 2013 and then (b) recorded a 0.5 WAR or greater at the major-league level in 2014. Team 1 denotes the team from which the player parted ways. Team 2 represents the new club, with which the player recorded the line presented here.

First, the hitters:

Name Team 1 Team 2 PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Yangervis Solarte Rangers NYA/SD 535 .260 .336 .369 102 -1.2 -2.0 1.5
Rafael Ynoa Dodgers Rockies 71 .343 .380 .463 121 0.3 3.7 0.7
Travis Ishikawa White Sox PIT/SFN 119 .252 .311 .393 100 0.5 0.9 0.5
Kevin Kouzmanoff Marlins Rangers 51 .362 .412 .617 185 4.7 -1.4 0.5

Next, the pitchers:

Name Team 1 Team 2 Age G GS IP K% BB% GB% xFIP- FIP- WAR
Yohan Flande Braves Rockies 28 16 10 59.0 14.1% 6.6% 58.2% 101 93 0.8
Yohan Pino Reds Twins 30 11 11 60.1 19.4% 5.4% 28.6% 108 103 0.8
Zach Putnam Cubs White Sox 26 49 0 54.2 21.6% 9.4% 53.1% 96 79 0.8

Some notes and observations:

• The process for identifying “productive” minor leaguers has been performed manually by the author using Baseball America’s complete list of minor-league free agents from last November. It’s possible, in other words, that I’ve omitted a player or two.

• Not surprisingly, perhaps, one finds that the most productive minor-league free agent in 2014 from the 2013-14 offseason is the exact same one for whom the New York Yankees were willing to overspend. Kiley McDaniel addressed recently in these pages the contract signed by Yangervis Solarte with the Yankees, which contract featured a number of lucrative provisions not typically found in the minor-league contracts extended by other teams. Indeed, the Yankees ultimately profited from the deal — not only from Solarte’s league-average production, but also by parlaying that production (plus minor-league pitcher Rafael De Paula) into a trade that got them Chase Headley.

• Beyond the seven listed here, there are also a number of other players whose contributions were of some considerable value to their respective teams. Right-hander Chris Young, for example — who once again outperformed his fielding-independent numbers — was allowed by the Nationals to enter minor-league free agency before recording a 2.4 RA9-WAR (that is WAR calculated by means of runs allowed instead of FIP) in 165.0 innings with Seattle. Cleveland’s Ezequiel Carrera and Houston’s Gregorio Petit, meanwhile, produced a collective 0.7 WAR despite combining for fewer than 200 plate appearances.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Eno's Fro

What this clearly shows is that the name Yohan is way underrated by most projections systems.

Jim S.
Jim S.

Good one.

Johan Santa
Johan Santa

Look for my breakout next year.