The free agency period in baseball has opened. While the big name players on the major league free agent market will get most of the press this winter, it is wise to keep tabs on which players sign minor league deals with teams during the off-season.
Players with at least six years of minor or major league service time not on 40-man rosters are eligible for minor league free agency. Players who were drafted during the 2007 season or who made their professional debuts in 2007 are eligible for minor league free agency for the first time.
The A's have already signed some of the players in their system who were eligible for free agency: catcher Luke Montz, shortstop Darwin Perez, outfielder D'Arby Myers and pitchers Frank Gailey and Jonathan Joseph. Of that group, only Joseph was originally signed by the A's as an amateur.
There are 16 players who finished the 2013 season in the minor leagues with the A's who are now free agents. Of this group, 15 are pitchers and eight were originally drafted or signed as amateurs by Oakland. We take a closer look at the 2013 A's minor league free agent class.
Travis Banwart: Banwart was the A's fourth-round pick in 2007 out of Wichita State. The right-hander moved quickly through the A's system early in his professional career, reaching Triple-A during the 2009 season. His progress stalled after that, however, as he spent the majority of the 2010-2013 seasons with Triple-A Sacramento. Despite tossing 488.1 innings for the River Cats since 2009, Banwart never received a September call-up or even a non-roster invitation to major league spring training. Banwart has solid stuff and a career 7.7 K/9 at the Triple-A level. He should land a spot with another organization this winter.
Bruce Billings: Billings was acquired from the Rockies organization during the 2011 season in exchange for second baseman Mark Ellis. Billings made a few relief appearances for the A's in 2011, but he struggled in those outings and never received another opportunity with the A's at the major league level despite being arguably the organization's most reliable Triple-A starter over the past two years. In 2012, Billings posted a 3.98 ERA and he struck-out 117 in 133.1 innings for the River Cats. This season, he overcame a terrible April to win 13 games and post a 4.31 ERA. He struck-out 135 in 148.1 innings this season. Billings is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League. He has an above-average fastball and should receive plenty of interest this winter.
Darren Byrd: Byrd was acquired by the A's in a late-spring deal meant to give opportunities for two players who were blocked at the major-league level in their old organizations. Neither Byrd or the player he was traded for (Stephen Parker) made it to the big leagues in 2013. Parker will remain with the Brewers organization for now, but Byrd is free to test the free agent marketplace this winter. The right-hander played for three A's affiliates in 2013, but Byrd spent most of his season in the River Cats' bullpen. In total, Byrd posted a 5.00 ERA and a 40:27 K:BB in 45 innings. He was well regarded within the Brewers' organization and was coming off of two very good seasons before struggling in 2013, so he could land a spot with another organization this winter.
Andrew Carignan: Injuries have been the hallmark of Carignan's professional career. A fifth-round pick of the A's out of UNC in 2007, Carignan starred for High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland during his first full professional season in 2008. He looked poised to push for a big league spot before the 2009 season when a forearm strain sidelined him during spring training. That injury limited him in to two innings in 2009. In 2010, he missed time early in the year and then struggled to regain the feel for his mechanics during the second half of the 2010 season. Despite starting the 2011 campaign with a broken foot, Carignan rose three levels (from High-A to Triple-A) early in the 2011 season and he made his major league debut in September 2011. Carignan was pitching for the A's early in the 2012 season when he tore his UCL and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He didn't pitch in 2013. If healthy, Carignan possesses the kind of stuff that plays well in the late innings, but he will need a team to take a leap of faith that he is recovered.
Drew Carpenter: Carpenter, a former top Phillies prospect and 2006 second-round pick, had a crazy 2013 season. He suited up for four organizations, spending time in Triple-A with the Cubs and Rockies and Double-A with the Angels and the A's. It was with the A's that Carpenter finished his 2013 odyssey, making four starts in August for the RockHounds. Carpenter's numbers with the Cubs and Rockies weren't good, but he pitched well with the Angels and the A's. He has some major league experience. Given that he ended his 2013 season on an up-note, he should get picked up somewhere for the 2014 season.
Mike DeMark: DeMark's first season in the A's organization was spent entirely in the Midland bullpen. The former San Diego Padres' prospect made 31 appearances for the RockHounds. He had a 5.59 ERA and a 33:20 K:BB. DeMark spent much of August on the disabled list, but he returned to the active roster for the final weekend of the season and made a scoreless appearance on September 1st. DeMark will turn 31 during the 2014 season.
Brian Gordon: Converted position players are all the rage in major league bullpens these days, and the Sacramento River Cats certainly benefited from one in 2013. Gordon, who had a long career as an outfielder before moving to the mound before the 2007 season, was the River Cats' closer for much of the season. The right-hander converted 23 saves and posted an eye-popping 66:9 K:BB in 63 innings. Gordon allowed just four homeruns and all but one of those came before the All-Star break. Gordon is 35 years old, but if he wants to continue to pitch, he is likely to get plenty of interest from teams looking for a reliable veteran for their Triple-A clubs.
Shaeffer Hall: The A's picked up Hall on a minor league deal midway through the 2013 season after he was released by the New York Yankees' organization. The left-hander came to the A's with a recommendation from former Oakland (and current New York) minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. Hall spent most of his time with the A's in the Stockton rotation, although he did have one appearance for Sacramento. He posted a 6.58 ERA for the Ports, but he was a solid veteran influence on the Ports' clubhouse. Hall doesn't throw particularly hard, but he has always received praise for his competitiveness on the mound. He was mostly used as a starter in the Yankees' chain, but he could move to the bullpen if he signs with a club for next season.
Carlos Hernandez: Hernandez was a draft-and-follow selection by the A's out of high school in 2006, and he signed with the A's just before the 2007 draft after a season of JUCO ball. Since then, Hernandez has been steadily effective, filling a variety of roles for the A's, mostly with Double-A Midland. Hernandez won 15 games in 2009 and helped Midland win a Texas League championship that season. Over the past three seasons, Hernandez has shuttled back-and-forth between Midland and Sacramento. This year, Hernandez posted a league-best 2.18 ERA in 132 innings for the RockHounds before a late-season promotion to Sacramento. Hernandez made four starts for the River Cats late in the year. He is currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League. Hernandez has been a starter for most of his minor league career, but his major league future is likely in the bullpen. He is a good candidate to get a non-roster invite to spring training with a new organization this winter.
Diomedes Lopez: Lopez has been a solid asset to the A's organization for the past several years, bringing a solid glove with him to several of the A's affiliates. The right-handed hitting backstop signed with the A's out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. He reached the US in 2009 and since then has played for the AZL A's, Vermont, Stockton and Midland. Lopez has mostly served as a back-up, working with the pitching staff during game prep. In 2013, he played for three affiliates, but he appeared in only 18 games. Lopez will be 25 next season.
David Mota: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, Mota's early years in the A's organization were marked by an arm injury and a suspension for PEDs. Mota reached High-A for the first time this season, making 22 appearances for the Stockton Ports. The right-hander has a big fastball, but he has struggled to throw strikes consistently as a pro. He walked 22 in 39 innings this season. Mota is still just 24 and another team could take a chance on the 6'4'', 265-pounder this winter.
Kyler Newby: Newby signed with the A's as a minor league free agent last off-season and he will test the market again this winter. The right-hander made 47 appearances between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento, posting a 2.70 ERA and notching seven saves. Newby struck-out 59 in 60 innings and allowed just three homeruns. He is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Newby doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but he has a four-pitch mix that he can throw in any count and he throws strikes. He should generate interest this off-season once again for a deal for 2014.
Julio Ramos: Ramos is a story of what might have been, at least at the moment. The left-hander from the Dominican Republic was one of the A's top pitching prospects after the 2009 season, when he reached High-A and showed the ability to command the strike-zone and mix his pitches against older competition as a 20-year-old. Unfortunately, the left-hander injured his elbow before the 2010 season and didn't pitch in 2010 or 2011. He returned to live game action late in the 2012 season, pitching well for short-season Vermont and Low-A Beloit before being shutdown once again with arm troubles. In 2013, Ramos made two appearances in the Dominican Summer League in late August, but was otherwise sidelined for the rest of the season. Ramos will be 26 before the start of the 2014 season and he has yet to pitch above the A-ball level.
James Simmons: Injuries have played a dominating role in Simmons' career, as well. The A's top pick in 2007, Simmons was on a fast track to the big leagues when he injured his shoulder late in the 2009 season. He tried to pitch through it, but by spring 2010, Simmons was unable to throw without significant pain. He missed the entire 2010 season and eventually had surgery for a damaged labrum and rotator cuff. Simmons returned late in the 2011 season, but his velocity wasn't back to his pre-injury levels. In 2012, he looked more like himself, pitching out of the bullpen effectively for Midland and Sacramento. Simmons made several appearances for the A's in big league spring training games and was on the radar as a possible mid-season big league promotion candidate. However, he struggled early in the year with Sacramento and was sent back to High-A Stockton in late May. He spent the rest of the season in the Ports' rotation, searching for a throwing motion that would bring him consistent results. He posted a 5.48 ERA in 113 innings with the Ports. Given Simmons' first-round pedigree and his success in 2012, he could generate some interest from other organization this winter.
Pedro Vidal: Vidal signed with the A's out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. The right-hander had to work to get the A's to notice him, but he eventually made it stateside in 2008. In 2011, he made his full-season affiliate debut, posting a 1.95 ERA and striking out 73 in 69.1 innings with Burlington. In 2012, he put together a solid season with High-A Stockton, posting a 3.43 ERA and a 37:7 K:BB in 39.1 innings. In 2013, Vidal spent much of his season with the Ports once again, and he had a 3.57 ERA and a 41:11 K:BB in 40 innings with the Ports. Vidal had eight appearances with Midland. His ERA was ugly (5.21), but he struck-out 20 and walked only two in 19 innings. He also made three appearances with Sacramento. Vidal is 26, but given his ability to throw strikes and miss bats, he could latch on with another organization for next season.
Pedro Viola: The A's inked Viola to a minor league deal just before the start of spring training last season. The left-hander began his career with the Reds before pitching for the Orioles for two-and-a-half seasons starting midway through the 2010 season. Viola came to the A's with some big league experience. He missed significant time during the season with injury, however, making only 23 appearances between stints in Stockton, Midland and Sacramento. Viola had a 4.45 ERA and a 43:10 K:BB in 30 innings. Given his major-league experience and his big career strike-out totals, Viola, 30, is likely to find a home again for the 2014 season.