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Top Minor League Signings From 2011-12 Offseason

With every offseason comes a staggering amount of minor league contracts. Usually the players signing these deals are veterans recovering from injury, established players whose skill sets have deteriorated, or journeymen who have never been able to stick in the Majors. Most are written off as inconsequential, but a select few end up delivering unexpected value. MLBTR's Transaction Tracker can be used to find the long list of players who took minor league deals last year, but here's a look at the best of the best (Fangraphs' WAR in parenthesis)...
  • Justin Ruggiano* (2.6): Ruggiano gets an asterisk by his name because he was technically acquired by the Marlins via trade, but that was only after he'd inked a minor league deal with the Astros. He hit .313/.374/.535 with 13 homers, 14 steals and terrific defense after spending years languishing in the Rays' minor league system.
  • Luis Cruz (2.4): Cruz didn't play a game for the Dodgers until July 2, but he .297/.322/.431 with six homers and solid defense at three positions from that point on. He's filling in on the left side of the infield this season with Hanley Ramirez on the shelf.
  • Brandon Moss (2.3): Once upon a time, Moss was a highly regarded Red Sox prospect (No. 72 in the game, per Baseball America). He was promising enough to be a component of 2008's Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay block buster, but Moss never took off. At least, not until last season when he hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 homers in just under 300 plate appearances with the Athletics. Moss broke camp with the A's in 2013 and launched a two-run homer in last night's game.
  • Gregor Blanco (2.2): Blanco hit just .244/.333/.344 with five homers for the Giants last season but he also swiped 26 bags and played terrific defense -- most notably saving Matt Cain's perfect game with a sprawling grab in center field. He, too, broke camp with his 2012 team this Spring.
  • Jose Quintana (1.7): Quintana was released by both the Mets and Yankees before finally latching on with the White Sox and earning a crack at the bigs. He came to Chicago with six years of experience despite being just 23, and turned in 136 1/3 innings of 3.76 ERA ball. He's returned to the rotation in 2013.
  • Andy Pettitte (1.6): Pettitte signed a minor league deal that eventually led to a triumphant return to the Yankees. He totaled just 75 1/3 innings because of an ankle injury but was still worth nearly two wins thanks to a 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP), 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
  • Kevin Frandsen (1.5): Frandsen's success was driven by his .366 BABIP, but the Phillies, like any team would be, are probably more concerned with the results than how he got there. The journeyman hit .338/.383/.451 and gave Philly more than 400 innings of solid defense at the hot corner.
  • Juan Pierre (1.4): Pierre parlayed a strong performance with the Phillies into a Major League deal with the Marlins this offseason. He's leading off for the Fish following a .307/.351/.371 batting line last season. His 37 steals in 2012 show that he can still fly on the basepaths.
  • Miguel Gonzalez (1.1): Gonzalez was with the Angels and Red Sox for the 2006-11 seasons before signing with the Orioles as a minor league free agent last March. The Mexico native was called up at the end of May and never looked back, posting a 3.25 ERA, 6.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 105 1/3 big league innings. He's unlikely to repeat his 83 percent strand rate (which led to his 4.38 FIP), but he's in Baltimore's rotation once again.
  • Cody Ransom* (1.1): Ransom split his value between the Brewers and Diamondbacks last season. His .220/.312/.411 batting line isn't overly impressive, but he cranked 11 homers and appeared at all four infield positions.
  • Eric Stults* (1.1): Stults, like Ruggiano, didn't provide his value for the team that actually gave him the minor league deal. The White Sox signed Stults but the Padres plucked him off waivers after one start for the South Siders. He gave San Diego 92 1/3 innings of 2.92 ERA (3.76 FIP) with a 5.0 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9.
  • Jared Burton (0.8): Burton signed with the Twins hoping to crack the bullpen but emerged as one of the AL's top setup men thanks to a devastating "splangeup." WAR typically undervalues relievers, but he still managed nearly a full win and earned himself a two-year extension in December. 
  • Dale Thayer (0.6): Another former Rays farmhand, Thayer latched on with the Padres and gave them 57 2/3 strong innings: a 3.43 ERA (3.04 FIP), 7.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. Thayer even stepped up as a fill-in closer and recorded seven saves for the Friar's in Huston Street's absence.
There are plenty of other players who inked minor league deals last season and could yet make this list. For example, Casey Fien, Oliver Perez and Darin Downs didn't contribute many innings to their teams in 2012 but are all on the 2013 Major League rosters. Minor league deals may be long shots, but you never know when there's a surprise story waiting to unfold.


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