Each offseason veteran players with experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues and in the majors routinely qualify for minor league free agency and test the open market in search of fresh minor league agreements with clubs willing to offer them an invite to major league Spring Training. Such arrangements have been increasingly difficult to come by this winter, however, and Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper recently explored a significant reason why.
As noted by Cooper, the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and minor league players gave the league the right to limit the total number of domestic minor league players to just 165 ahead of the 2024 season, with a limit of 175 players during the offseason. Cooper notes that reduced figure slashes a total of 450 roster spots around the league or 15 per club. That limited roster flexibility gives clubs far less opportunity to offer minor league free agents deals that have long been considered “no-risk fliers,” as now clubs will often times be forced with potentially cutting a younger minor league player early in their professional career to make room for an interesting veteran journeyman.
While minor league deals are typically regarded as low-risk signings that are relatively unlikely to result in a given player making an impact at the big league level, one needn’t look very hard to find examples of players heading to camp on minor league deals only to provide considerable value to that club throughout the year. Dodgers outfielder Jason Heyward and Rangers outfielder Travis Jankowski are two examples of veteran hitters who came into camp on minor league deals last year, earned a spot on the Opening Day roster, and played well enough to earn a big-league deal with their respective clubs after returning to the open market this winter.
More from around Major League Baseball…
- The Phillies have long been known to be on the hunt for another relief arm after losing veteran closer Craig Kimbrel in free agency this past winter, with the likes of Phil Maton and Jakob Junis reportedly on the club’s radar prior to the pair signing with the Rays and Brewers, respectively. That being said, Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer indicated this afternoon that the club is unlikely to pursue further bullpen additions this winter after adding depth starter Spencer Turnbull on a big league deal earlier today. While Turnbull has options remaining, he has enough service time at this point in his career to a refuse a minor league assignment. That leaves Philadelphia with minimal flexibility in their bullpen which would only be further reduced by the addition of another veteran arm. According to Lauber, six arms are all but locked into the club’s relief mix already, leaving just two spots for a group that includes non-optionable hurlers Turnbull, Connor Brogdon, Dylan Covey as well as optionable pieces like Yunior Marte, Kolby Allard, and Michael Rucker.
- USA Today’s Bob Nightengale this morning indicated that the Yankees discussed right-hander Corbin Burnes with the Brewers prior to the ace being traded to their division rival in Baltimore, though the club “rebuffed” Milwaukee in talks once the club requested outfield prospect Spencer Jones in return for Burnes’s services. The 22-year-old Jones was the club’s first-round pick in the 2022 draft and has generally impressed to this point in his minor league career, though he struggled with a .261/.333/.406 in a 17-game stint at the Double-A level last year. Previous reporting indicated that New York was unwilling to include Jones in a package for White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that the club also passed on parting with the youngster for a rental arm like Burnes.