Baseball America has the new list of Minor League Free Agents (561 of them! Plus 84 others who had already been granted free agency by their teams) and given JP's talent for occasionally nicking the under-appreciated guy on minor league deals, it's only natural to peruse the list and see what catches your eye. In doing so, it's worth considering that the AAA rotation is pretty much full already (depending on who out #5 is on opening day, it seems likely Cecil, both Romeros, Bullington, and possibly Scott Richmond or Bill Murphy will fill it out) and several of the recent acquisitions will be in the Las Vegas pen along with whoever is crowded out at the major league level.
On the other hand, there is little that is certain about the AAA lineup. Now that free agency has been granted, there are only three hitters still listed on the AAA roster (Brian Jeroloman, Kevin Mellilo, and Chip Cannon). Presumably 40 man roster players Buck Coats and Russ Adams will be back, and it's fairly easy to speculate that Scott Campbell and Ryan Patterson will move up from AA. Potentially, Travis Snider and Curtis Thigpen would be there too depending on how the major league roster shapes up.
That leaves a complete void at SS and 3B, a failed prospect at 1B, no reserve catcher (which should probably be a veteran if Thigpen gets a shot in the majors) and possibly the need for one more OF and a DH.
So, with all that in mind, I looked over the list of free agents and came up with a few intriguing names.
1. Joel Guzman (3B) - The one time top prospect (BA ranked him fifth in the majors in 2005) is still only 24 years old. But he was stuck at AAA for the Rays the last two years, largely because he has lost what little ability he once had to get on base. He reached AAA in 2006 in the Dodgers system by the age of 21 and posted an impressive 85 games for a player who was so young. Since being traded to the Rays that July for Julio Lugo he has gone right off the cliff. He still shows about as much power as he ever had, but his batting average has dropped from .297 in 2006 to .248 in 2008, and his number of ABs per walk almost doubled (from 12 to 23).
Still, at his age, and given our need both for a 3B in AAA and to have a potential near-term solution if Rolen flames out again, I think Guzman has to be the obvious #1 target on the list. JP ought to have him signed within the next week.
3. JR House (C) - The Pirates #1 prospect in 2002, House will be 29 next year and he's never gotten a full shot at major league playing time. But he's got nothing else to prove at AAA offensively and he'd be a much better bet than Thigpen on the Jays roster on opening day. Unless his defense is horrifying.
3. Tim Raines Jr. (OF) - Ok, I have to admit their is some sentiment to this one. Raines will be 29 next season and the chances of him ever doing anything of note in the majors are minuscule. But looking at his career stats does make you wonder what went wrong. Raines last shot at the majors was in 2004, and admittedly he did nothing to raise eyebrows. The next two seasons in the minors were so mediocre that it was only his name and his speed, in all likelihood, that kept him employed.
However, his last two minor league seasons have been much more impressive. His averages are eye catching, even though these are PCL stats:
'07 - .333 - .368 - .519 - .887
'08 - .311 - .346 - .530 - .876
And he's 49 for 59 in stolen base attempts over those two seasons.
4. Jesus Guzman (3B) - The A's inexplicably failed to add Guzman to their 40 man roster and allowed him to become a minor league free agent. The 24 year old Venezuelan posted the following averages in the AA Texas League in 2008:
.364 - .419 - .560 - .979
No idea what his glove is like but he's still at 3B so he's not a future DH. He's certainly a more promising player than Russ Adams or Buck Coats at this point.
5. Ryan Wagner (RP) - the Reds 14th overall pick in 2003 and #1 prospect in 2004 was rushed to the majors and perhaps permanently damaged by the experience. After an impressive 21 innings in 2003 his control began to slip and with it his effectiveness. He had injury issues in 2007 with an inflamed rotor cuff and it may be that he'll never regain any effectiveness. But given the Jays wealth of pitching coaches, I can't see any harm in sending him to Las Vegas and seeing if we can figure him out.
Other names you might be interested in - Sluggers Garret Jones and Victor Diaz, one time top prospect pitcher Jerome Williams, former Jay shortstop Rey Olmedo, onetime Jay reliever Vinnie Chulk, and sometimes slugging 1B Chris Shelton. Oh, and Chris George, who is among the Jays own minor league free agents but who might be worth spending some more time with.
While I'm on the subject, here is the complete list of Jays farmhands who are free agents according to BA:
RHP: Eduar Acosta (DSL), Rick Bauer (AAA), Jonah Bayliss (AAA), Chad Blackwell (Hi A), Jason Burch (AA), Lance Carter* (AAA), Jordan De Jong (AAA), Grabiel Diaz (DSL), Jared Gothreaux (AA), Samuel Medina (DSL), Julio Pinto (AA), Gus Chacin
LHP: Chris George (AAA), Mike Gosling (AAA), Jo Matumoto (AA), Dieudone Paul (DSL), Carlos Rojas (DSL)
C: Adair Betegon (DSL), David Corrente (R), Erik Kratz (AA), John Schneider (Hi A)
1B: Brant Colamarino* (AA)
3B: Andrew Pinckney (AA), Hector Luna (AAA)
SS: Pedro Lopez (AAA), Danny Sandoval (AAA)
OF: Eduardo Caraballo (DSL), Wayne Lydon (AAA), Erick Medina (DSL), Chad Mottola (Hi A), Luis Rivera (SS), David Smith (AA), Matt Watson (AAA)
Other than George, there's really nothing there you can't let go without a second thought.