By the time the St. Louis Cardinals minor league camp begins on Monday, March 9, I will post a refresh of the Roster Matrix here at The Cardinal Nation blog. A by-product is that last fall’s free agents will drop off the charts for the final time. Before that happens, I thought I would recap the action from this winter by those mostly now ex-Cardinals.
St. Louis had 18 players become free agents following the 2014 season. Seven were off the major league roster and 11 were minor league free agents. Two of the latter group ended up re-signing with the Cardinals.
Of the big-leaguers, six of the seven are signed for 2015, with five of them having secured major league deals. Two are for two years. The final free agent, Mark Ellis, announced his retirement plans Wednesday evening.
P Justin Masterson – Boston – one year, $9.5 million
P Jason Motte – Cubs – one year, $4.5 million
P Pat Neshek – Houston – two years, $12.5 million
C A.J. Pierzynski – Atlanta – one year, $2 million
IF Daniel Descalso – Colorado – two years, $3.6 million (non-tendered by StL)
OF Shane Robinson – Minnesota – non-roster invitee (released by StL)
IF Mark Ellis – retired
In the first of a group of oddities, Masterson received the same amount from the same club as a free agent than did reliever Edward Mujica the winter before. Mujica’s $9.5 million is spread out over last year and this, though. The Red Sox are banking on Masterson to regain his 2013 form after a washout 2014 between Cleveland and St. Louis.
Popular reliever Jason Motte signed with the Chicago Cubs for the exact same $4.5 million that departing Cardinal John Axford received from the Indians as a free agent 12 months earlier. Both are former closers trying to get their mojo back.
Infielder Daniel Descalso will pick up $3.6 million over the next two seasons from the Colorado Rockies after being non-tendered by the Cardinals. That is just $100,000 more than free agent Rafael Furcal picked up from the Miami Marlins for the 2014 season after leaving St. Louis one year ago.
(Side remark: I wonder why so many people complained about Ty Wigginton receiving $2.5 million from the Cardinals in 2013, when Furcal made almost three times as much that same season ($7 million) and did not play in a single game.)
Outfielder Shane Robinson was cut loose before Descalso, but was only able to score a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp. While the Twins have not been a winning team, the organization already has eight outfielders on its 40-man roster, creating the appearance of a major hurdle in front of Robinson.
Minor league free agents
Of the 11 minor league free agents, only seven have signed for the upcoming season, with two of them returning to the Cardinals organization. None received a major league deal but three received non-roster invitations to major league camps (NRI). Of the seven, six are in affiliated ball in the US, with one under contract to play in independent ball.
Six of the 11 free agents were homegrown Cardinals, denoted by (h). First baseman Curt Smith was also originally drafted by the Cards, but played elsewhere before returning last season (and then going back to the American Association afterward).
P Jose Almarante (h – Memphis) – unsigned
P Jeremy Berg (Springfield) – unsigned
P David Aardsma (Memphis) – Dodgers (NRI)
C Audry Perez (h – Memphis) – Colorado (NRI)
C Jesus Montero (h – Palm Beach) – unsigned
1B Curt Smith (Springfield) – Lincoln (indy)
IF Ildemaro Vargas (h – Springfield) – St. Louis (re-signed)
IF Luis Mateo (h – Memphis) – Dodgers
IF Greg Miclat (Memphis) – unsigned
3B Scott Moore (Memphis) – St. Louis (re-signed, NRI)
3B Jermaine Curtis (h – Memphis) – Cincinnati
Of the 11, only two reached St. Louis. Infielder Jermaine Curtis appeared in five games in 2013 and catcher Audry Perez made three token big-league appearances over the 2013-14 seasons. Both were subsequently removed from the 40-man roster, which ultimately enabled their minor league free agency.
The two who decided to re-join St. Louis are third baseman Scott Moore and middle infielder Ildemaro Vargas. Moore seemed important to keep since third base prospect Patrick Wisdom did not progress as hoped at Springfield last season. Vargas, who batted .236 last summer, can help fill some of the vacuum created by the loss of so many other infielders as free agents.
Luis Mateo may have had his shining moment as a Cardinal in 2014 major league spring training as a non-roster invitee. The middle infielder remained in camp until very late, getting into 13 games. Mateo went 4-for-15, .286, including a double, two RBI and three runs scored. During the regular season, however, he did his usual bouncing back and forth between Double-A and Triple-A and posting a .248 average.
Greg Miclat first joined the Cardinals in the minor league phase of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft from the Rangers. In his only season in the organization, the middle infielder moved between Springfield and Palm Beach, followed by a brief stint with Memphis, hitting just .212.
On the pitching side, Jose Almarante once had promise as a hard-throwing right-handed relief prospect, but was on and off the disabled list multiple times last season. Perhaps the handwriting was on the wall after he secured a non-roster invitation to 2014 big league spring training, but was unable to get to camp due to a visa issue.
28-year-old Jeremy Berg was a free agent signee placed on Springfield’s roster in July. The right-hander did a solid job filling in as a reliever.
Former Seattle closer David Aardsma was a final-week add in spring training and did not have enough time to get ready to make the major league roster. About the time the 32-year-old hit his stride at Memphis, he suffered a mid-June injury, losing his chance for a September call up. The right-hander is trying his luck in Dodgers camp this year.
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