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Saying Final Goodbyes to 2014 Cardinals Free Agents

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.

Major League free agents

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).

Six of them are infielders, helping to explain in part why the Cardinals signed free agent shortstop Dean Anna and acquired utility man Ty Kelly in trade during the off-season.

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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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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7 Responses to “Saying Final Goodbyes to 2014 Cardinals Free Agents”

  1. crdswmn says:

    There was probably a little overkill on the Wiggy complaining, but there was at least an outside chance that Furcal could be a useful player. The odds on Wiggy were close to zero, as in my opinion, he was washed up and over with before St. Louis signed him.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Furcal had a terrible injury history and was the same age and also got a two-year deal. Granted, he was a better player in the day and it was hoped he would be a starter, which is why he got considerably more money, but the shelf life of both had expired.

      The Cards got one decent year out of Furcal, but it ended up costing them $13 million for the two years.

      I’d bet a large amount of money that if Wigginton had just gotten hurt for the year and disappeared like Furcal, most of the moaning would never have happened. The fact he remained around and kept trying kept him in peoples’ consciousness. Plus Wigginton’s only success was elsewhere. At least Furcal had helped the 2011 club before getting the two-year deal. So I agree it is not completely apples and apples.

      P.S. My observation is that some fans pick out a whipping boy every year. Among the starting eight, Jay could be most likely. On the bench, Kozma seems a potential candidate. Reynolds could be right up there if the strikeouts get too far ahead of the homers. Choate in the bullpen if he is not used carefully. Too bad, but it happens.

      • crdswmn says:

        I agree that the Marlins paid too much for Furcal. The difference to me is that Furcal had the ability when healthy (which he ended up not being) to have some usefulness. Wiggy was just old and terrible, even when healthy.

        If Kozma makes the roster, he will be the whipping boy. Reynolds could be too. I don’t see how Jay could turn into the whipping boy, seeing as other than myself and a handful of others, most fans think Jay walks on water.

  2. Bw52 says:

    ZJon Jay-overpaid and overrated.Trade him.Bourjos in CF.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Old Wiggy was my whipping boy from the moment he was signed, because I was convinced he was over the hill and would be useless. Unfortunately, it turned out that I was right.
    Last winter, however, I was wrong, when elated by the signing of Ellis. I had always liked Ellis for the As and Dodgers, so thought him a great add, to supplement the rookie Wong. Ellis turned out to be useless with the bat. Ellis has now made a wise decision to retire, made easy by the fact no team will offer him a contract ever again after the terrible 2014.
    Some vets are physically broken like Furcal. With a chronic bad back, Raffy can no longer be depended upon to play much.
    However, some other vets can contribute fruitfully off the bench. I feel more hopeful about Reynolds than Old Wiggy. Reynolds is early 30s. He has huge holes in his strikezone and will be brutal with strikeouts. But he can occasionally connect for a long ball. If he can stay healthy, Reynolds should be useful.

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Neshek had a great 2014, so its wonderful for him to cash in with the Astros on a multi year basis. He rendered great service to us, another team will pick up the tab. Great for Neshek, good for Mo too, to hold down costs.
    Motte had a great 2011-12, and is still coasting on the big bucks gravy train for 2015. For a weak hitting catcher from the snow-belt, Jason has done very well in terms of money.
    How bad is it to be Masterson? Poor year in 2014, gets $9.5 million for 2015 anyway. Since he has potential to rebound, this enormous salary is not as absurd as might be assumed.
    Descalso commands $3.6MM over two years, so also gains financially. If the Cards had not let him go, he would have had just one year contract. Its not everybody in life who gains money from being hired. Dan is an unusual exception.
    Shane Robinson had to escape to improve his chances for playing in 2015. Good luck to him.
    Among minor leaguers, Jesus Montero is younger brother of Seattle’s Jesus Montero, His great name will be missed.

  5. JumboShrimp says:

    Two more players lost this off season were AAA relievers, Fornataro and Rondon. They are genuine though not epic prospects. The Cards chose to remove them from the 40 man roster, making them available to be lost thru waivers.
    This clearing of space on the 40 man may have enabled later acquisition of catcher Ohlmann from the Orioles. Ohlmann was a million dollar signee out of high school in 09 and has some hitting ability. He can play at Springfield, where the manager will be former ML catcher Dan Billardello, a good pairing.
    Is it better to have a catching prospect at AA or a fringy extra RHR? With Molina aging, the Cards seem better suited to have more catching prospects.

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