January 21, 2014 at 9:13 PM
One under-the-radar method for teams to add organizational depth each offseason is through minor-league free agency. There are three different types of minor-league free agents: (1) players who have completed their initial seven-year minor-league contract without re-signing or being added to the 40-man roster; (2) players who are outrighted to the minors but elect minor-league free agency in lieu of accepting the outright assignment (to be eligible, players must have at least three years of major-league service time or been previously outrighted); and (3) minor leaguers who have been released. Additionally, major-league free agents unable to land a major-league deal can sign a minor-league deal.
If a player on a minor-league deal later proves worthy of being added to the big club, his contract is purchased by the major-league club and is added to the 40-man roster. The calendar for minor-league free agency generally is early November to early March.
More often than not, minor-league free agents end up filling out the holes in a club's Triple-A roster, ultimately to be used as major-league emergency depth. However, it's not uncommon for minor-league free agents to be assigned to Double-A and Class A affiliates. Every so often, and in a trend that is becoming increasingly popular, teams will sign minor-league free agents to major-league deals. For example, Baltimore signed left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz to a major-league deal in November, despite him having no major-league experience.
The Red Sox typically sign about 15-20 minor-league free agents each offseason, with varying degrees of success. In fact, Boston has signed 85 minor-league free agents over the last five offseasons (not including this offseason). Of those 85 players, 22 have gone on to play with the major-league club, 37 spent the rest of their time in the minor-league system and 26 were released before even playing a game (major league or minor league) for the organization.
Check out the full column on ESPN Boston.