News about established major league baseball players is not easy to find these days because of the lockout, but when one digs, especially in the ranks of former Independent players, stories are plentiful. Transactions at the Indy level are not taboo, as IndyBaseballChatter will prove with this writing.
Promotions to major league rosters, spring training invitations, free agent signings and departures for such destinations as Japan and Korea all have transpired in recent times.
Nothing can be much more exciting for a onetime Independent player than being notified his contract has been added to the parent club's 40-man roster. It sends a clear signal the player is considered a legitimate future major league talent, as well as guaranteeing a spot in a major league spring training camp.
This action took place for two former Indy stars recently. All they need now is for the labor issues between ownership and Players Association to be settled, thereby certifying there will be spring training in both Arizona and Florida.
The fortunate duo is second baseman Kody Clemens, yes, the son of former major league standout Roger, and right-handed pitcher Adam Oller. Clemens's non-affiliated time was in the Constellation Energy League which was created two summers ago after COVID-19 first reared its ugly head and shut down all of the regular professional leagues. Clemens is with the Detroit Tigers while Oller, who came out of Windy City in the Frontier League, will get his shot with another newly-energized franchise, the New York Mets.
Precious Non-Roster Invitations
While we probably won't see a great many non-roster invitations identified until the lockout ends, we can pass along a few of these cherished opportunities to be a part of major league spring training and prove a player is on his organization's radar for a possible major league job at some point during the season.
Righty Andrew Balletti (Sugar Land, Atlantic League), who got some time with Miami last season, was signed off the free agent list and invited to spring training with Philadelphia. The Phils also have issued an invitation to another right-hander, Michael Kelly, who played in the Atlantic for Southern Maryland. Outfielder Dillon Thomas (Texas, American Association), who got some playing time with Seattle, has a new opportunity with the Los Angeles Angels including a spring training invitation.
It seems logical first baseman John Nogowski (Sioux City, American Association) will get an invitation after signing with the World Champion Braves. The same for infielder Ildemaro Vargas (Bridgeport, Atlantic) who is back with the Chicago Cubs.
Back in the Bigs
Numerous onetime Independent players, including several with extensive major league time, remain unsigned during the work stoppage, but Boston hopes to get value out of free agent starters Rich Hill (Long Island, Atlantic) and James Paxton (Grand Prairie, American Association). Veteran reliever Luis Garcia (Newark, Can-Am League) signed as a free agent with San Diego.
New Minor League Pacts
Among minor league free agents who have signed new agreements are RHP Zack Weiss (Kansas City, American Association, and Long Island and Sugar Land) who is now with the Angels as is lefty Brian Moran (Bridgeport) while first baseman Ryan Casteel (Lancaster, Atlantic) is in the Atlanta system.
Making Money Abroad
A trio of right-handers with some major league experience have landed jobs overseas, where the pay is better for them than the uncertainty of opportunities at home. Drew Rucinski is wonderful example.
He threw his first professional pitch in the Frontier League, and spent the equivalent of two full seasons with the Rockford (IL) RiverHawks before landing a regular opportunity with a major league organization. That led to 54 innings and one start in the majors spread among three teams. He will be starting his fourth season in Korea (NC Dinos) where he has won 43 games (43-24), and now has a $1.9 million deal plus incentives for 2022.
Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea's Yonhap News Agency says the guaranteed deal ties Rucinski for the second largest salary of any foreign player in the KBO and brings his four-year take in the league to $5.7 million, not including any incentive payouts.
Robert Stock (Normal, Frontier, and New Jersey, Can-Am) is headed to Korea (Doosan Bears) where he is said to be receiving $500,000 plus incentives. Aaron Wilkerson (Grand Prairie plus Florence of the Frontier and Fort Worth of the United League) will get his first experience abroad in Japan (Hanshin).
Bob Wirz, onetime chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, has been writing about Independent Baseball since 2003. This post is from his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. He has published a book ("The Passion of Baseball") about his life. It is available at www.Amazon.com or with an autographed from www.WirzandAssociates.com.