After accepting Boston's arbitration offer this winter, David Ortiz submitted a $16.5MM salary figure for 2012 against the team's $12.65MM. They ended up settling at the midpoint recently. Ortiz's $14.575MM salary will not be possible for a free agent accepting arbitration after the 2012 season, however, because the new collective bargaining agreement simplified the process. Draft pick compensation for a departing free agent will require the team to make a "qualifying offer" in the $12-13MM range. The qualifying offer amount will be determined by averaging the top 125 salaries from 2011. This offer will be fixed each offseason, even for players already earning more than the qualifying offer amount, MLB told me today.
Though 2011 salaries are used for the 2012 qualifying offer (which reflects the player's potential 2013 salary), MLB does not seem to know the exact amount, so we'll use $12.5MM as a proxy for now. For elite free agents, a qualifying offer will be a lock, as will their decision to turn it down. The locks for 2012 appear limited to starting pitchers: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, and Zack Greinke. A look at the more borderline potential free agents from the 2012-13 class follows.
- Yadier Molina, Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero: $12.5MM catchers are pretty rare, though one could make a sabermetric case that all three will be worth risking that amount on a guaranteed one-year deal if they have solid 2012 seasons. Montero seems the least likely of the trio to receive a qualifying offer, however.
- Lance Berkman: If Berkman replicates his 2011 season, the Cardinals won't mind risking a raise of less than a million bucks. But if he plays 125 games and is only pretty good, it'll be a tough decision.
- Brandon Phillips: By exercising his 2012 option, the Reds showed they were comfortable with an $11.25MM net price on Phillips. If he slips back to his 2008-10 production level, that may give the Reds pause. If they offer and Phillip accepts, there would be a trade market if the Reds find the salary prohibitive.
- Erick Aybar, Stephen Drew: Like Montero, the player may be worth $12.5MM in a sense, but the large raise could be hard to stomach. Some of these qualifying offer questions are likely to be eliminated by extensions or diminished performance.
- David Wright: If Wright struggles to an extent in 2012 where the Mets determine he is not worth a $15MM net option price for 2013, would they be willing to risk $12.5MM for two potential draft picks? Would Wright be too insulted to consider accepting?
- Josh Hamilton: I almost had Hamilton as a lock, as it's difficult to picture a scenario where the Rangers are unwilling to offer a one-year, $12.5MM deal.
- Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino: Bourn and Upton are good examples of a borderline guys, as the Braves and Rays will probably not be thrilled with the idea of offering them $12.5MM for 2013. Victorino seems a bit more likely to get an offer from the Phillies.
- Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher, David Ortiz: It's tough to call until we see how these guys play in 2012, but Ortiz seems to have the best chance of an offer.
- Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Lewis, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez: Sanchez seems the best bet here, given a typical season. No one else quite feels like a $12.5MM pitcher, but with decent years they'd all have cases. Even Francisco Liriano could merit consideration with a bounceback campaign.
- Ryan Madson, Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Valverde: I expect qualifying offers for relievers to be hard to come by, and my guess is none of these guys receive one.