This is the first offseason with qualifying offers for free agents, rather than the Elias ranking system and "offering arbitration" to free agents. Teams have the opportunity to make qualifying offers of $13.3MM to their free agents by Friday at 5pm eastern time, assuming the player was with the team the entire season. If offered, players must decide whether to accept by November 9th at 5pm eastern time. Similar to the old system, accepting makes you a signed player for 2013, and declining puts you on the open market with a draft pick cost attached. Ben Nicholson-Smith explained qualifying offers in further detail in this May article.
The risk of making a qualifying offer is that the player might accept, so we won't see them made to players who are worth nowhere near $13.3MM. The benefit of offering is that the player may turn it down and sign elsewhere, giving his old team a supplemental draft pick at the end of the first round. It is possible to decline a club option and then make a qualifying offer. By my estimation, about a dozen players stand a reasonable chance of receiving a qualifying offer on Friday:
- Josh Hamilton: The Rangers will certainly offer, and Hamilton will definitely turn it down in search of a multiyear deal at a higher salary.
- Mike Napoli: This is a borderline case. My guess is that the Rangers do not offer, as Napoli would have a solid chance of accepting the $13.3MM salary and they may not want to allocate that amount of money to him for 2013.
- Michael Bourn: I expect the Braves to make Bourn a qualifying offer, as he's likely expecting a multiyear deal somewhere.
- B.J. Upton: The Rays will probably make the offer, as Upton also expects a much bigger contract. If he were to accept for some reason, he'd be tradeable.
- Nick Swisher: Another easy one: the Yankees will offer, and Swisher will decline in search of a multiyear deal.
- Edwin Jackson: This case probably gives the Nationals pause, as $13.3MM is a bit steep for Jackson. Still, they had good results for $11MM in 2012 and are likely to take the risk of the 21% raise. I imagine Jackson is all about a multiyear deal this time, anyway.
- Adam LaRoche: The Nationals want LaRoche back and are likely to make a qualifying offer.
- Dan Haren: This is a tricky one for the Angels. They can buy out Haren's $15.5MM option for $3.5MM; doing so indicates they don't value him at $12MM for one year. To make a qualifying offer after paying the buyout is a risk they probably would not take. The Halos could exercise Haren's option and then trade him, kicking in the $3.5MM they would have had to pay anyway and getting some kind of useful player in return.
- Hiroki Kuroda: Similar to Jackson, $13.3MM would feel a little steep for Kuroda but the Yankees will probably do it.
- Kyle Lohse: Lohse is a good bet to receive a qualifying offer from the Cardinals.
- Angel Pagan: Pagan is 31 and this is his best shot at a big multiyear deal. I expect the Giants to offer and Pagan to decline, though they could just work out a new contract.
- David Ortiz: The Red Sox might as well make the offer, as it gives them leverage and Ortiz clearly wants multiple years. I doubt he'd like a one-year deal at a pay cut or hitting the open market with a draft pick cost.
- Rafael Soriano: He's expected to choose a $1.5MM buyout over a $14MM salary for 2013. At that point the Yankees are rumored likely to make a qualifying offer. Soriano could accept and come out $800K ahead overall, or he could decline and look for multiple years despite the draft pick cost.
- Torii Hunter: I don't think the Angels would take the risk.
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