Early on in the 2012-13 offseason, on the first Monday of November, nine free agents obtained qualifying offers from their former teams. By the Friday of that week, all nine players had declined the offers, which were in play for the first time under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement.
Though the new CBA is still in its first full offseason, much of the mystery that once surrounded qualifying offers has disappeared in the last 11 weeks. Every club has had the chance to pursue players linked to draft pick compensation, and at least one team doesn’t like what it sees. The Mets have already lobbied MLB for modifications to the rules, though it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be granted an exception. Speaking in general terms earlier this month, Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive VP of labor relations, told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that he’s not yet prepared to say baseball’s CBA needs changes.
“I’m not inclined to get into a discussion about changing an agreement when it hasn’t even operated for a full year,” Manfred said.
Despite the limitations imposed by qualifying offers -- and it’s no secret that these restrictions reduce interest and depress player salaries -- the players that turned them down are doing well to this point in the offseason. As MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker shows, the seven players who signed after declining qualifying offers obtained an average of $50MM, with no player obtaining less than $15MM in guaranteed money.
- Josh Hamilton - five-year, $125MM contract
- B.J. Upton - five-year, $75MM contract
- Nick Swisher - four-year, $56MM contract
- Rafael Soriano - two-year, $28MM contract
- David Ortiz - two-year, $26MM contract
- Adam LaRoche - two-year, $24MM contract
- Hiroki Kuroda - one-year, $15MM contract
- Michael Bourn - free agent
- Kyle Lohse - free agent
The group includes two free agents who are both represented by agent Scott Boras: Bourn and Lohse. The market for Bourn appears to be developing, though the market for Lohse remains unclear. As noted earlier, the Mets would like to have the option of sidestepping the rules to sign Bourn. Similarly, Lohse has lamented the effect of the qualifying offer.
Yet as Boras showed when he found a two-year deal for Rafael Soriano, it’s too early to rule out substantial contracts for top free agents. In its short history, the qualifying offer has clearly limited interest in many free agents linked to draft pick compensation. But to this point it hasn’t prevented players from finding lucrative multiyear free agent contracts.