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Sunday morning, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo quoted a GM suggesting that Jon Lester might be emerging as the best starting pitcher in the 2015 free agent class. “Lester is the most appealing,” the GM said. “He’s lefthanded, a bulldog, big-game experience, and just 30. Will he get six or seven years? I’d say he will.”
Lester may well get six or seven years, but the assertion that he’s the most appealing starting pitcher available next winter is interesting, given the other top potential free agents, who include Justin Masterson, Ervin Santana, Max Scherzer and James Shields. There are other interesting free-agent options, like Jake Peavy and Francisco Liriano, but we’ll limit ourselves to these five. We’ll also ignore players like Johnny Cueto whose teams possess options for their services for 2015.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that all these pitchers will actually become free agents. Lester and Masterson, for example, could still sign extensions with their current teams. But let’s rank those top five pitchers with the assumption that they’ll all hit the market.
Lester has increased his strikeouts and decreased his walks so far this season. He currently leads MLB in pitcher fWAR and has a long track record of success in both the regular season and postseason. He reportedly declined a four-year, $70MM extension offer from the Red Sox in April.
Masterson has seen his fastball dip in velocity this season, which may be one reason the Indians reportedly balked at a three-year extension proposal in the $53MM range, but he’s continued to get results this season. He’s also the youngest pitcher of the five, having just turned 29 in March.
Santana had to settle for a one-year deal last offseason, but he has since been a key part of the Braves’ excellent season, posting a 1.99 ERA with 9.5 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 so far.
Scherzer has continued his the dominance that led him to the 2013 AL Cy Young award, striking out a career-high 11.2 batters per nine innings while posting a 2.04 ERA. In March, he rejected a six-year, $144MM extension offer from the Tigers.
Shields has been one of the AL’s most consistent and durable starters in the past several seasons — he has pitched over 200 innings every season since 2007. He’ll be heading into his age-33 season in 2015, however, which could limit his earnings potential somewhat.
If you were a GM looking for a top-notch starter, how would you rank these five pitchers? Rank them in terms of their desirability as free agents, regardless of how much they are likely to cost.
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B.J. Upton, the No. 2 overall pick by the Devil Rays in the 2002 draft, collected his 1,000th MLB hit on Saturday on a ground ball against Mike Leake and the Reds. But while Upton has had a long and lucrative MLB career, he hasn’t reached the heights of other players drafted later that year.
The Devil Rays did fare better than other teams drafting in the top five in ’02. The Pirates took Ball State righty Bryan Bullington with the first overall pick, and Bullington turned out to be a journeyman. Third, fourth and fifth overall picks Chris Gruler (Reds), Adam Loewen (Orioles) and Clint Everts (Expos) didn’t turn out much better.
Where that draft really got interesting was with the sixth pick, where the Royals took Zack Greinke. One pick later, the Brewers grabbed Prince Fielder. Later in the first round went Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain. Joey Votto, Jon Lester and Brian McCann went in the second round; Curtis Granderson headed to the Tigers in the third, and Josh Johnson went to the Marlins in the fourth. Howie Kendrick and Russell Martin went in the late rounds.
We’re nearly 12 years removed from that draft now, and most of the top players involved are now in their late primes. Some have moved on to other teams. So which team fared the best? Here are some possibilities, but feel free to peruse Baseball Reference’s draft database on your own.
Angels. The Angels got solid value from Joe Saunders at No. 12 overall, then scored with Kendrick in the tenth round.
Athletics. The A’s got several good players in their famed “Moneyball” draft, although this was partially, or perhaps even primarily, a function of opportunity — they had seven of the first 39 picks. Swisher (24.1 bWAR) and Joe Blanton (8.8 bWAR) turned out well, but other members of Oakland’s unconventional draft class (including John McCurdy, Ben Fritz, and Jeremy Brown, all selected in the first round) didn’t. The A’s signed Jared Burton in the late rounds, although they lost him in the Rule 5 Draft in 2006. They also picked Brad Ziegler and Jonathan Papelbon, but didn’t sign either of them.
Braves. First-round pick Jeff Francoeur spent most of his best years with the Braves, finishing third in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2005. Supplemental pick Dan Meyer was a key part of the Tim Hudson trade with the Athletics. Second-rounder Brian McCann became a superstar behind the plate. And third-rounder Charlie Morton helped the Braves land Nate McLouth, before becoming a sinker-balling mainstay in the Pirates’ rotation.
Brewers. The Brewers only managed to get much from Fielder (23.1 bWAR). They would have had a better case here if they hadn’t released late-round picks Tom Wilhelmsen and Craig Breslow before they went on to productive careers elsewhere, or if they’d signed 40th-rounder Hunter Pence.
Dodgers. The Dodgers got great value throughout the draft, taking James Loney in the first round, and then Martin, Jonathan Broxton, James McDonald, and Eric Stults later on. Martin accumulated 15.9 bWAR in his five seasons in Los Angeles, then continued his fine career in New York and Pittsburgh.
Giants. First-rounder Matt Cain was a huge hit, and the Giants also got reasonable value from second-rounder Fred Lewis and fourth-rounder Kevin Correia. Eighth-rounder Clay Hensley helped them land reliever Matt Herges. And unlike some teams on this list, the Giants didn’t have a mess of compensation picks, selecting just once in each round.
Phillies. Philadelphia got Hamels and little else, but in terms of WAR value, they did very well in this draft. This wasn’t an unfamiliar pattern for the Phillies, who two years later had taken Chase Utley with their first pick in a draft that otherwise turned up very little for them. When drafting, quality is far more important than quantity, and the Phillies rode their quantity-light but quality-heavy drafts to a World Series title in 2008.
Reds. Gruler was a huge miss at third overall, but the Reds more than made up for that by snagging Votto (34.7 bWAR) 44th overall. They only got two big-leaguers in ’02, but the other one, Chris Denorfia (19th round) also turned out to be a solid contributor. The Reds, however, didn’t reap the benefits, shipping Denorfia to the A’s for Marcus McBeth and a minor-leaguer in 2007.
Red Sox. Boston didn’t pick until No. 57 overall, but took Lester, one of the best pitchers in the draft, when their turn came. They also took Brandon Moss, who they sent to Pittsburgh in the Manny Ramirez / Jason Bay swap in 2008.
Royals. Like the Phillies, the Royals got little in the late rounds. But Greinke was a big hit, and he continues to pay dividends years after being traded — they still have Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar left over from that deal, and Jake Odorizzi helped them land James Shields (albeit in a trade that is controversial for reasons that have little to do with Odorizzi).
Players signed on one-year deals are obviously on a different timeline in terms of value assessment than are those who ink multi-year pacts. For one-year guys, their club must get their money’s worth — through on-field performance, trade value, or both — in 2014. Now that we’ve had a chance to see a full spring and about 12% of the regular season, let’s take a quick look back at some of this year’s relatively modest, one-year contracts.
I will limit the list to players who signed for more than $4MM and up to $8MM (presented alphabetically; poll will randomize order). The early returns have been pretty solid on the whole. And remember — almost all of these guys will be free agents again next year. The poll question is simple: rank these players according to which you think will ultimately prove to have been the best one-year signings (given their respective team’s needs).
John Axford, RP, Indians, $4.5MM: leading league with eight saves; 2.79 ERA but seven walks already in 9 2/3.
Bruce Chen, SP, Royals, $4.25MM: has made three starts, allowing 11 earned runs in 15 innings; his strikeouts are up, but so are the hits allowed (.417 BABIP).
Nelson Cruz, OF/DH, Orioles, $8MM (plus 54th overall draft pick): off to a big .301/.386/.603 start with six home runs, though early defensive numbers are awful (-4 DRS, -52.1 UZR/150).
Jason Hammel, SP, Cubs, $6MM: through four starts, has racked up 27 2/3 innings of 2.60 ERA ball, including impressive 1.6 BB/9 and just 4.6 H/9; benefiting greatly from unsustainably high strand rate (91.7%) and low BABIP (.130).
Corey Hart, DH/OF/1B, Mariners, $6MM: has shaken off the rust early, with a .270/.333/.508 line and four home runs in 69 plate appearances.
Roberto Hernandez, SP, Phillies, $4.5MM: has a 5.75 ERA through four starts (20 1/3 innings pitched), but SIERA (3.63) and xFIP (3.39) like his work thus far.
Josh Johnson, SP, Padres, $8MM (plus $4MM vesting option): will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, but could still be kept in the fold for 2015 if San Diego exercises its option, which vested because he did not make at least seven starts.
Mike Morse, OF, Giants, $6MM: has returned from injury-riddled 2013 to post .279/.338/.559 triple-slash and five home runs in first 74 plate appearances; San Francisco has limited the downside of his defensive limitations with late-inning substitutions.
Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants, $5MM: a tough start has him at a 7.71 ERA through just 16 1/3 frames in four outings, and there isn’t much to sugarcoat based on his peripherals.
Edinson Volquez, SP, Pirates, $5MM: off to a solid start with a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings; his strikeouts are down (5.1 K/9), though he has limited walks (1.6 BB/9), but his BABIP (.233) and long ball rates (.32 HR/9) suggest some regression is coming.
Chris Young, OF, Mets, $7.25MM: dealt with hamstring issues early and has seen only 25 plate appearances, through which he has just a .440 OPS.
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When the Astros promoted top prospect George Springer earlier this week, it ended a mini-drama that cut to the heart of Major League Baseball's rules concerning Super Two status and free-agency eligibility. MLB, of course, allows players to become free agents after six full years of service. By waiting two weeks after the start of the season to promote Springer, the Astros ensured that they could control his rights through 2020. But by promoting him before June, they also gave him the chance to become a Super Two player. That meant he could be eligible for arbitration following the 2016 season, and go to arbitration four times instead of three, potentially making several million more dollars than he would have made had the Astros waited just two more months to promote him.
The circumstances surrounding Springer's promotion are complex. The Astros offered Springer a seven-year, $23MM deal last September, a deal that would have allowed the Astros to have Springer break camp with the team this spring without concern about Super Two status or the timing of his free-agency eligibility. Springer turned the contract down, and the Astros decided to send him to Triple-A Oklahoma City to start the season, reportedly leading the MLBPA and Springer's agent, Greg Genske, to consider the possibility of a grievance against the Astros.
It isn't clear, of course, whether Springer's service time was the primary consideration in the Astros' decision to send Springer to the minors, or even whether it was a consideration, period. Springer began the season with only 266 (admittedly brilliant) career plate appearances in Triple-A, so it wouldn't have been outlandish for an organization to make the somewhat conservative decision to have him get more seasoning at that level before promoting him.
But many fans and commentators couldn't help wondering about how Springer's status had been affected by MLB's rules. "If Springer was good enough to be offered $23 million, why isn't he good enough to crack the 25-man roster of a team that has finished with the worst record in the majors in each of the past three seasons?" wrote FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "Some on the players' side have long felt that clubs act in bad faith when they keep major-league-ready players in the minors for financial reasons."
The timing of Springer's promotion in mid-April thus feels like a compromise. By keeping Springer in the minors for two more weeks, the Astros received an extra year of control, preventing Springer from becoming eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. But they will likely pay Springer more through 2020 than they would have if they had waited a bit longer. Of course, the Astros were within their rights not to compromise — they could have just kept Springer in the minors until June. And again, there may have been developmental considerations at work, too.
The service-time issue is hard to ignore, however, as the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich explains in a good piece about why not everyone agrees with the Astros' timing. Drellich quotes analyst and former MLB pitcher C.J. Nitkowski (via Twitter): "It's about the culture & the message you're sending to players/fan[s]: We don't promote on merit, winning is secondary to FA status [seven years] away."
It also appears that the Astros' decision may have been at least somewhat spontaneous. As Drellich points out, the Astros had Springer travel to Colorado Springs for one game with Oklahoma City, only to then join the big-league team in Houston. A planned promotion might well have had Springer play his first big-league game on the road, in order to limit the pressure on Springer. Maybe, Drellich suggests, the Astros intended to wait until June to him, thus avoiding Super Two status, but the Astros offense's awful performance to that point made them change their minds.
From the perspectives of Springer and the Astros, the precise timing of Springer's promotion may not matter much in the long run. If Springer is upset right now (and aside from the talk of a grievance, there's no indication that he is), the Astros will have almost seven years to make it up to him. Regardless, there are likely to be episodes similar to Springer's until or unless MLB and the MLBPA address the service-time issue — and even if they do, it's hard to imagine what solution they might come up with that would allow teams to promote players as soon as they deem them ready, without fear of paying them piles of extra money or worrying about them leaving a year early.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The qualifying offer system turned Kyle Lohse's name into a verb following the 2012-13 offseason. Lohse didn't sign a free agent contract until late March, a long wait that was attributed to Lohse turning down the Cardinals' one-year, $13.3MM qualifying offer the previous November, and thus attaching the price of a first-round draft pick to any team that wanted to sign him.
Lohse, at least, ended up with some solid long-term security in the form of his three-year contract from the Brewers. This offseason's four free agents who "got Kyle Lohse'd" haven't been nearly so lucky in finding a multiyear commitment. Ervin Santana, coming off a 3.0 fWAR/2.9 rWAR season in 2013, could only find a one-year, $14.1MM contract and had to wait until almost the middle of March to find it. Nelson Cruz, who posted an .833 OPS with 27 homers in 2013, could only find a one-year deal worth $8MM from the Orioles. As for Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, it's almost mid-April and both players remain unsigned.
While such factors as defensive limitations, injury worries and (in Cruz's case) PED histories limited the quartet's market, the qualifying offer stands out as the biggest reason why Santana and Cruz were limited to one-year deals, and why Morales and Drew are still available. Teams simply weren't willing to give up first- or second-round draft picks in order to make major commitments to these players, while other similar free agents (i.e. Jhonny Peralta or Matt Garza) who didn't require draft pick compensation were able to find four-year contracts.
No free agent has accepted a qualifying offer in the two years that the system has been in place, yet as ESPN's Jayson Stark noted today, "clubs are already getting the vibe from some agents that player/agent strategy is about to change — and players will be far more open to taking qualifying offers next winter." Next year's qualifying offer will be in the range of $15MM for a one-year deal, so while players will be giving up long-term security, they'll still make significant money for accepting a contract. A National League executive tells Stark that teams could employ a tactic of offering a multiyear deal to players who accept a qualifying offer in order to both spread the money out and to give the player more security.
As Lohse himself tells Stark, however, settling for a one-year qualifying offer may be profitable but it goes against the spirit of free agent. "I know we're fortunate to be making the money we're making. But when you get that option where you only have a one-year deal, you don't have any security," Lohse said. "To penalize guys who, in my case last time, have put in 10 or 11 years, and to lock me into a situation where I only have the opportunity to get a one-year deal…it puts guys in a totally different situation that have worked so hard to get to where they want to be." Another issue, as Lohse notes, is that a player who accepts a one-year qualifying offer deal could find himself stuck in the same position the next offseason.
I'd argue that player/agent relations could be another factor in the decision about accepting a qualifying offer process. If an agent advises his client that a one-year qualifying offer is the best option, a player who has waited years for free agency (as Lohse described) and is coming off a strong enough season to merit a qualifying offer in the first place might not accept this advice and seek out a new agent instead. Granted, unrealistic contract expectations may have played a part in why Cruz (reportedly looking for a $75MM deal) and Santana (looking for a nine-figure contract) drew such limited interest on the open market, but agents pride themselves on finding the best possible deals for their clients and don't want to be seen as "settling" on a one-year deal for a client coming off a good season.
Being open to accepting a qualifying offer could, conversely, become a tactic unto itself for players, Stark notes. If players are more open to accepting these offers, teams could be more wary of extending them in the first place to so-called "borderline" free agents. The Red Sox might not have risked Drew accepting their offer, for instance, as the team seemed eager to give Xander Bogaerts an everyday role at shortstop. (Boston did explore re-signing Drew for a one-year deal, but likely not at a $14.1MM price.)
There's still a ton of baseball to be played before we reach the 2014-15 offseason, of course, and still to early to speculate about which of the 2015 free agents stand out as possible candidates to be "Kyle Lohse'd" — or, maybe this term is now "Kendrys Morales'd" or "Stephen Drew'd." Still, given how this most recent offseason has played out for Morales, Drew, Cruz and Santana, do you think we'll see at least one free agent bite the bullet and accept a qualifying offer in November?
It's a quiet night on the transactional front, and it's been a while since we've had a poll. So, here goes:
This extension season has included three pretty sizeable contracts to young infielders, each of which features fairly similar terms. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs compared two of those players/deals earlier today (Jason Kipnis and Matt Carpenter), but we'll add a third in Andrelton Simmons to make things interesting.
We'll tick through some of the positives and (relative) negatives of each player below. The question is simple: which of these contract is likely to deliver the best value for the player's team?
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians: 6 years, $52.5MM. $16.5MM club option. (2.075 years of MLB service.) Kipnis is not the youngest guy — just turned 27 — but he's put up one good and one very good year in his first two full-time runs at the MLB level. He brings pop and speed to the table. Look at his lines: .257/.335/.379 12 HR, 31 SB (2012); .284/.366/.452 17 HR, 30 SB (2013). What's not to like? If we're quibbling, strikeout rate rose and is slightly above league-average, and he benefited from a .345 BABIP. Perhaps more importantly, the converted outfielder has (for the second time in three years of MLB time) posted a solidly negative UZR rating; in fact, he was last in the league among full-time second baggers last year. Though DRS saw things more positively, the new Inside Edge fielding ratings put him at second-to-last among regulars at the keystone.
Matt Carpenter, 2B/3B, Cardinals: 6 years, $52MM. $18.5MM club option. (2.012 years of MLB service.) Carpenter, 28, had a huge year in his first as a big league regular. Solid defense and a 143 OPS+ is quite a combination, especially when you can do that at second, third, or even the corner outfield. (What is good for your fantasy roster is also good for the Cards.) That all sounds good, but re-read that first sentence. Carpenter did not even reach Triple-A until 2011, which leads to questions about both repeatability and (moreso, perhaps) longevity. And Carpenter has been a slightly below average defender on balance, which could be something to watch given the perception that he is not terribly athletic (relatively speaking, of course).
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves: 7 years, $58MM. (1.125 years of MLB service.) The 24-year-old Simmons appears likely to have immense defensive value for the foreseeable future, and he has enough pop to dream of upside on top of that floor. If he can improve his on-base capabilities, Simmons could cement himself as one of, if not the, best shortstops in the game over the entire life of this deal. But what if he doesn't? And what if his solid power numbers and huge defensive metrics come back to earth somewhat? Simmons was one year behind the other two players in terms of service when he inked his deal, so it covers one less free agent season.
It's never good for a team with its sights set on the World Series to incur a major injury in Spring Training, as there often few viable alternatives to be had. That's not necessarily the case for the Tigers, who recently suffered the loss of defensive wizard Jose Iglesias for what appears to be most of the 2014 season. The Tigers have seemingly have three legitimate routes to address the problem: stick with internal options, sign a free agent (i.e. Stephen Drew) or swing a trade for a suitable alternative.
Detroit GM Dave Dombroswki said at the time of the deal that the club planned on sticking with internal options. That means some combination of Danny Worth, Eugenio Suarez and and Hernan Perez would see the bulk of the time at shortstop. The 29-year-old Worth has a .622 career OPS in 246 Major League plate appearances to go along with just 219 big league innings at shortstop. Suarez, 22, has yet to play a game above Double-A and owns just a .253/.332/.387 batting line at that level. Perez, also 22, has gotten a brief taste of the Majors and possesses plus speed, but he's OPSed a meager .642 in parts of six minor league seasons. He's also played just 16 games at the Triple-A level. Suffice it to say, none of these three represents a particularly exciting option for a contending club.
While it's rare for a viable free agent option to be present at this stage in Spring Training, the Tigers have one of the premier free agents of the offseason available to them in the form of Drew. Saddled by a qualifying offer that has helped drive down his value, Drew is working out at the Scott Boras Training Institute in Miami. Fresh off a season in which he batted .253/.333/.443 with plus defense, Drew would require the Tigers to forfeit their No. 23 pick in the upcoming draft. It remains to be seen whether Drew would be amenable to a one-year deal (perhaps with a player option to coax the shorter guaranteed term out of Boras), but he appears to be a natural fit despite Dombrowski's comments. After all, it wasn't that long ago that the Tigers signed a high profile Boras client in light of an injury; Detroit inked Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal after losing Victor Martinez for the year prior to the 2012 campaign.
One has to wonder how genuine those comments from the GM were, in light of recent reports. FOX Sports' Jon Morosi tweeted yesterday that Detroit placed a call to Arizona regarding shortstop Chris Owings, though talks didn't progress far. Today, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets that several scouts tell him they've been asked by the Tigers if their clubs have shortstops available in trades. One such candidate could be the man Owings beat out for the shortstop gig in Arizona — Didi Gregorius. The D'Backs are said to be making Gregorius available for MLB-ready pitching. He, of course, represents more of a long-term solution than a stopgap until Iglesias is healthy, but the Tigers could always move one of their defensively inclined shortstops next offseason should they swing a deal for Gregorius. Other names that could be available (my own speculation) are Cliff Pennington, Pete Kozma and Elliot Johnson, each of whom could provide solid defense without a heavy cost of acquisition.
It's hard to imagine the Tigers truly being closed off to the possibility of Drew or a trade, should either become available at a price with which Dombrowski is comfortable. However, he may prefer to stick with internal options rather than overpay at this juncture. A summer trade is always possible as well, as more shortstops could be available at that time.
There are now three free agents remaining who are tied to draft-pick compensation. For two of them — defense-first infielder Stephen Drew and defensively-limited slugger Kendrys Morales — the situation appears simple. Their limitations prevent them from being the kind of premier players who drive their own market. And, at present, their skillsets do not have the multiple suitors (i.e., teams with both need for and motivation to spend on that player) necessary to create a small bidding war.
But that is not the situation of Ervin Santana, a starting pitcher who could, in theory, upgrade any rotation in baseball. (Indeed, he's been tied to a laundry list of clubs.) He has posted 200+ innings with a sub-4.00 ERA in three of the last four years. At age 31, Santana is not particularly young, but neither is he particularly old.
As the spring goes on, potential demand is likely only to rise as the inevitable arm injuries continue to occur. Santana is the only impact hurler left on the open market. Meanwhile, the most attractive trade targets increasingly seem likely to stay home for the time being.
In other words, Santana's market is still wide open; after all, the Brewers were a surprising, late-March landing spot for Kyle Lohse last year. In that respect, it is hardly shocking to hear that Santana has not dropped his demand, which reportedly stands in the range of four years and $50MM (the comp du jour for good-but-imperfect starters).
Though there is plenty of time for Santana to find a taker for his price tag, of course, he could ultimately reach a point at which waiting for a buyer means missing regular-season action. Agent Bean Stringfellow said recently that his team had discussed the possibility of waiting to sign until after the June amateur draft to shed the drag of compensation. "Ervin Santana is a front-line starting pitcher. He will be compensated as such," said Stringfellow. "Whatever it takes to make that happen, we will make it happen, simple as that." If it comes down to it, though, would Santana take what he can get, as did Lohse? Or would he really be willing to test the uncharted waters of a qualifying offer holdout?
So, the poll covers two questions: First, what kind of deal will Santana ultimately get? And second, when will he get it?
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Love it or hate it, there's no denying that the qualifying offer has disrupted baseball's free agent economy. With less than a month to go before Opening Day, three capable players - Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana - are still on the market, potential suitors remaining hesitant to give up a draft pick and its associated bonus pool money. Some players, like Ubaldo Jimenez, have still commanded sizeable deals. Others, however, haven't fared so well. Few would have expected Nelson Cruz to settle for a one-year, $8MM guarantee at the offseason's outset, for example.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow argued in a recent interview with MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo that turning down this offseason's $14.1MM qualifying offer, which links players with draft pick compensation, is rejecting "what a lot of people would consider pretty generous, life-changing money." The current system is, in any case, "an improvement over what was there before," Luhnow said. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that the qualifying offer is suppressing the salaries of some players at a time when Major League Baseball has never been more profitable. The system can also frustrate fans. Adding Drew, Morales or Santana would improve many clubs' chances for a 2014 postseason berth, and some find it hard to digest that the value of a draft pick can outweigh that of a player who can impact a team now.
The qualifying offer system will remain in place through at least December 2016, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. At that point, MLB owners and players will reconvene to try to hammer out a new deal, and the qualifying offer is sure to emerge as a topic of discussion. At that time, should the system be scrapped?
Earlier today, Justin Masterson told reporters that he believes that "somehow, some way" he'll be in Cleveland for a few more years after this one. That statement can serve as a beacon of optimism for Masterson/Indians fans, but there have been plenty of instances of a player going on record to say he thinks he will/wants to/hopes to stay with a team, only to sign elsewhere in the future.
Masterson isn't likely to give the Indians a hefty discount with just seven to eight months sitting between him and free agency, and the price for extending players has seemed to trend upward recently. Masterson is one year older than fellow right-hander Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105MM extension with a comparable amount of service time. The similarities don't stop there, either. As that comparison shows, fWAR assigns Masterson the higher value due to his higher innings total, but in terms of ERA, FIP and xFIP, the two have accumulate very, very similar results over the past three seasons. Masterson relies more on ground-balls, while Bailey's leaned more heavily on superior command and a few more whiffs.
Regardless, Bailey signed away five free agent seasons for roughly $95MM. That figure, as noted by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in an updated piece on Masterson's comments, simply isn't going to be on the table from the Indians.
Masterson currently faces a decision: he's experienced his ups and downs in recent seasons (2010 and 2012 were not pretty), but he's a talented pitcher in the midst of his prime who is months away from being one of the best pitchers on the free agent market alongside James Shields, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester (Lester, of course, is widely expected to sign an extension this spring). Another strong season would give Masterson three years of an ERA well under 4.00 with 193-plus innings and one of the league's best ground-ball rates. However, his comments today also hinted that he'd like to stay in Cleveland, and an extension would eliminate the risk of a poor season or injury sapping his potential earnings.
It would be beneficial to the Indians' long-term outlook to keep Masterson around and pair him with the likes of Danny Salazar for years to come, but the team could also look to fill the void internally (or with cheaper free agent/trade options) and recoup a draft pick via qualifying offer next offseason in letting Masterson walk.