Today marked the deadline for players to receive one-year, $15.8MM qualifying offers, and we saw a record 20 players receive them. There were only nine recipients in 2012-13, followed by 13 the next year and a dozen last winter. This winter’s slate of free agents has long been considered robust, but that’s still a remarkable increase in the use of the QO.
Here are this year’s free agents who were extended a qualifying offer by their teams (in alphabetical order)
- Brett Anderson, SP (Dodgers)
- Wei-Yin Chen, SP (Orioles)
- Chris Davis, 1B (Orioles)
- Ian Desmond, SS (Nationals)
- Marco Estrada, SP (Blue Jays)
- Dexter Fowler, OF (Cubs)
- Yovani Gallardo, SP (Rangers)
- Alex Gordon, OF (Royals)
- Zack Greinke, SP (Dodgers)
- Jason Heyward, OF (Cardinals)
- Hisashi Iwakuma, SP (Mariners)
- Howie Kendrick, 2B (Dodgers)
- Ian Kennedy, SP (Padres)
- John Lackey, SP (Cardinals)
- Daniel Murphy, 2B/3B (Mets)
- Colby Rasmus, OF (Astros)
- Jeff Samardzija, SP (White Sox)
- Justin Upton, OF (Padres)
- Matt Wieters, C (Orioles)
- Jordan Zimmermann, SP (Nationals)
The rules regarding the qualifying offer are set forth in full detail right here. In brief, though, should these players reject the offer and sign with a new team, their former team will stand to receive a “sandwich” round draft pick as compensation. Those new teams, in turn, will have to forfeit their top unprotected draft pick (or picks, if they sign multiple QO-rejecting players). If a player rejects a QO but ultimately re-signs with the same team, no draft pick shuffling occurs.
The net result is that players who reject qualifying offers enter the market with the requirement of draft compensation weighing them down. The players listed above will now have one week to decide whether or not to accept the QO and play on a one-year deal worth $15.8MM, or instead to or reject the offer in search of a larger guarantee on the open market.
The word “guarantee” is the key to that sentiment: while many will focus on whether or not the players can top that average annual value on the free agent market, more often than not, a player is concerned primarily with maximizing the amount of money he can earn over his prime seasons. Few players are ever sold on the idea of playing on a one-year deal when a multi-year guarantee can be had. Single-year contracts, on the free agent market, are often reserved for older players who don’t know how long they wish to continue playing (e.g. Torii Hunter last year), players coming off significant injuries (e.g. Brett Anderson last winter) or players who have underperformed in a contract year (e.g. Colby Rasmus last offseason).
Indeed, we’ve yet to see a single player accept a qualifying offer. While upon first glance it might make sense to suggest a player with a spotty track record, such as Anderson, should accept the offer, there’s quite possibly more downside for him in accepting than in rejecting. Even if Anderson is faced with a cold market, he’d likely be able to find a one-year contract at an AAV north of $10MM — which is what he got last year after an injury-shortened season — if not a one-year offer commensurate with the total sum of the qualifying offer, as Ervin Santana did previously when signing a one-year, $14.1MM contract (that year’s QO value). Whereas the downside in accepting is “settling” for a one-year deal a few ticks below the QO level, the upside in rejecting is finding perhaps a three-year deal that could more than double the guarantee he’d otherwise receive. This risk/benefit calculus generally points toward testing the market.
Reports on whether or not any player will accept the offer should be filtering in over the next week, but those looking for a quick resource to check the status of each can use MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker (the provided link is already filtered to show only free agents that have received the QO, and their status will change from “Received” to “Rejected” or “Accepted” upon a decision being reached).