The 2015-16 offseason may be remembered as the qualifying offer’s watershed. A record 20 qualifying offers were issued in November, and for the first time in the four years since the QO system was instituted, three players (Brett Anderson, Colby Rasmus, Matt Wieters) actually accepted the one-year offer rather than test free agency.
As we approach Spring Training, I suspect at least some of the other 17 players may be wishing they had also taken that one-year, $15.8MM deal. (Howie Kendrick and Hisashi Iwakuma come to mind.) The qualifying offer also may have impacted a couple of names in the upper tier of the free agent market, though Chris Davis and Justin Upton did end up landing huge multi-year contracts in the end.
The three players still facing uncertainty, however, are Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler and Yovani Gallardo. It looks as if this trio will join Kendrick, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana and others on the list of players whose markets were drastically affected by the QO, perhaps to the point of them eventually accepting a contract that would’ve seemed like a major bargain only a few months ago. At this point in the offseason, no team has been willing to meet the asking price and/or give up the first round draft pick necessary to sign any of three players.
While none of the trio have signed, there have been plenty of rumors surrounding each player. A recap…
Gallardo: The Orioles, Rockies and Astros have been the clubs most recently linked to the righty, with the Blue Jays, Royals and Rangers also reportedly interested at earlier points in the offseason. We can probably cross off Kansas City and Houston in the wake of their signings of Ian Kennedy and Doug Fister, while Toronto likely doesn’t have the payroll space.
The O’s are very hesitant to give up their first-rounder (the 14th overall pick) to sign Gallardo. Colorado’s first-rounder is protected so they would only have to give up a second-round pick, though GM Jeff Bridich has downplayed his team’s interest. The Rangers, of course, are the only team that can sign Gallardo without having to surrender a pick, though they may also be tapped out payroll-wise and they already have several rotation options on hand, albeit with question marks.
Fowler: The Cubs (his former team), White Sox and Rangers have all been rumored to be monitoring the outfielder’s market, with teams like the Indians, Angels, Giants and Cardinals also mentioned as speculative fits. In our last MLBTR poll, readers had the two Chicago teams as the clear favorites in predicting Fowler’s landing spot. In my view, the White Sox seem like the best fit for Fowler since thanks to their protected first-rounder, the only pick they’d have to surrender is the bonus compensation selection they received from Jeff Samardzija signing with the Giants. The Sox heavily value their draft picks, however, and their low-rated farm system needs reinforcements.
Re-signing Fowler makes some sense for the Cubs but it would create an awkward time-share between Fowler, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber (Jason Heyward, obviously, would play every day in either right or center field). I wonder if the Rangers’ interest in Fowler could be tied to Gallardo’s situation; if Gallardo signs elsewhere and Texas gets a compensation pick, the team could then be more willing to give up its first-rounder (the 20th overall pick) to bring Fowler into the fold.
Desmond: The former National’s situation is at once both seemingly the most muddled yet possibly the most flexible of the trio. If reports of Desmond’s ability and willingness to play elsewhere than shortstop are still accurate, then his market could be opened up to teams looking for help at second, third or even the outfield. In a recent edition of the MLBTR Newsletter, Tim Dierkes speculated that Desmond could be a good candidate for a contract with an opt-out after the first year, or perhaps even a flat one-year “pillow contract” to minimize the risk for teams uninterested in giving up a draft pick for a player coming off a tough season.
Dierkes cited the A’s, Braves, White Sox and Tigers as a few of the teams who could be fits for Desmond, with the Rockies also a maybe depending on Jose Reyes’ situation. The Rays have also been mentioned as a dark horse candidate to sign Desmond on a semi-hometown deal, though given how Tampa is so reliant on developing young talent, it would be a big surprise to see them give up their first-rounder, the 13th overall pick of June’s draft.
Let’s open the debate up to you, the MLBTR audience. Who do you think will be the last qualifying offer free agent available this offseason? (MLBTR app users can weigh in here)