3:36pm: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears that one adjustment that has been discussed is that no player would be allowed to be tagged with a qualifying offer in consecutive seasons (Twitter links). That, of course, isn’t a lock to implemented this offseason — if at all — but could be applied from this point forth.
Of course, that adjustment would come with its own potential pitfalls. Many teams that part with a first-round pick to sign a free agent to a one-year deal, as the Rangers did with Desmond and the Cubs did with Fowler last offseason (technically speaking, anyhow, as they’d have netted a pick had he signed elsewhere), do so knowing that the sting will be lessened by the ability to extend a QO the following season in the event that the player performs well. Removing that incentive could make teams even more reluctant to sign borderline free agents coming off of a down season.
2:27pm: The qualifying offer is expected to rise to $17.2MM this offseason, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). He adds that the QO system is likely to “remain in place,” under the new CBA, albeit with certain “adjustments.”
The specific nature of said adjustments, of course, remains to be seen, but the new figure represents a fairly significant boost to last year’s qualifying offer value of $15.8MM. In fact, that $1.4MM jump in value is the largest single-year increase in the qualifying offer’s value since the system was first implemented in the 2012-13 offseason. In that first year of the system’s existence, the QO was valued at $13.3MM — a figure that rose to $14.1MM in the 2013-14 offseason, $15.3MM in the 2014-15 offseason and $15.8MM last winter. The stark increase in this year’s total is reflective of the overall rise in salaries throughout the game, as the QO’s value is determined by averaging the salaries of Major League Baseball’s 125 highest-paid players.
For those who aren’t familiar with the QO system or need a quick refresher, it’s fairly simple. Teams that wish to receive a compensatory draft pick for the departure of a free agent must extend a one-year “qualifying offer” to that free agent, who has a week to decide whether to accept or reject the QO. If the player accepts, he is considered signed for the following season and cannot be traded without his consent until the following June (as is the case with any free agent who signs a Major League contract in the offseason). If the player rejects the QO, then he may negotiate with all 30 teams, and the team that ultimately signs him must forfeit its top unprotected draft pick. (The top 10 selections in each year’s draft are protected, so some clubs may only need to part with a second-round pick.) If a team signs multiple free agents that rejected a qualifying offer, they forfeit their top remaining unprotected pick in each instance. Players are only eligible to receive a qualifying offer if they spent the entire season with the same team. (In other words, traded players and midseason signees cannot receive a QO.)
Until the 2015-16 offseason, no player had accepted a qualifying offer. Generally speaking, the downside to rejecting had been fairly minimal, at least in relation to the upside, as even those who rejected and found reluctance when negotiating with potential suitors still found one-year deals at or near the value of the qualifying offer (e.g. Ervin Santana signing for one year at $14.1MM with the Braves late in the 2013-14 offseason). However, last winter, the trio of Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson accepted their QOs and locked in one-year, $15.8MM salaries for this season. With the continued rise of the offer’s value, it becomes more and more enticing for free agents to accept the deal — particularly those whose free-agent earning capacity is limited to a two- or three-year contract.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently ran down a list of potential qualifying offer candidates in the latest MLBTR Mailbag, noting that a handful of players — Yoenis Cespedes (once he opts out of his contract), Edwin Encarnacion, Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, Jeremy Hellickson, Jose Bautista, Dexter Fowler and and Mark Trumbo — are locks to receive the offer. While not all of those players will necessarily receive a contract worth more than $17.2MM on an annual basis, each has a strong case for a free-agent deal of at least three years at a significant annual value — more than enough to outweigh the risk of playing one year at a higher rate but incurring an injury or notable downturn in performance that would cause his stock to diminish the following offseason.
There are plenty of other elements of the system, of course, and you can check out this old but comprehensive overview of the system for more. For an understanding of why the qualifying offer matters so much, you can refer to MLBTR owner Tim Dierkes’ previous explanation of why avoiding the qualifying offer is so important for a free agent’s value.