The Rockies hold the distinction of making arguably the single most aggressive deployment of the qualifying offer. Back in 2014, they extended one to aging corner outfielder Michael Cuddyer after an injury-limited season. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he declined it — a QO wouldn’t be accepted by anyone until the following offseason — and not long thereafter signed with the Mets, leaving the Rox with a first-round pick for their troubles.
These days, teams are generally less willing to go out on a limb with the QO. For one thing, we’ve seen several players decide they’d rather take the sure payday for one season of work than roll the dice on landing a big, multi-year deal. For another, teams have less to gain for their risk under the modified QO rules.
So, where does that leave the Rockies and free-agent-to-be DJ LeMahieu? The 30-year-old has been a steady presence for the Colorado organization, holding down the second base job on a regular basis for the past five seasons.
Defense has always been the calling card for LeMahieu. He has at times graded as one of the best defenders in the sport. And he did so again in 2018, with both DRS and UZR boosting his scores after three years of merely above-average ratings.
While he has produced at about ten percent below league average with the bat in three of the past four seasons, the outlying campaign (2016) saw LeMahieu post a stellar .348/.416/.495 slash. And he was able to drive a career-high 15 balls out of the yard in 2018.
Though his walk rate fell a bit, and LeMahieu ended with only a .321 OBP, it’s worth noting that he managed only a .298 batting average on balls in play. That’d be normal for most players, but DJLM has a long history of carrying much higher numbers. In the majors, his career BABIP is .343. This does seem tied to his dinger boost, as LeMahieu hit far more flyballs (29.5%) than ever before. It’s fair to wonder, then, whether LeMahieu will ever be able to deliver much power while also delivering his core skill — an abundance of solid contact and a lofty batting average — at the plate.
All things considered, it’s not as if LeMahieu doesn’t have his strengths on offense. He’s fourth in all of baseball in batting average over the past four seasons, after all. And the glove is good enough to support him regardless. If you believe UZR, he’s a 2-win player who topped out at 4.4 fWAR in 2016. By measure of DRS-applying rWAR, however, LeMahieu is more a 3-win annual performer who has topped five WAR at his peak.
The Rockies do have some options to fill in. Garrett Hampson has always hit in the minors and had a nice first taste of the majors in 2018. Ryan McMahon has struggled in the bigs but could also be a factor. And top prospect Brendan Rodgers is nearing MLB readiness even as Trevor Story blocks him at shortstop.
Of course, there are loads of second basemen to be found on the market. That hurts LeMahieu’s outlook and makes it likelier he’d accept. Paying him $17.9MM for a single season may be reasonable, in theory, but it’d also severely constrain the club as it seeks other improvements. While the Rockies could land a first-round pick if he rejects it, that’d only occur if LeMahieu secures at least a $50MM contract.
As ever, the decision boils down to what the Rockies believe LeMahieu thinks of his market. If the team expects he’ll reject the QO, issuing it is a no-brainer. If that’s unclear, the question becomes whether the team finds it palatable to imagine him accepting.
There are a lot of factors, but ultimately it’s a yes/no proposition whether to extend the qualifying offer. What do you think the Rockies ought to do? (Poll link for app users.)