Thursday was the deadline for the 10 players who received the $17.8MM qualifying offer early this offseason to decide whether to take it. Seven players ended up rejecting, two accepted it (Jake Odorizzi and Jose Abreu) and one (Will Smith, now with the Braves) signed a contract with another team. The players who turned it down – Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Marcell Ozuna – are now in something of a disadvantageous position. With a QO hanging over their heads, it would require another team to surrender both a significant amount of money and draft compensation to sign them.
We’ve seen the QO hamper free agents in the past, but will it occur again this winter? First off, if it does, it’s at least not going to victimize Cole, Rendon or Strasburg. No matter what, they’re primed to lead this class of free agents in guarantees. Cole and Rendon should reel in $200MM-plus in guarantees, while Strasburg could approach that number. On the other hand, Wheeler, Donaldson, Bumgarner and Ozuna may face some degree of adversity thanks to the QO. Here’s a rundown on each…
Zack Wheeler, RHP
Age: 30 in May
MLBTR projection: Five years, $100MM
- Aside from the QO, is there anything that would scare clubs away from Wheeler? Perhaps his injury history. Wheeler’s a former Tommy John surgery patient who missed all of 2015-16 and a large portion of ’17, though he has come back strong since. He combined for 377 2/3 innings of 3.65 ERA/3.37 FIP ball from 2018-19, during which he was one of the majors’ hardest-throwing starters.
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Age: 34 in December
MLBTR projection: Three years, $75MM
- Age could be a problem for Donaldson, easily the oldest player left on this offseason’s qualifying offer market. He’s also not far from a couple injury-shortened seasons (2017-18) with the Blue Jays and Indians. To his credit, though, Donaldson was outstanding during a return to health in 2019. In his first and possibly lone season with the Braves, he slashed .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs over 659 plate appearances. He’s now the second-best free-agent third baseman in a group that also includes Rendon and Mike Moustakas.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
MLBTR projection: Four years, $72MM
- Bumgarner, known for his postseason exploits and his long run atop the Giants’ rotation, put injury-limited 2017-18 seasons behind him this year to fire 207 2/3 innings with 8.8 K/9 against 1.86 BB/9. Those are front-of-the-rotation numbers, though the 3.90 ERA/FIP and 4.31 xFIP Bumgarner put up indicate he’s more of a No. 3-type starter nowadays. There’s nothing wrong with that, and judging by the early interest in Bumgarner in free agency, it appears he’ll be fine.
Marcell Ozuna, OF
MLBTR projection: Three years, $45MM
- Ozuna’s the youngest player here, but he also looks like the least desirable. Although he typically offered above-average production in each season since he debuted in 2013, only once – in 2017 – has Ozuna recorded star-caliber numbers. He’s now coming off a year in which he slashed .243/.330/.474 (good for a decent but unspectacular 110 wRC+) with 29 home runs, 12 stolen bases and 2.6 fWAR across 549 trips to the plate. Does that type of output merit a large contract and draft compensation? We’ll see. It shouldn’t help Ozuna’s cause that there’s a similarly valuable free-agent corner outfielder, Nicholas Castellanos, who’s not saddled with a QO.
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