Ten players received $17.8MM qualifying offers this winter. The clock is now ticking on their decisions to accept or decline, with a final call due one week from today. In many cases, the QO is quite easy to spurn. For players of a certain quality level, there just isn’t much downside to saying no — even if that means dragging draft compensation with you onto the market. Even when the market doesn’t developed as hoped, it’s usually possible to beat or exceed the QO value. Last year, Craig Kimbrel secured a mid-season, multi-year deal while Dallas Keuchel earned a bit more than the QO rate for the time he spent in the big leagues in 2019.
That said, there are risks to rejecting the qualifying offer for qualifying offer recipients — even those that seem fairly obvious candidates to reject it. Ian Desmond, Mike Moustakas, Dexter Fowler, and Nelson Cruz are among those that have followed Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew in stumbling into some of the pitfalls of the system.
This year, as usual, there’s a slate of players that won’t give the qualifying offer a second thought. And there are a few that will at least need to ponder how they’ll be treated on the market if they say no.
Here’s this year’s list …
- Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox
- Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants
- Gerrit Cole, SP, Astros
- Josh Donaldson, 3B, Braves
- Jake Odorizzi, SP, Twins
- Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals
- Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
- Will Smith, RP, Giants
- Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals
- Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets
There’s virtually no chance of Bumgarner, Cole, Donaldson, Rendon, Strasburg, or Wheeler settling for a one-year, $17.8MM payday when their market outlook is so strong. (But we’ll include them in the poll anyway.) There’s at least some argument for each of the other players to consider it.
Abreu is perhaps the most obvious option to run into choppy open-market waters if he declines. But there’s also every expectation that he’ll remain with the White Sox in one manner or another, so he could even reject it and just keep talking about a slightly lengthier pact (if one isn’t reached within the next week, as seems likely).
Excellent as Smith has been, he’s a relief pitcher. Much as there’s a newfound appreciation for the value of high-leverage arms, there’s still also an unwillingness to go too big in terms of contract length in the current market climate. There should be widespread interest in the southpaw, but perhaps teams will balk at the draft pick. It seems reasonable to think Smith can at least land a multi-year arrangement, particularly with Aroldis Chapman staying in New York before free agency kicked off, but that $17.8MM single-season salary still holds appeal. The incomparable Chapman is earning $16MM annually over three seasons on his new arrangement. Perhaps Smith will just shrug and count his blessings to be paid for one season like almost no reliever before him. (Wade Davis earned $18MM in 2019.)
It’s tougher to see Odorizzi or Ozuna following that same logic, but not impossible. The former just turned in a much better campaign than he did in his prior two seasons, which cuts both ways. Perhaps now is the time to cash in on that multi-year deal. But there are also some shades of Jeremy Hellickson, who took a QO out of fear that the market wouldn’t reward his strong results. Odorizzi’s peripherals look to be in better shape, it ought to be noted.
Ozuna seems to be a safer bet on the open market as a youthful hitter. But look back at that group of players that have really been bitten by the QO and you’ll see a bunch of position players, some of them relatively young at the time they reached the market. Teams may be somewhat more hesitant to do lengthy pitching contracts, but they’ve proven willing to bail out hurlers with heftier deals as well, likely reflecting the greater need for depth in that area and ease of knocking in-house pitchers down the depth chart when a new one is added.
Despite my best efforts, our polling system seems unwilling to enable a multiple-choice setup. Instead, we’ll settle for asking how many players you anticipate taking the offer this year:
(Poll link for app users. )