Let’s be honest right up front: we don’t know what the qualifying offer system will look like for the 2020-21 offseason. It’s in the CBA, sure, but economic realities could require some rather extensive renegotiation — or, due to vast changes in key underlying information points, completely change what we think we know about the market for baseball players. But we’re not going to offer any guesses on those aspects of the future. As we learn more about how drastically the 2020 season will ultimately be curtailed, and what the means for 2021 and beyond, we’ll adjust as best we can.
(We also don’t yet know the value of the QO. It’s set by averaging the salaries of the 125 highest-paid players in the game.)
Instead, in this post, we’re going to look forward at the 2020-21 offseason with something of a presumption of relative normalcy. We aren’t aiming for any precision — just trying to create a useful starting point that we can revisit as the situation develops, both economically and on the field (if indeed MLB makes it back). Here’s a list of the pending free agents who may be candidates to receive a qualifying offer.
- Mookie Betts (OF, Dodgers): One of the game’s very best players, Betts is sure to receive a QO.
- J.T. Realmuto (C, Phillies): Barring a total collapse, Realmuto will receive and reject a qualifying offer.
- Marcus Semien (SS, Athletics): After an MVP-level showing in 2019, the expectation is that Semien will be one of the top players on the market this fall. Even if he steps back a fair bit at the plate, it’s tough to imagine he won’t be worth a qualifying offer.
- George Springer (OF, Astros): Springer is an immensely productive offensive performer and can play anywhere in the outfield.
Other Top Candidates
- Trevor Bauer (SP, Reds): This could go either way, but the Reds gave up big value last summer on the assumption that Bauer would easily be worthy of a QO. It’ll be fun to see how it unfolds given Bauer’s oft-state determination to play out his career on one-year deals.
- Michael Brantley (OF/DH, Astros): He has been healthy and quite productive for the past two seasons.
- Ken Giles (RP, Blue Jays): If he can turn in a second-straight star performance in Toronto, Giles would be a candidate for a major, long-term free agent contract.
- Didi Gregorius (SS, Phillies): If he bounces back as the Phillies hope, it’ll be an easy to call. If there’s no 2020 season, he’ll be allowed to return to free agency without encumbrance.
- Liam Hendriks (RP, Athletics): It’d be a big bet for a guy with this back story, but Hendriks was elite in 2019 and could warrant a QO if he repeats.
- DJ LeMahieu (2B, Yankees): Based on his surprising 2019 MVP-caliber season, DJLM would get a QO if the Yanks were forced to decide right now. But they have the luxury of watching the 2020 season, when he’ll try to prove he can maintain that new level of output.
- Mike Minor (SP, Rangers): Two strong seasons in Texas make Minor an easy bet on a one-year arrangement, but he’ll be watched closely in 2020.
- James Paxton (SP, Yankees): The delay to the season has given Paxton time to overcome his latest injury. He has such a high established ceiling that he won’t have to show all that much to be worthy of a QO … so long as he ends 2020 in good health.
- Jose Quintana (SP, Cubs): The trend isn’t promising, but a bounceback 2020 could put Q back on track for a QO.
- Robbie Ray (SP, Diamondbacks): It’s possible that Ray will end up being the top starter on the market. Odds are he’ll turn down a QO on his way out the door in Arizona.
- Garrett Richards (SP, Padres): With ace-like stuff, a resurgent Richards could easily warrant a qualifying offer … though there’s also an obvious downside scenario here.
- Andrelton Simmons (SS, Angels): Some might disagree with me, but I expect Simmons to get a QO from the Los Angeles organization even if he’s a slightly below-average hitter in 2020. The glove is exceptional.
- Marcus Stroman (SP, Mets): Barring injury or a total downturn, there’s little question the productive starter is going to warrant a QO.
- Masahiro Tanaka (SP, Yankees): You hate to rule out a guy with this talent level, even if he hasn’t shown that level of capability of late.
- Kirby Yates (RP, Padres): We can debate how much money and how long a commitment you ought to make to an aging relief pitcher, but Yates has been one of the game’s very best and is easily worthy of a qualifying offer-level salary on a single-season pact.
- Nick Castellanos (OF, Reds): If he plays well enough to opt out after year one, a qualifying offer would be likely.
- J.D. Martinez (OF/DH, Red Sox): Martinez can opt out of the last two years of his deal. Should he do so, he’d be sure to decline a qualifying offer, so the Boston org would likely issue it.
- Charlie Morton (SP, Rays): It was rather surprising when Morton didn’t get a QO on his way out the door in Houston. Anything close to his 2019 output would again make him a strong candidate, even at relatively advanced age. But if he’s that good and healthy again, he’ll trigger a $15MM vesting option. (Even if it doesn’t go into effect automatically, the Rays will be able to pick it up as a club option at that price — or a lower number, depending upon time spent on the injured list).
- Giancarlo Stanton (OF, Yankees): On the off chance he has such an immense season that he opts out of the $200+ million left on his deal … well, no doubt the Yanks would dangle a qualifying offer.
If teams had to make the call right now, I don’t think any of these players would get real consideration for a qualifying offer. But they’re the top possibilities beyond those considered in more detail above …
- Dellin Betances (RP, Mets): It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how a QO could happen here.
- Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Red Sox): It’s fairly unlikely, but Bradley has enough of a track record in the field that he could warrant a QO if he can return to the offensive output he provided 4-5 years ago.
- Sean Doolittle (RP, Nationals): It’ll take a real bounce back to his prior effectiveness for the excellent lefty to warrant a qualifying offer.
- Kevin Gausman (SP, Giants): While he’s nowhere near a QO candidate after a few tough seasons, Gausman is only 29 and has big-time pedigree.
- Yuli Gurriel (1B, Astros): The odds of a near-40 first baseman getting a qualifying offer aren’t high, but Gurriel did hit quite well last year.
- Cole Hamels (SP, Braves): The Atlanta org promised him $18MM this past winter, so a QO can’t be ruled out.
- Keone Kela (RP, Pirates): Could he elevate his game as the Bucs’ closer?
- Tommy La Stella (INF, Angels): Who’s to say he can’t keep the 2019 productivity rolling? It’s likelier he’ll end up reaching the market without a qualifying offer, but it’s at least possible to imagine.
- Joc Pederson (OF, Dodgers): Unlikely for a platoon bat, but Pederson has been a consistent power source.
- Blake Treinen (RP, Dodgers): See Betances.
- Jonathan Villar (INF/OF, Marlins): He’s young enough that a QO can’t be ruled out if he turns in another ~4 WAR season.
- Brandon Workman (RP, Red Sox): If he repeats 2019, it’s possible … but the prior track record suggests cause for skepticism.
- Alex Wood (SP, Dodgers): The lefty was really good for quite some time before running into injury troubles last year.
Ineligible Due To Prior QO
- Most of these players aren’t realistic candidates to receive a second qualifying offer, but here’s the list of still-active players who are potential 2020-21 free agents but aren’t eligible for a QO since they’ve already been issued one once before: Brett Anderson, Melky Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Wei-Yin Chen, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Wade Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, Marco Estrada, Alex Gordon, Greg Holland, Ubaldo Jimenez, Howie Kendrick, Francisco Liriano, Russell Martin, Daniel Murphy, Jake Odorizzi, Marcell Ozuna, David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Santana, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Neil Walker, Matt Wieters, Jordan Zimmermann