Kevin Gausman has until November 11 to decide whether to accept the qualifying offer he was issued by the Giants. Should he accept, he’ll return to San Francisco on a one-year, $18.9MM deal. That wouldn’t foreclose the possibility of a multi-year extension with San Francisco, just as José Abreu and the White Sox brokered a three-year contract after Abreu accepted Chicago’s QO last winter. Rejecting the qualifying offer might pave the way for multi-year offers from other clubs, though. Gausman and his representatives have surely been gauging the market the past few days to shape their decision.
There’s a case to be made for Gausman as the second-best starter on the open market. The right-hander pitched to a 3.62 ERA/3.09 FIP across 59.2 innings this past season. His 32.2% strikeout rate ranked eleventh in baseball (minimum 50 innings pitched), topped only by Trevor Bauer’s 36% among free agents. Gausman finished tenth overall in strikeout minus walk rate and seventh in swinging strike rate. On a per-pitch basis, only Jacob deGrom, Lucas Giolito, Kenta Maeda, Shane Bieber, Luis Castillo and Gerrit Cole generated more whiffs. Gausman truly was among the game’s elite at fooling opposing hitters.
Moreover, he’s also one of the harder-throwing starting pitchers available. Gausman averaged north of 95 MPH on his heater last season, per Brooks Baseball. He got elite results on both the fastball and his signature splitter. Gausman didn’t find a breaking ball he was comfortable using frequently, a problem that has hampered him throughout his career. That didn’t seem to matter, though, as he was highly effective regardless.
Of course, teams aren’t solely factoring in a player’s performance in his platform year. That’s all the more true in a significantly shortened season. Gausman’s only a season removed from posting a 5.72 ERA over 102.1 innings, contributing to the Reds’ decision to non-tender him last winter rather than pay him approximately $10.6MM to return in 2020. Some of the underlying metrics at the time hinted at a potential rebound but it was nevertheless a surprise to see him perform at such a high level this past season. Gausman’s less consistent track record could lead to some trepidation on teams’ parts, particularly since signing him would cost them draft compensation at the very least.
It’s also worth considering whether next winter’s market would present a more favorable environment. Teams aren’t expected to spend aggressively this winter in the wake of massive revenue losses. Next offseason might still have COVID-19 effects, and there’ll be anticipated labor uncertainty with the scheduled expiration of the collective bargaining agreement in December 2021 (although it’s possible MLB and the MLBPA broker a short-term CBA extension in the wake of the pandemic).
Gausman would be one year older next offseason obviously, but he’ll only turn 30 in January 2021. He’d still be young enough to secure a lofty multi-year deal if he accepts the qualifying offer, then backs up 2020 with another strong season. The CBA prohibits players from being offered multiple qualifying offers in their careers, so Gausman will never have to wrestle with this decision again, no matter what he decides in the coming days.
In our top 50 free agents list, the MLBTR staff predicted Gausman would indeed accept the qualifying offer. We’ll turn things over to the readership with a pair of questions: should Gausman take the qualifying offer, and will he do so?