The deadline for accepting the qualifying offer has come and gone, with two players (the Mets’ Marcus Stroman and the Giants’ Kevin Gausman) opting to accept the one-year, $18.9MM deal from their most recent team. That leaves four other players in this year’s QO class, all of whom rejected the one-year offer — Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, and DJ LeMahieu.
There was some debate over whether or not Stroman or Gausman would even receive a qualifying offer, so it perhaps isn’t surprising that the two hurlers each chose to accept rather than test the open market. For the other four, however, there was no doubt that each would receive and reject the QO since more lucrative, longer-term offers surely await in free agency. Bauer, Realmuto, Springer, and LeMahieu take up four of the top five places on MLBTR’s list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents, with only Marcell Ozuna — who was ineligible for another qualifying offer after being issued one last winter — interceding in the #4 spot.
Now that the QO detail has been settled, the question is which of the quartet will be the first to land that lucrative, long-term contract? (And, it should be noted that “long-term” may not necessarily be the case in regards to Bauer.) All of the financial uncertainty of the 2020-21 offseason might not necessarily impact these top-tier free agents in terms of overall earning potential, though the ripple effects of other signings elsewhere in the market could impact when exactly these big four stars sign their next contract.
For instance, there is some thought around baseball that this will be another slow winter for offseason activity, as the strained payrolls throughout the sport will make teams even more wary about making big free agent investments. A large group of new free agents is expected to flood the market by the December 2 non-tender deadline, so teams might wait until that date to make any sort of significant move so they can assess all of their options. A team in need of catching, for example, could hold off on making an offer to Realmuto until they know whether or not the Yankees could actually non-tender Gary Sanchez.
But this poll isn’t asking who the last to sign will be, it’s who will be the first. As mentioned, Bauer/Realmuto/Springer/LeMahieu could be shielded in many respects from the crunch that other free agents are likely to face, and could get a lot of early attention from teams looking to make their offseason as simple as possible. In the case of the Yankees and LeMahieu, a relatively quick re-signing would allow New York to check off one big box, and then figure out how to address other needs with what resources remain (if the Yankees are indeed trying to get under the $210MM luxury tax threshold).
With so much up in the air about the 2021 season, there’s a case to be made that any of these free agents would prefer to get a new contract locked up soon, so they can fully focus on getting ready for whatever challenges 2021 may bring. If we reach March and there’s still question as to whether or not the pandemic will allow Opening Day to proceed as scheduled, or if the 2021 season will still be 162 games or not, no player would want the added uncertainty of still not knowing where they’ll be playing whenever Opening Day does occur.
Cast your vote, which of the Qualifying Offer Four will be the first to land their new contract? (Poll link for app users)