This year’s qualifying offer will be worth $18.4MM, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports (via Twitter). This represents a drop from last year’s $18.9MM figure, and the second time in the history of the qualifying offer that the value has declined from the previous season. The QO was worth $17.8MM in the 2019-20 offseason, slightly below the $17.9MM price tag for the winter of 2018-19.
The qualifying offer is recalculated annually, as it is determined by averaging the salaries of the 125 highest-paid players in baseball. The $500K drop from last year therefore looks like a reflection of the slower market of the 2020-21 offseason, as several teams spent less in the wake of reported and claimed revenue losses from the pandemic.
Still, the lower figure still counts as a surprise, as the general feeling was that the QO would end up rising to somewhere in the $19-$20MM range for the coming offseason. Originally instituted for the 2012-13 offseason, the qualifying offer has varied annually but generally increases year-over-year:
- 2012-13: $13.3MM
- 2013-14: $14.4MM
- 2014-15: $15.3MM
- 2015-16: $15.8MM
- 2016-17: $17.2MM
- 2017-18: $17.4MM
- 2018-19: $17.9MM
- 2019-20: $17.8MM
- 2020-21: $18.9MM
- 2021-22: $18.4MM
To recap the QO process, teams can issue a one-year contract to any of their free agents who a) have never received a qualifying offer, and b) have been with the team for the entirety of the previous season. For instance, impending free agents like Starling Marte, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, or Kyle Schwarber can’t receive qualifying offers since they were traded at midseason. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently compiled a list of every player who has already been issued a qualifying offer in the past, for reference purposes.
Players who receive a qualifying offer have 10 days to make their decision, and if a player accepts a QO this winter, he’ll return to his club on a one-year contract and earn an $18.4MM salary in 2022. (A player can also work out a longer-term extension with his team after accepting a qualifying offer, as Jose Abreu did with the White Sox in November 2019.) If the player rejects the QO, his new team will have to give up at least one draft pick and potentially some international spending pool money in order to make the signing, and his former team will receive a compensatory draft pick.
Back in August, MLBTR’s Anthony Franco broke down which of this winter’s free agents are likeliest to receive a qualifying offer, and which players might be more borderline cases. As we’ve seen in the past, a QO can have a significant impact on a player’s earning potential, if teams are hesitant about surrendering significant draft capital or a hefty one-year salary to a free agent who might be a riskier candidate to provide elite value going forward.
This potential dampening effect of the QO has long been a thorn in the side of agents and the MLB Players Association, and the future of the qualifying offer figures to be a notable topic in negotiations over the new collective bargaining agreement. It is quite possible that 2021-22 will be the last offseason featuring the qualifying offer in its current form, though it isn’t likely that owners will be keen on removing signing compensation and/or penalties from the free agent process.