The World Series concludes this weekend, and the offseason gets underway almost immediately thereafter. Teams and players have to decide whether to exercise contractual options within five days of the Series ending, while clubs also must determine whether to issue their impending free agents a qualifying offer before free agency officially opens. MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk took a preliminary look at the qualifying offer class in August (position players/pitchers).
With another few months of play in the books, we’ll take a final run at previewing the class. As a refresher, the qualifying offer is a one-year offer that’s calculated by averaging the salaries of the 125 highest-paid players in the majors in a given season. That value has been set at $19.65MM for this offseason. If a player rejects the offer, he sets out into free agency. The player’s previous team would receive draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere, while a team that signs another club’s qualified free agent would forfeit a draft choice (or choices) and possibly international signing bonus space.
Draft pick compensation and forfeiture differs depending on a team’s revenue sharing status and whether they exceeded the luxury tax threshold this year. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes looked yesterday at what picks each team would lose were they to sign a qualified free agent; conversely, Mark Polishuk covered the draft pick compensation clubs would land if one of their qualified free agents departed.
- Chris Bassitt (Mets)
- Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox)
- Willson Contreras (Cubs)
- Jacob deGrom (Mets)
- Edwin Díaz (Mets)
- Aaron Judge (Yankees)
- Brandon Nimmo (Mets)
- Carlos Rodón (Giants)
- Dansby Swanson (Braves)
- Trea Turner (Dodgers)
There’s not a whole lot to say about this group. These are 10 of the best impending free agents. Bogaerts, deGrom, Judge, Rodón, Swanson and Turner are all going to top nine figures. Díaz, Nimmo and maybe Contreras could get to $100MM. Bassitt doesn’t have quite that earning power, since he’ll turn 34 in February. That caps the length of the contract he can expect, but the veteran righty is arguably the fourth-best starting pitcher on the market. He’s likely to land an annual salary similar to the value of the QO over a multi-year term.
- Tyler Anderson (Dodgers)
A stable back-of-the-rotation strike-thrower, Anderson inked an $8MM guarantee with the Dodgers last year. The veteran southpaw responded with a career season, posting a sparkling 2.57 ERA across 178 2/3 innings. He walked fewer than 5% of opposing hitters and averaged almost six innings per appearance, an incredible source of stability in a rotation that dealt with a fair share of injuries.
Headed into his age-33 season, Anderson is now in position for easily the best payday of his career. The question is whether that might come in the form of the QO. The Dodgers certainly have the budget for an investment of that size, and they’re never shy about stockpiling pitching depth. Yet it’s fair to wonder whether Anderson projects markedly differently than he did last winter when he was coming off a combined 4.49 ERA from 2020-21. He benefited from a career-low .256 batting average on balls in play this year, and his 19.5% strikeout rate is a near-match for his 2021 mark. His fastball still averages under 91 MPH, and while he turned to his changeup more often this past season than he has previously, he didn’t dramatically overhaul his repertoire. Anderson’s a solid pitcher with a knack for getting opponents to chase and make weak contact, but he doesn’t brandish the kind of power arsenal that’d immediately endear him to teams.
- Nathan Eovaldi (Red Sox)
Eovaldi is wrapping up a four-year deal he signed with the Red Sox on the heels of his incredible 2018 postseason. The right-hander had a tough 2019 season but has followed up with three generally solid years since then. Eovaldi has posted an ERA between 3.72 and 3.87 since 2020, consistent mid-rotation production. That’s in line with what he’s done for much of his career.
Despite possessing big velocity, Eovaldi’s more of a control artist than a bat-missing weapon at the top of the starting staff. He’s incredibly walked less than 5% of opposing hitters in each of the last three years, with a cumulative 4.4% mark that’s the second-lowest among 94 pitchers with 250+ innings over that stretch. He posts above-average swinging strike rates but not elite numbers in that regard, and he tends to give up a fair number of home runs.
One can argue Eovaldi’s the fourth or fifth-best free agent starter available, although he spent time on the injured list this year with separate back and shoulder concerns en route to just 109 1/3 innings. His typical 97+ MPH heater sat at a slightly diminished (but still strong) 95.7 MPH this year. Eovaldi has two Tommy John surgeries on his ledger and has some durability question marks, but a strong one-year risk could be palatable for a big-spending team that has virtually no certainty in the rotation. At the same time, the Sox would receive only a compensatory pick after the fourth round if he rejects a QO and departs, thanks to their paying the luxury tax in 2022. That’s of marginal value, so Boston’s only really incentivized to make a QO if they hope he accepts.
- Mitch Haniger (Mariners)
Despite playing his home games in one of the league’s more pitcher-friendly environments, Haniger popped 39 home runs in 2021. That was a career-best power spike, but it demonstrated the kind of offensive potential he has when healthy. The right-handed slugger posted well above-average hitting marks in 2017-18 before an average ’19 campaign and a 2020 season wiped out by injury. His 2022 showing was more in the latter bucket, as he lost a chunk of the summer to a high ankle sprain and posted a .246/.308/.429 line in 247 trips to the plate.
Haniger’s a middle-of-the-order caliber bat who plays an adequate corner outfield, and he should find a multi-year deal going into his age-32 campaign if the Mariners don’t make him a QO. On the heels of this platform season, he’d have to seriously consider accepting the QO if offered. Seattle has a fair bit of near-term financial flexibility to make that bet, but they also have a number of in-house outfielders who can step in more affordably if Haniger walks.
- Andrew Heaney (Dodgers)
The Dodgers rolled the dice on Heaney after a home run-filled 2021 season, signing him for $8.5MM. The southpaw didn’t provide much volume, missing extended stretches of the year fighting shoulder discomfort. When he was healthy enough to take the mound, the 31-year-old was brilliant. Heaney posted a 3.10 ERA and struck out an incredible 35.5% of opposing hitters through 72 2/3 innings. He got a swinging strike on a whopping 16.8% of his offerings, the highest rate of any pitcher with 70+ innings pitched. Heaney put up ace-caliber numbers when he took the hill, but he pitched less than half the season and is only a year removed from a 5.83 ERA over 30 outings with the Angels and Yankees.
Unlike a few other pitchers on this list, one can easily point to a huge change with Heaney that could’ve spurred his breakout. He started throwing a slider for the first time since 2017, turning to it as his go-to secondary offering while ditching his curveball and scaling way back on his changeup usage. The new breaking ball was fantastic, holding opponents to a .170 batting average with one of the highest whiff rates in the league.
That leads to a tough decision for L.A. The Dodgers have shown as much willingness as any team to take short-term risks on high-upside players, including Heaney himself last winter. There’s a difference between an $8.5MM gamble and one pushing $20MM, but he could be next in the line of Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodón breakout types if he can stay healthy.
- Martín Pérez (Rangers)
A former top prospect, Pérez has bounced around the league but consistently put up below-average results after some early-career success. He returned to his original organization last offseason, inking a $4MM deal with the Rangers after a pair of rough seasons in Boston. That proved to be one of the better buy-low moves of the winter, as Pérez made 32 starts and soaked up 196 1/3 innings. He posted a 2.89 ERA, a top 25 mark among hurlers with 100+ innings. Despite pitching in the majors for over a decade, he’s only entering his age-32 season.
If the Rangers are confident Pérez can come close to replicating his 2022 production, then a QO would be an easy call. Yet it’s fair to wonder how sustainable the southpaw’s success is. He posted an ERA north of 4.00 every year between 2014-21. He didn’t experience any kind of velocity bump, nor did his strikeout and walk profile change. Pérez only punched out 20.6% of opponents on a meager 8.4% swinging strike rate. He did induce ground-balls at a quality 51.4% clip, but he’s previously posted strong grounder rates without finding much success keeping runs off the board. Pérez made some small tweaks to his repertoire, using his sinker more against right-handed batters while leaning a bit more heavily on his cutter against lefties. Without a massive overhaul or velocity spike, though, it’s hard to know how much of his improved results truly represent a step forward.
- Anthony Rizzo (Yankees)
Rizzo inked a two-year, $32MM guarantee to return to the Yankees in Spring Training. The deal allowed him to opt out of the final $16MM after this season, and the first baseman now looks as if he’ll do so. After a couple fine but unspectacular years, Rizzo bounced back with a 32-homer showing for the first time since 2017. He only hit .224, but that’s largely due to a career-worst .216 batting average on balls in play. Few hitters in baseball were shifted against more often, and the upcoming limitations on shifting should help him find a few more base knocks. Even if the shift ban doesn’t lead to a jump in performance, his .224/.338/.480 mark through 548 plate appearances checked in 32 points above the league average by measure of wRC+.
Heading into his age-33 campaign, Rizzo’s likely limited to two or maybe three-year offers. Those should be at annual rates at least approaching the value of the qualifying offer. It seems unlikely Rizzo would accept a QO. After all, in order to be eligible for the qualifying offer, he’d first have to decline a $16MM salary for next year. Perhaps he’d be content to take the accompanying $3.65MM pay bump before re-testing free agency after 2023, but he’d presumably prefer a new multi-year arrangement. Even if he does accept the QO, the Yankees could find that a reasonable investment, as Rizzo’s high-contact lefty bat plays well in their ballpark and in a lineup that otherwise skews toward the right side.
- Jameson Taillon (Yankees)
Taillon has spent the past two years in the Bronx after coming over from the Pirates via trade. New York rolled the dice at the time, surrendering a few solid prospects for a pitcher who’d missed the 2020 season after undergoing the second Tommy John surgery of his career. Taillon rewarded their faith, posting the #3/4 starter-type numbers he had throughout his time in Pittsburgh. Over the past two years, the right-hander owns a 4.08 ERA through 61 starts in a hitter-friendly environment. He’s punched out a slightly below-average 21.9% of opponents but only walked 5.7% of batters faced, holding the opposition to a .242/.290/.426 line.
Heading into his age-31 season, Taillon is one of the better options in a class full of mid-rotation starters. He averages around 94 MPH with his fastball, throws plenty of strikes and has flashed the ability to both miss bats and keep the ball on the ground at times in his career. Taillon never became the ace some may have expected when he was drafted second overall back in 2010, but he’s a rock-solid league average starter. Clubs may have some trepidation long-term about the two Tommy John procedures in his past, but the only injured list stint he’s required in the last two years was a two-week absence in September 2021 for an ankle issue. The Yankees do have a number of rotation options, but there’s enough uncertainty with players like Luis Severino, Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt they’d seem content to welcome Taillon back if he accepts the QO.
- Taijuan Walker (Mets)
Walker’s going to decline a $6MM player option in favor of a $3MM buyout, leaving the Mets to decide whether to follow up with a QO. Signed over the 2020-21 offseason, the right-hander had a somewhat disappointing first season in Queens, posting a 4.47 ERA. He rebounded with a strong 3.49 mark in 157 1/3 innings this past season, taking the ball 29 times despite a minor early-season IL stint due to shoulder bursitis. He didn’t overpower opponents, striking out a slightly below-average 20.3% of batters faced, but he consistently threw strikes and got ground-balls at an above-average 46.2% clip.
Heading into his age-30 season, Walker looks the part of a useful mid-rotation starter. He battled some injury issues early in his career but has mostly been healthy the last two years. He averages a bit under 94 MPH on his fastball, is effective against hitters from both sides of the plate and is coming off arguably the best season of his career. Walker gives up a decent amount of hard contact, but that’s perhaps not as concerning for a Mets team that plays its home games in a pitcher-friendly ballpark as it would be to some other clubs. The Mets have a number of impending free agents in the rotation and as high a spending ceiling as any team in the game, so they could be content to absorb a heavy one-year salary for Walker.
- Mike Clevinger (Padres)
Entering the season, Clevinger looked like one of the higher-upside options in the class. He was coming off a 2021 campaign lost to Tommy John surgery, but he’d been excellent for the Indians and Padres from 2017-20. This year didn’t go well, though. Clevinger’s stuff was notably down from his pre-surgery form, and his results were below-average across the board. He finished the season with two abysmal playoff starts, and the Padres are probably content to let him sign elsewhere.
- Zach Eflin (Phillies)
Eflin had a solid case for a three-year deal midway through the first half. The typically effective right-hander then lost two months with a right knee injury, an unfortunate continuation of knee troubles that have plagued him since before he began his career. Eflin has undergone multiple knee surgeries in the past, and while he didn’t need to go under the knife this year, the absence kept him to working in shorter stints out of the bullpen for the stretch run and the playoffs. Coming off that platform season, it’s hard to see the Phillies offering a salary approaching $20MM.
- Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)
Kershaw’s an easy QO candidate in a vacuum. He’s still one of the game’s best pitchers on a rate basis, and a $19.65MM salary is a bargain for even the 126 1/3 innings of 2.28 ERA ball he gave the Dodgers this past season. Yet that was also true last winter, when the future Hall of Famer was coming off a 3.55 mark across 121 2/3 frames. The Dodgers opted against a QO — not because they were against guaranteeing him a lofty one-year salary, but because they wanted to give Kershaw more than the 10 days allotted to QO recipients to determine his next steps, as president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman later explained. Friedman has already implied they’ll do the same this winter.
- Sean Manaea (Padres)
San Diego acquired Manaea from the A’s in Spring Training, hoping to solidify an already strong rotation with a durable source of mid-rotation innings. The southpaw mostly delivered on that for the first half, posting a 4.11 ERA through the All-Star Break. His final couple months were a disaster, though. Manaea was barraged for a 6.44 ERA in the second half, coughing up 15 homers along the way. The Friars gave him just one postseason start, and he failed to make it out of the second inning while giving up five runs in a loss to the Phillies. Before these past few months, Manaea had a consistently solid track record, and his 2022 strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks. He should be a popular bounceback candidate in free agency, but as with Clevinger, it feels like the Padres are set to move on.
- Jurickson Profar (Padres)
Profar can opt out of the final year and $7.5MM on his deal with San Diego. He’ll do so and beat that modest figure on the heels of a useful .243/.331/.391 showing over 658 plate appearances. Profar has put up slightly above-average offensive numbers in two of the past three seasons, but he’s now limited to left field after throwing issues pushed him off second base. Without much defensive value or a carrying tool at the plate, he’s not going to command a salary approaching the value of the QO in free agency.
- Ross Stripling (Blue Jays)
Stripling had a strong 2022 season as a swing option for the Blue Jays. He started 24 of 32 appearances, tallying 134 1/3 innings of 3.01 ERA ball. The veteran righty doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he missed bats on a decent 11% of his offerings and only walked 3.7% of opponents. Stripling proved a surprisingly key piece of the Jays starting staff, but he’s headed into his age-33 season and had a ghastly 5.14 ERA from 2020-21. Toronto could well look to bring him back, but his career track record doesn’t support a salary in the QO range.
- Michael Wacha (Red Sox)
Wacha put up a 3.32 ERA across 127 1/3 innings for the Red Sox this year, making good after inking a $7MM free agent guarantee. The righty didn’t dramatically overhaul his approach, though, posting lower strikeout and swinging strike numbers than he did during 2020-21 campaigns in which he combined for a 5.39 ERA over 37 outings. Wacha’s a solid strike-thrower and has given himself a shot at a multi-year deal, but it wasn’t the kind of resounding breakout that should position him for a salary pushing $20MM. Even for a Red Sox team that needs to overhaul its rotation, that’d be an eyebrow-raising investment, and it’s hard to imagine Wacha turning the QO down if offered.
- José Abreu (White Sox)
- Josh Bell (Padres)
- Andrew Benintendi (Yankees)
- Carlos Correa (Twins)
- Noah Syndergaard (Phillies)
- Justin Verlander (Astros)
All six of these players would’ve been at least plausible qualifying offer candidates, but they’re ineligible to receive one under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Teams can’t qualify any player who has previously received a QO in his career, nor are they allowed to tag a player they acquired midseason. The ’previous QO provision’ rules out Abreu, Correa and Verlander; Bell and Benintendi were traded midseason. Syndergaard is ineligible on both accounts.