The deadline for extending qualifying offers to upcoming free agents is tomorrow at 5pm ET. This year's qualifying offer is set at $15.8 million, and as we have seen in past years, many teams are waiting until the last minute to announce whether or not they will be making qualifying offers to their top free agent players.
For most teams, the decision of whether or not to extend a qualifying offer to certain players is pretty straightforward. At this point, we can assume that Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, Howie Kendrick, Justin Upton, John Lackey, Ian Desmond, and Jordan Zimmermann are locks to receive qualifying offers. In addition, there have been reports from people with some sort of insider status who have claimed that certain players are "likely" to receive qualifying offers. These players include Wei-Yin Chen, Dexter Fowler, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Wieters, Brett Anderson, Ian Kennedy, and Yovani Gallardo.
My goal is to explore the qualifying offer decisions that are not so clear cut, and I have come up with a list of seven players who have a legitimate chance of receiving a qualifying offer in the next couple of days.
The decision on whether or not to extend Estrada a qualifying offer depends on how much the Blue Jays believe he can outperform his peripherals. In 2015, Estrada posted a 3.13 ERA in 181 innings despite starting the season in the bullpen, but his peripherals were less than impressive. Estrada saw a drop in his strikeout rate and an increase in his walk rate for the third year in a row, and these numbers were part of the reason for his mediocre FIP (4.40), xFIP (4.93), and SIERA (4.64). At age 32, it is fair to wonder if Estrada is entering the decline phase of his career.
Based on the numbers cited above, it appears that giving Estrada a one-year, $15.8 million dollar contract would be an overpay. However, if Estrada believes that he could get a team to offer a two or three year deal with a higher guaranteed salary, then it is possible that he would consider rejecting a qualifying offer. If the Blue Jays think there's a good chance Estrada would reject a qualifying offer, then perhaps they would be willing to take the risk overpaying him on a one-year deal, since the upside is a compensation pick in next year's draft.
Freese is coming off two seasons with the Angels in which he posted 2.1 and 2.2 fWAR respectively. He did this through a combination of slightly above average offense (108 wRC+ in his two years with the Angels) and approximately league average defense. At around two wins per season, Freese doesn't appear to be quite worth a one-year deal worth $15.8 million, at least given how much teams pay for marginal wins on the free agent market.
The one thing Freese has going for him, though, is that he is the best third baseman on the market and perhaps the only one capable of being close to a league average regular. As a result, he may be in relatively high demand, depending on how many teams are looking to upgrade at third base. If this is the case, the Angels may consider extending Freese a qualifying offer, since higher demand for his services would decrease the chances of him accepting such an offer. Still, I find it unlikely that the Angels would take such a risk, especially given the amount of money they owe to players in 2016 and beyond.
It almost seems crazy to include Gutierrez on this list, since he has not totaled more than 200 major league plate appearances in a season since 2011, but as Spencer Bingol pointed out yesterday, Gutierrez had an incredible comeback this season, with a 167 wRC+ (4th in baseball this season among hitters with at least 180 plate appearances) and 2.3 fWAR in 189 plate appearances. It is fair to wonder how sustainable this performance is, given that Gutierrez is 32 years old and has not had another season with a wRC+ higher than 115. Still, Gutierrez's 2015 performance is more than a BABIP-related fluke, since much of his value came from the fact that he hit 15 home runs and posted a .327 ISO.
I highly doubt that Gutierrez will get a qualifying offer, since he still needs to prove that he can be a healthy, everyday player at this stage of his career. With that being said, he could very well be a bargain on a one year $15.8 million dollar contract, especially if he is able to sustain even part of his 2015 production while receiving more playing time. In any case, I will be fascinated to see what kind of contract Gutierrez receives as a free agent this offseason.
Iwakuma seems to be a good bet to receive a qualifying offer, although the latest news is that the Mariners have not yet come to a decision. When healthy, Iwakuma has the potential to be a 3-4 win pitcher, as he was in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, though, he made only 20 starts, and at age 34, he is reaching the decline phase of his career. Still, Iwakuma has been quite consistent over the past few years, and I would ultimately expect the Mariners to extend him a qualifying offer.
Murphy was a borderline qualifying offer candidate going into the postseason, and there were some reports that his strong postseason made the decision a little easier for the Mets. With that being said, the latest we've heard from the Mets is that they are still deciding what to do with Murphy. 2015 postseason aside, Murphy has been remarkably consistent over the last four years, posting a wRC+ between 103 and 110. He has consistently been in the 2-3 win range throughout his career, which in today's market is enough to earn a qualifying offer.
A couple weeks back, Jon Heyman reported that Rasmus was unlikely to receive a qualifying offer. I found this somewhat surprising, given that Rasmus was coming off a solid 2.8 fWAR season with the Astros and was only two years removed from his outstanding 5.1 fWAR season in 2013. Rasmus has been an above average hitter in each of his last three seasons, and he is still only 29 years old. Perhaps the one thing working against Rasmus is his lack of consistency from season to season. By fWAR, he has been worth 5.1, 4.0 2.8, and 2.7 wins in various seasons of his career, but he also has three season of less than one fWAR sandwiched between those years. A strong case can be made for extending Rasmus a qualifying offer, but if Heyman is to be believed, it appears as though the decision has already been made.
Span has been quietly productive over the last several years with the Nationals and Twins, managing to post above average offensive seasons despite having very little power. He was worth at least 3.4 fWAR for three straight seasons from 2012-2014, but his 2015 season was cut short due to a hip injury. Even with his injury, Span produced a 120 wRC+ in 275 plate appearances this season. As long as Span is recovering properly from his injury, I would imagine that the Nationals would be comfortable with extending him a qualifying offer. He has consistently been an above average player at a premium position, and as a result, he is still likely to receive a nice multi-year deal on the free agent market.