On Monday, qualifying offers were extended to ten players, creating some interesting decisions in the days to come. Players can either accept a qualifying offer and sign a one-year deal worth $17.8 million with their original team, or they can reject the offer and go onto the open market.
Rejecting an offer comes with inherent risk because this flawed system penalizes team that signs a player who rejected a QO loses a pick in the upcoming draft. This is supposed to create parity by hamstringing the wealthier teams, but in effect it hamstrings the player’s earnings; we saw this with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel in 2019. Both rejected qualifying offers and teams refused to sign either until after the draft had concluded.
The ten players who were extended a qualifying offer include:
· Gerrit Cole
· Stephen Strasburg
· Madison Bumgarner
· Anthony Rendon
· Josh Donaldson
· Marcell Ozuna
· Jake Odorizzi
· Zack Wheeler
· José Abreu
· Will Smith
To reject a qualifying offer, a player must be certain that teams won’t balk at giving up a draft pick for him. Players can also accept a qualifying offer in an effort to maximize their earnings if they feel the cost of a draft pick will hurt them on the open market. Of the ten players extended a qualifying offer, most will certainly reject it, but it won’t be a slam dunk for others.
First are the no-brainers. Of course, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg received qualifying offers. Each player will reject them, and no one will be surprised. None of these players are good candidates to get Dallas Keuchel’d and have to wait until after the draft to sign with a team. Rendon, Cole, and Strasburg are easily worth losing the draft pick. The Braves and Giants will actively pursue re-signing Donaldson and Bumgarner respectively.
There was some slight doubt that the Mets would extend a qualifying offer to Zack Wheeler, but even the Mets couldn’t Mets that up. Rejecting the qualifying offer will be an easy decision for Wheeler who has combined for 8.9 fWAR over the last two seasons and throwing at least 180 innings in each season. Like Hyun-jin Ryu who accepted a qualifying offer after the 2018 season, Wheeler has had issues staying on the field. Wheeler though is removed enough from his injury problems that they shouldn’t impact the offers he receives this offseason. FanGraphs’s median crowdsource estimates that he’ll receive a four-year deal earning $18 million annually. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Wheeler will command a five-year, $100 million deal. Either contract blows the qualifying offer out of the water.
Jake Odorizzi is likely the pitcher whose future contract will be impacted the most by the qualifying offer. Odorizzi has a better record of health than Zack Wheeler or even Madison Bumgarner, but he has just one season with a FIP under 4.00 in the last four seasons. Teams will need to be convinced that his breakout in 2019 was for real, but seeing as how his velocity was up and he posted a career-high swinging strike rate, that should be an easy case to make. Odorizzi should get an offer that makes turning down the qualifying offer worthwhile, but his costing a draft pick will make miserly and risk averse teams squeamish.
Marcell Ozuna’s best years might be behind him, but he’s still a solid option in left field. It should take a multi-year deal to land him as ZiPS projects him for 2.8 fWAR in his age 29 season. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll receive a three-year, $45 million contract, as he’ll be impacted by the qualifying offer. Ozuna has had some poor batted ball luck over the past two seasons, so getting him out of Busch Stadium will be an attractive option for teams needing help in left field. Ozuna may choose to accept the qualifying offer because $17.8 would eclipse the AAV he’s projected on the open market, and another season with some better luck could still earn him the sort of contract he’d get this offseason.
This leaves Will Smith and Abreu, who are each likely to accept their qualifying offer. $17.8 million is quite a bit more than what Will Smith would expect to make in 2020 if he rejects the offer and goes on the open market, but he wouldn’t have the guarantee of the next two or three years. MLB Trade Rumors projects him for a three-year, $42 million contract, but that would be quite a bit more than what Adam Ottavino, Joe Kelly, and David Robertson made last offseason. Smith could accept the QO and still receive a two-year deal at $10-$12 million annually and come out ahead of where he would on the open market this year.
Abreu is the most surprising player to receive a qualifying offer. He’s entering his age 33 season, and the last two years have been his least productive as a big leaguer. It’s hard to see him getting more than a two-year deal which would makes accepting the QO an appealing option for the first baseman. It would also benefit the White Sox to keep Abreu for another year, as this would give them another chance to trade him or even contend depending on how the winter goes on the South Side.
Then there are the players who didn’t receive a qualifying offer. Notable players who were eligible, but did not receive one were Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello, and Didi Gregorius. In Hamels case, it seems like the Cubs prioritized staying underneath the salary-cap-that’s-not-a-salary-cap, and the “risk” of Hamels taking the qualifying offer was too great. Hamels will be 36 next year, and he missed time with an oblique strain this year. He was, however, still effective while on the mound and the Cubs will be hard pressed to replace his innings with internal options.
The Red Sox are also trying to trim down payroll, so they didn’t want to take a chance on Rick Porcello. Boston is currently trying to figure out a way to not have to trade Mookie Betts, and Porcello taking a qualifying offer (on top of JD Martinez not exercising his opt out would have increased the difficulty of that).
Then there’s Didi Gregorius, who is the odd man out of the Yankees’ infield after an injury-plagued season. Taking a qualifying offer would have created a great opportunity for Gregorius to prove that 2019 was a fluke and go after a big contract heading into 2021, but the Yankees were unwilling to spend that much on a 30-year-old shortstop.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.