Seven players around Major League Baseball now have a $17.9 million decision on their hands. As the 5 p.m. ET Friday deadline passed to give players a qualifying offer, it appeared that seven free-agents-to-be were extended an offer by their 2018 teams.
A qualifying offer — which is the closest thing MLB has to a franchise tag — gives a player a one-year, $17.9 million contract option and offers draft pick compensation if he refuses to take the offer. Some qualifying-offer candidates are obvious and clearly won’t take the deal, like Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Craig Kimbrel and other top-flight free agents. For them, this is mostly a formality.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have two of the more interesting cases — catcher Yasmani Grandal, who had a poor postseason, and pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, whose strong season made him a viable candidate again.
Here’s a rundown of how qualifying offers work, which players had them extended Friday and which didn’t. The players now have 10 days to accept or decline.
What is a qualifying offer?
We’re glad you asked. A qualifying offer is a system meant to prevent teams from losing premier free agents. If a team gives a qualifying offer to a player, that player has the option to take a one-year deal at the mean salary of the top 125 players in the game. This season, that figure is $17.9 million.
If the player accepts the offer, he’s back for another year. If the player rejects it, the team receives draft-pick compensation if that player signs with another club. A lot of times, this is a way for teams to get something from a departing free agent. But we’ve also seen it drag down the free-agent market because teams often don’t want to give up draft picks for mid-level free agents. Players who are extended qualifying offers have 10 days to accept or decline the offer.
Not all pending free agents are eligible for a qualifying offer. Players who get traded midseason — like Manny Machado — cannot receive one.
With all that out of the way, which players other than Grandal will have important decisions to make?
Players receiving qualifying offers
• Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
• Yasmani Grandal, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
• Hyun-jin Ryu, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
• Patrick Corbin, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
• A.J. Pollock, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
• Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros
• Craig Kimbrel, RP, Boston Red Sox
Harper is expected to join Grandal and receive a qualifying offer from his team, according to Chelsea Janes. That’s a no-brainer for the Nationals. Harper is going to get a mega-contract on the market. If he signs elsewhere, the Nationals will want that draft pick. Harper will almost certainly decline the offer to see what the market brings.
Grandal’s situation is slightly more complicated. While his .241/.349/.466 slash line isn’t all that impressive, it’s close to elite for a catcher. Given the dearth of talent at the position, Grandal could be set to make a fair amount of money on the market. He probably should decline, but there’s a chance his poor postseason, combined with his status as a non-elite player, could scare teams off in free agency.
Corbin and Pollock will receive qualifying offers, according to Jon Heyman. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both players are among the best available this winter. They will likely both decline in search of longer and more lucrative deals.
Keuchel and Kimbrel also figure to get quite a bit of attention on the free-agent market, so they’re also not a surprise. The most surprising name on the list is Ryu, whose 2018 resurgence — he was 7-3 with a 1.97 ERA — made him worth the Dodgers sticking him with a QO.
Players not given qualifying offers
• Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians
• Andrew Miller, RP, Cleveland Indians
• Cody Allen, RP, Cleveland Indians
• Charlie Morton, SP, Houston Astros
• DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies
• Jed Lowrie, 2B, Oakland Athletics
• Marwin Gonzalez, Util, Houston Astros
The Indians won’t give qualifying offers to anyone, according to Zack Meisel. Brantley comes as a bit of a surprise, but both Miller and Allen are not as shocking. Miller was injured throughout 2018, making his future unclear. Allen wasn’t his usual self either. On top of that, it’s tough to know how relievers will be compensated on the market.
The 31-year-old Brantley is actually coming off his healthiest season in years. He hit .309/.364/.468, proving there’s still a bit left in the tank. Cleveland spent $12 million to bring Brantley back last season, but decided $17.9 million was too much even after a strong year for the outfielder.
Morton, 34, isn’t getting a qualifying offer, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. Morton has turned his career around in Houston — he was 15-3 in 2018 with a 3.13 ERA — so there will be short-term interest. Don’t expect a long deal anywhere, though.
The players now have 10 days to decide whether to take the qualifying offers.
In the past, players have mostly declined the offer believing they would receive larger contracts on the free-agent market. That changed in 2015 after Colby Rasmus became the first player to accept a qualifying offer. A few players have followed Rasmus’ lead, but largely, free agents — especially free agents like Harper — are expected to turn down qualifying offers.
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