It’s the day for baseball fans to remember just how good their favorite athletes have it. It’s qualifying-offer day, the day upon which a handful of impending free agents turn down one-year, $17.2 million contracts from their soon-to-be-former teams.
That, of course, is only a fraction of what players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion and Kenley Jensen are about to make as free agents on the open market. The qualifying offer is the closest thing MLB has to the NFL’s franchise tag, although with one key difference: would-be MLB free agents have an option to accept or reject the offer. So in most cases, this is just a formality. Free agency is worth a lot more.
As the 5 p.m. ET deadline to accept or reject passed, we learned that two of 10 players accepted qualifying offers: New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.
The news that Walker had accepted came right as the deadline passed from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Walker had a productive season with the Mets, but it ended early when he needed back surgery. Taking a one-year deal worth $17.2 million would give him a chance to get paid well while rebuilding his value and hitting the open market again next season.
The news on Hellickson came earlier in the day from Jon Heyman of FanRagSports and our own Jeff Passan:
Source confirms Jeremy Hellickson is accepting the Phillies' qualifying offer, which is for $17.2 million. @JonHeyman had it first.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 14, 2016
Hellickson revived his career in Philly last season, going 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA. That was enough, along with a weak free-agent class, to make him No. 9 on Passan’s top free-agent list. But the fact is, Hellickson’s body of work isn’t going to earn him a huge payday. Another good season might.
Here’s the full list of decisions:
• Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Rejected (according to Heyman)
• Yoenis Cespedes, Mets: Rejected (according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman)
• Ian Desmond, Rangers: Rejected (according to Sherman)
• Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: Rejected (according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo)
• Dexter Fowler, Cubs: Rejected (according to Heyman)
• Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies: Accepted (according to Passan)
• Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: Rejected (according to Heyman)
• Mark Trumbo, Orioles: Rejected (according to Passan)
• Justin Turner, Dodgers: Rejected (according to Heyman)
• Neil Walker, Mets: Accepted (according to Sherman)
Before last season, no player had ever accepted a qualifying offer until Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson did. This year the free-agent market isn’t fantastic, which made a few of the qualifying-offer cases even more curious.
The implications here go beyond a player saying “yes” or “no” to a $17.2 million check next season. It’s also about draft picks. The team that extends the qualifying offer gets draft-pick compensation if the player signs elsewhere. The team that signs him forfeits their first-round pick in the 2017 draft (unless it’s a top-10 pick because those are protected, in which case it would be a second-round pick). That makes the price for some good but not elite free agents — like Hellickson, for example — higher than just dollars alone.
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