MLB free agency: Assessing the outlook for the 10 players tendered qualifying offers

Baseball News
1 week ago

Photo by Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

10 players were tendered qualifying offers on Monday by the clubs they played for in 2019. How many, if any, will accept?

10 MLB players who are eligible for free agency this offseason were tendered qualifying offers on Monday by the clubs they played for in 2019. Basically, the qualifying offer is a less-restrictive version of the franchise tag we see in the NFL — while a tendered player is free to reject the one-year offer (which is valued at $17.8 million, the mean salary of MLB’s 125 higher-paid players, this offseason) to stay with their old club, the club that tenders them the qualifying offer is then eligible to receive draft-pick compensation if they sign with another club. While losing a player who rejected a qualifying offer used to bring the affected club a first-round pick under the old CBA, the current rules stipulate that a team which signs a player offered a qualifying offer by another club and exceeds the luxury tax in the preceding season loses its second- and fifth-highest selections in the next year’s draft as well $1 million from its international bonus pool. If such a team signs multiple qualifying offer free agents, it forefeits its third- and sixth-highest remaining picks as well.

Here are the 10 players who received qualifying offers on Monday, along with proejctions on whether they’ll accept or reject the offers:

Jose Abreu, 1B/DH, White Sox: The 32-year-old Abreu has never played anywhere else besides the South Side, and considering his age and the fact that he has virtually no defensive value, it’d probably make sense for him to continue that relationship with the White Sox for at least another year. While Abreu has had two straight All-Star seasons and is coming off a walk year that would’ve gotten him paid in the old days — a .284 batting average, 33 homers, an AL-leading 123 RBI — his on-base skills are just average, and since teams generally don’t like to pay for full-time designated hitters anymore, Abreu will have a tough time finding a decent deal if he hits the free-agent market rather than accepting the qualifying offer.

PROJECTION: Accept

Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants: Bumgarner has an eerily similar profile to Dallas Keuchel, who was left waiting around for a fair deal until after the draft when he decided to reject the Astros’ qualifying offer in a bid to earn a lucrative long-term contract. Considering the fact that Bumgarner has spent his entire career in San Francisco and seems to value that stability, it’s fair to believe that he’ll give at least a little bit of thought to accepting the offer, especially since the free-agent starting pitching market is relatively deep this offseason. But Bumgarner is good enough and the need for good starting pitching around the league serious enough that he’ll probably decide to hit the open market, trusting that teams will be more interested in veteran starters after they played a crucial role in this year’s postseason than they were last winter when Keuchel was in his shoes.

PROJECTION: Reject

Gerrit Cole, SP, Astros: Along with Strasburg and Rendon, Cole is one of three players tendered a qualifying offer today who doesn’t even need to think for a second about accepting it. He’s the best player available on the free-agent market this offseason and very well may be the best starting pitcher to reach free agency since Max Scherzer did following the 2014 season. Coming off a Cy Young-caliber campaign in which he posted a 2.50 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP and a majors-leading 326 strikeouts, Cole should get a massive long-term deal as a free agent.

PROJECTION: Reject

Josh Donaldson, 3B, Braves: Coming off a 6.1-bWAR, 37-homer, .900 OPS season, Donaldson theoretically should be able to get a multi-year deal after betting on himself last offseason with a one-year contract in Atlanta. But life is tough these days for soon-to-be 34-year-old free-agent hitters, so it might not be the dumbest thing in the world for Donaldson to put an ounce of thought into taking the one-year, $17.8 million offer. With that said, the Braves could really use his bat in their lineup again in 2020 and beyond, and they’ll probably be willing to give him more than that, both in terms of length and value — as would a few other teams in need of offensive help.

PROJECTION: Reject

Jake Odorizzi, SP, Twins: On a free-agent market that is deep in starting pitching, the 29-year-old Odorizzi seems like one of the most likely candidates to accept the qualifying offer. Though he’s coming off an All-Star campaign in which he posted a 3.51 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 30 starts, he still profiles as more of a mid-rotation starter than an ace, and if a former Cy Young winner like Dallas Keuchel couldn’t get a deal representative of his talent level with a qualifying offer attached to him, it’s difficult to imagine Odorizzi doing so.

PROJECTION: Accept

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Cardinals: The Cardinals’ decision to tender Ozuna a qualifying offer is frankly quite surprising considering that he was a relative disappointment over two seasons in St. Louis. While a 29-homer season like Ozuna had in 2019 is nothing to sneeze at, the Cardinals have quite a few internal outfield options — Randy Arozarena, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Tommy Edman, Dexter Fowler, José Martínez, and Tyler O’Neill — who could reasonably be considered candidates to start in 2020. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals and Ozuna’s agent plan to discuss the possibility of a multi-year deal in the coming days, and that seems to be the best option for both sides, considering that Ozuna provides a bit more offensive certainty than the players listed above, while Ozuna might have a tough go of it on the free agent with a qualifying offer attached to him considering that there are so many serviceable outfielders around the majors right now and he’s had a pair of semi-disappointing seasons.

PROJECTION: Reject

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals: There’s a solid possibility that Rendon will return to D.C. and try to become one of the few players to spend his entire career in one uniform. But he won’t do that by accepting the qualifying offer when he’ll be able to command a long-term, nine-figure deal on the free-agent market. Simply put, the only reason the Nationals are bothering to give Rendon the QO is so they can receive draft-pick compensation if they lose him; he’s shown himself to be such a valuable hitter that the offer shouldn’t deter any team from trying to pursue him this offseason.

PROJECTION: Reject

Will Smith, RP, Giants: Smith is a really interesting case here, as he’s being offered excess value for a player in his position — a closer who has had two straight dominant seasons but still hasn’t done quite enough to put himself in the same class as the relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Wade Davis, and Mark Melancon who have been able to command nearly $20 million a year in recent seasons. If Smith accepts the qualifying offer, he would have the third-highest annual salary of any true reliever in baseball (excluding Wei-Yin Chen, who has turned into a mop-up guy while he pitches out the remainder of his deal with the Marlins) and would still have the opportunity to hit free agency next offseason. While Smith runs the risk of being traded to a team he doesn’t really want to pitch for by a Giants team that is in somewhat of a rebuild right now — and faces the possibility of getting hurt or having a down year in 2020 — the safety net provided by the qualifying offer almost seems too attractive to pass up.

PROJECTION: Accept

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals: Strasburg is another guy who’s being given the qualifying offer solely so the Nationals can earn draft-pick compensation if he leaves. There’s no reason for him to accept the QO when he just left four years and $100 million on the table over the weekend by opting out of his deal with Washington and choosing to hit the free-agent market. He should do well for himself after posting a 3.32 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP over an NL-best 209 innings and starring on the postseason stage.

PROJECTION: Reject

Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets: Despite his great finish to the 2019 season, Wheeler really has only had one great season and should put a little bit of thought into accepting the qualifying offer. With that said, his injury history is expansive enough that he should probably try to pursue a long-term deal, even though he’ll likely have to take a lower AAV than the $17.8 million he’d receive in 2020 from the QO. Having made at least 29 starts in two straight seasons while preventing runs at an above-average rate, Wheeler figures to earn at least a low eight-figure annual salary on the free-agent market.

PROJECTION: Reject


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