SEATTLE -- In a somewhat surprising development, Teoscar Hernández did not receive a qualifying offer from the Mariners ahead of Monday’s 2 p.m. PT deadline for clubs to extend the one-year, $20.325 million deal for 2024.
That makes Hernández a free agent and leaves the Mariners with a hole in right field and in the middle of their lineup.
Hernández had appeared to be a likely candidate to receive a qualifying offer (QO) -- the one-year pact worth the mean salary of MLB's 125 highest-paid players from the year prior -- based on the short-term commitment and the Mariners’ notable needs for offense this winter. And had he declined it, Seattle would’ve received Draft pick compensation, a commodity its front office values greatly.
The Draft pick element makes Monday’s development something of a surprise, given that Hernández would be more likely to decline and pursue a more lucrative, long-term deal on a bleak free-agent market for hitters, where he’ll be among the best available sluggers.
Yet, there certainly would’ve been risk in committing such a high price to a player who has been prone to significant peaks and valleys -- perhaps at a rate well above market value. The QO would’ve made Hernández Seattle’s third-highest paid player for 2024, behind Luis Castillo ($24.15 million) and Robbie Ray ($23 million).
The 31-year-old earned $14 million last year in his final season of arbitration eligibility, and this represents his first foray into free agency.
“It’s something new. I don’t know what to expect,” Hernández said of free agency last month. “But I’m going to try and enjoy it. … Now that I’m a free agent, I’m trying to go somewhere where I feel comfortable and where my family feels comfortable. I’m the player, but this is not only about me. I have to think about my family, my kids.”
By not extending the QO to Hernández, the Mariners are now positioned to allocate that money towards the rest of their offseason budget, and it is possible that the club explores a longer-term deal at an average annual value lower than the QO. It’s also possible that the Mariners will instead seek a more consistent bat to help alleviate their strikeout challenges from last season.
Hernández’s first season in Seattle was productive but not at the caliber he experienced during parts of six seasons in Toronto.
His .741 OPS and 106 OPS+ (league average is 100) were among the lowest of his career for any of his full seasons played, including the COVID-impacted 2020, and his 31.1% strikeout rate was highest on the team and fifth-highest in MLB among 133 qualified hitters. Moreover, his home and road splits were stark, with a slash line of .217/.263/.380 (.643 OPS) at T-Mobile Park and .295/.344/.486 (.830 OPS) in away games.
Seven players received the QO on Monday -- the Cubs’ Cody Bellinger, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, the Twins’ Sonny Gray, the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, the Padres’ Blake Snell and Josh Hader and the Blue Jays’ Matt Chapman -- and they have until 1 p.m. PT on Nov. 14 to accept.
Their decisions could also impact the Mariners’ offseason, given that Ohtani, Bellinger, Chapman and, to a lesser extent, Snell, could all be among the club’s free-agent targets. Any team that signs a player who has rejected a qualifying offer is subject to a loss of one or more Draft picks. In the Mariners’ case, because they are a team that receives revenue sharing, if they signed one of those players, they’d forfeit their third-highest selection in next year’s Draft, and if they signed two, they’d also forfeit their fourth-highest remaining pick.
There are obvious downsides to signing such players, but it shouldn’t preclude the Mariners from doing so for the right fit -- Ray being the most recent example ahead of signing a five-year, $115 million deal in 2021 after turning down a QO from Toronto.