Record 20 players receive qualifying offers
Beyond top talent, Wieters, Rasmus among those weighing $15.8M, 1-year deals
The first order of business in what figures to be a wild offseason took place on Friday, and even in the relative calm before what should be a delightful winter flurry, a record was broken.
The end of the work week marked the deadline for clubs to extend $15.8 million qualifying offers to free agents, and for the first time, 20 players were on the receiving end of such an offer. The total was the most in a single offseason since the system was put into place prior to the 2013 season, signifying the arrival of an uncommonly strong free-agent class.
Ace right-hander Zack Greinke got a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, as did Jordan Zimmermann from the Nationals, Hisashi Iwakuma from the Mariners, Yovani Gallardo from the Rangers, Brett Anderson from the Dodgers, Wei-Yin Chen from the Orioles, John Lackey (Cardinals), Jeff Samardzija (White Sox), Ian Kennedy (Padres) and Marco Estrada (Blue Jays).
Qualifying offers also were extended to a who's-who of star position players: outfielders Jason Heyward (Cardinals), Alex Gordon (Royals), Dexter Fowler (Cubs), Colby Rasmus (Astros) and Justin Upton (Padres); slugger Chris Davis (Orioles); catcher Matt Wieters (Orioles); and infielders Howie Kendrick (Dodgers), Ian Desmond (Nationals) and Daniel Murphy (Mets).
High-profile free agents such as David Price (traded from Detroit to Toronto), Yoenis Cespedes (traded from Detroit to the Mets) and Johnny Cueto (traded from Cincinnati to Kansas City) weren't part of this group because they were dealt in the middle of the 2015 season.
Starter Doug Fister and outfielder Denard Span of the Nationals, as well as Angels third baseman David Freese, were notable players who did not receive qualifying offers.
Here's how the system works: For the last three years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, an all-encompassing, one-year qualifying-offer figure has been determined based on the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball the prior season.
Clubs that make qualifying offers to a free agent and then see them sign with other teams are given one compensatory Draft pick per departing player for the following season. Meanwhile, teams that sign free agents who were given qualifying offers forfeit their highest unprotected Draft picks. The teams with the 10 worst win-loss records the previous year have their first-round picks protected.
This year's qualifying-offer figure is a $500,000 increase from the $15.3 million that was put into play after the 2014 season. An offered player has one week to accept and be locked in with his current team at that salary, or he can decline and hit the open market. If a team declines to make a qualifying offer, it is not entitled to Draft-pick compensation if a player signs elsewhere.
Teams could decide, even with All-Star players, that $15.8 million for one salary in 2016 is too risky, budget-wise, to make the offer and then see the player accept it, although the odds are against that happening.
In fact, it hasn't happened once.
All nine players turned down qualifying offers ($13.3 million) in the first year of the system prior to the 2013 season, all 13 players said no to the $14.1 million offers prior to the 2014 season and all 12 players declined last year's $15.3 million qualifying offers.
Most of the players who turned down these offers were confident that they'd land multiyear deals elsewhere, and in most cases, they were proven to be correct. But it hasn't always worked out, and Kendrys Morales provided a significant example of a qualifying-offer gambit that did not work out for the player.
Morales turned down the Mariners' qualifying offer prior to the 2014 season, wasn't able to land a multiyear deal and didn't agree to a deal with another club until June, when the Twins signed him. The Mariners eventually reacquired Morales via trade that year, then let him depart via free agency.
Morales' tale had a happy ending, of course. He signed with the Royals for two years last December and had a stellar 2015 season en route to a World Series title.