Though the qualifying offer headlines usually blare something along the lines of, "[Team X] offers $17.4 million contract to [Player Y]," that can be mistakenly viewed by some fans as the full extent of the negotiation between teams and their free agents.
The reality is that qualifying offers are usually just procedural moves made to ensure Draft pick compensation is obtained should the player sign elsewhere. A rundown of the particulars of that process can be found here. Heck, sometimes teams make the offer with the hope that the player turns them down, because the pick is the goal from the beginning.
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Anyway, nine players received the $17.4 million qualifying offer this week. Even if none of them accepts it by the Nov. 16 deadline (in five completed years of this process, only five players total have accepted the qualifying offer), some of them might still wind up with their 2017 clubs one way or another. So let's analyze each guy's situation here at the start of the free-agent process, and look at how likely it is they return to their former team. We've listed their 2016 club for reference even if the player isn't technically a member of that organization anymore.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
Hosmer has his age (28) and his intangibles (natural leader, media savvy, champion, etc.) working in his favor. What's working against him is a market short on clear fits at first base and a career OPS+ of 111 that, while solid, is not quite the output some teams might want at that position and at Hosmer's price. While turning down the qualifying offer is a no-brainer, it will be interesting to see if Hosmer's market meets or exceeds, say, Chris Davis (seven years, $161 million two offseasons ago) terrain or ends up well south of it. An X-factor here is the Royals' unabashed love of Hosmer, which could compel them to bid with heart as much as head, as his relative youth still fits within the framework of their franchise direction. Because of the market conditions, I'd say there's still at least 50/50 chance Hosmer remains a Royal.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
I mean, honestly, the Royals should lock him up with a lifetime contract simply because he broke their Steve Balboni single-season home run mark. But since that's apparently not going to happen, the Moose appears pretty likely to graze in other pastures next year. The Angels would be a perfect fit considering they need a third baseman and he's from Chatsworth, Calif., 60 miles north of Anaheim. The Cardinals are another club that might work. As with Hosmer (K.C.'s first-round Draft pick in 2008), there are true emotional ties to Moustakas in Kansas City (he was the Royals' top pick in 2007), but the impression we get is that Hosmer is the guy the Royals are more likely to seriously pursue.
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals
The concern with Cain will be how rapidly his baserunning and defensive skills deteriorate, given that he'll be 32 shortly after Opening Day next year. Cain is "young" in baseball years because he took up the game later in life, but 32 is still 32. That said, at a time when defense is highly valued, Cain can explore an open market that could include clubs like the Giants, Blue Jays, Rangers and Mets, among others. With the Royals in transition, they are not likely to go far down the road with Cain, given his age.
Jacob Arrieta, RHP, Cubs
Talk about a guy whose perceived value has fluctuated wildly the last couple years. But ultimately all that matters is actual value, and we'll find out soon enough how much Arrieta's ace-type potential and tremendous work ethic offset the hamstring woes and velocity and command dips that hampered him at times in 2017. In any event, he'll get at least four and possibly five or six years. The Cubs do have a rotation need to bring him back, but, after past extension efforts went nowhere, it sure seems that marriage has ended. The division-rival Cardinals and Brewers could be among the potential fits elsewhere.
Wade Davis, RHP, Cubs
There was a time when $17 million -- even if just for one year -- was absolutely nothing to sneeze at for even the best of relievers. But last year, both Albertin Chapman and Kenley Jansen got five-year deals at or approaching that amount in average annual value. It's a brave new bullpen world. That doesn't mean Davis will get Jansen/Chapman money, but he will do very well for himself, even amid some concerns about an inflated walk rate in the second half of last season. This is the best closer on the open market, and it will be interesting to see if the Cubs, who were wary of going all-in on a free-agent closer a year ago, decide to do what it takes to keep him.
Greg Holland, RHP, Rockies
And here's the second-best closer on the open market. That's quite a credit to Holland, considering he was a post-surgery bounceback player who signed for just $6 million guaranteed last offseason. Holland wound up turning down his $15 million player option for 2018, which means he'll probably turn down the qualifying offer, too. Like Davis, Holland will probably fall short of Jansen/Chapman money, but he's going to have suitors. The Rockies will surely try to re-sign the guy who tied their franchise saves record, but their bullpen has a lot of moving parts with Pat Neshek and Jake McGee also on the open market.
Alex Cobb, RHP, Rays
It was no small thing for the Rays, given their modest payroll, to extend this offer to Cobb, especially given that he hasn't quite yet reached his pre-Tommy John surgery (2015) level. But the market price placed upon pitching insists it was probably a wise business move for a team that relies so heavily on the Draft. Unless Cobb surprisingly accepts the QO, few expect the Rays to re-up with the 30-year-old, who could be a nice backup plan for clubs that can't or won't pony up for Arrieta or Yu Darvish.
Lance Lynn, RHP, Cardinals
Lynn joins Cobb in that second tier of available starters. And like Holland, he answered a lot of post-surgery questions in 2017. The 30-year-old Lynn once again proved himself to be a durable arm, making 33 starts, and that alone gives him tremendous multi-year value in a market starved for quality starting pitching. Remember up above when I said teams sometimes extend the qualifying offer with the hope or expectation that the guy doesn't take it? This is probably one of those. The Cards seem content to give those innings and opportunities to other, younger members of their pitching staff.
Carlos Santana, 1B, Indians
Last year, the declining price of first base/DH power in the open market brought Edwin Encarnacion into the Indians' wheelhouse. This situation is a little different in that Santana, who has a career 121 OPS+ and added value in his defense at first base and his switch-hitting skillset. Because of the deep first-base market and the shortage of obvious situations in which a contender needs help at first, it could be another case of musical chairs working in the Tribe's favor. Santana, who will be 32 on Opening Day, loves Cleveland and wants to come back. The basic question is whether the Indians prioritize first base (Santana) or the outfield (Jay Bruce) in what might be their only major free-agent pursuit this offseason.