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Balance of power shifts in free agency

Desmond's deal closes out market weighted toward teams
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The free-agent market is closed.

Ian Desmond became the last of the free agents given a qualifying offer from his previous team to agree to a deal. On Sunday, he reportedly reached one-year deal worth $8 million with the Rangers, slightly more than half the qualifying offer he received from the Nationals.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The free-agent market is closed.

Ian Desmond became the last of the free agents given a qualifying offer from his previous team to agree to a deal. On Sunday, he reportedly reached one-year deal worth $8 million with the Rangers, slightly more than half the qualifying offer he received from the Nationals.

In the process, Desmond agreed to make the move from shortstop to left field.

The debate can begin.

After three years of relative success for free agents, the market did a reversal this offseason, with teams seemingly gaining the upper hand. With the Basic Agreement set to expire in December, there has been speculation the Major League Baseball Players Association will make the qualifying offer an issue in the upcoming negotiations.

Time will tell.

The initial reaction is that the system is too restrictive and has limited the negotiating power of the players.

Video: Hamels, others on Rangers reportedly signing Desmond

Could it be, however, that the market was deeper than normal in top-line talent this time, and players may have been better off taking the one-year qualifying offer, and waiting until next year to test free agency?

Outfielder Dexter Fowler returned to the Cubs on Thursday on a one-year deal that will guarantee him $13 million -- $2.8 million less than he would have received if he had accepted the qualifying offer -- and Desmond took $5 million less than Fowler.

They both will have the opportunity to test a free-agent market next year that won't be as top-heavy with outfielders as this year's group, which also included Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton.

Gordon's four-year, $72 million deal to return to the Royals was the smallest of that latter group. Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million deal with the Tigers, and Heyward agreed to an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Cubs.

It's not unlike Yovani Gallardo, who on Thursday signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Orioles. A dependable starter, he was caught up in a free-agent market that also included David Price, Zack Greinke, Wei-Yin Chen, Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Kennedy.

The depth of next year's class of free agents does not approach this offeason's group.

Video: Gallardo introduced as latest member of the Orioles

Players have concerns over limitations created by the loss of a Draft choice being tied to signing a player who was given a qualifying offer. But will the owners be as willing to make qualifying offers in the future as they were this year, when a record 21 offers were made?

Three players accepted offers this offseason. None of the 34 players extended an offer in the three previous years accepted the one-year proposal.

The qualifying offer is based off the average salary of the top-100 paid players in the game the previous season. This offseason, it was $15.8 million, which was accepted by left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson of the Dodgers, outfielder Colby Rasmus of the Astros and catcher Matt Wieters of the Orioles.

It has increased from $13.3 million in the offseason prior to the 2013 season, to $14.1 million prior to the 2014 season and $15.3 million prior to last year.

Sixteen of the 34 free agents from the three previous offseasons eventually signed contracts with a lower annual average value than the qualifying offer. For 14 of the 16, the tradeoff was multiyear security. The two one-year deals all came for the 2014 season: Nelson Cruz, $8 million with the Orioles, and Stephen Drew, $10.1 million with the Red Sox.

Drew was one of only six of the qualifying-offer free agents who re-signed with their former team in the three previous seasons.

This year, nine of the 21 free agents given qualifying offers wound up returning to their former team, including the three players who accepted the qualifying offer.

Four of the six who decided to explore the free-agent market and wound up back with their old team, settled for an AAV less than the qualifying offer of $15.8 million, including one-year deals to Fowler ($13 million) and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who was given $12 million to return to the Mariners after the Dodgers backed out of a multiyear deal because of medical concerns.

While Gordon received an AAV of $18 million from the Royals and Chris Davis signed a seven-year, $161 million deal to stay with the Orioles, Marco Estrada returned to the Blue Jays for $26 million over two years, and Howie Kendrick agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with the Dodgers.

Was this a one-year blip on the radar or a sign of what is to come?

That's an issue the owners and players will have to weigh in preparation for the upcoming negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement come December.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy.

Ian Desmond