10 of 96 have accepted qualifying offers

November 11th, 2020

Only 10 of the 96 players who have received the qualifying offer have wound up accepting it, including two starting pitchers -- the Giants' Kevin Gausman and the Mets' Marcus Stroman -- after the 2020 season. The rest rejected the offer and entered the free-agent market to seek a multiyear deal.

Here is a look at each of those 10 players who accepted and how those decisions worked out for both sides.

Kevin Gausman, SP, Giants, 2020
Accepted $18.9 million qualifying offer for ‘21

Background: Gausman has long shown potential as a former No. 4 overall Draft pick, and his abbreviated 2020 season in San Francisco looked to be a sign that he was finally reaching it. After signing a one-year deal in the previous offseason, the right-hander posted a 3.62 ERA across 12 games (10 starts) while his strikeout rate jumped to 32.2% -- by far a career high -- on the strength of his increasing splitter usage. That was enough for the Giants to extend Gausman the QO and continue a relationship that was beneficial for both in 2020.

Result: TBD

Marcus Stroman, SP, Mets, 2020
Accepted $18.9 million qualifying offer for ‘21

Background: Stroman’s case as a free agent was complicated by the fact that he did not pitch at all during the shortened 2020 season, tearing his left calf muscle before the delayed Opening Day and eventually opting out due to COVID-19 concerns. That made the qualifying offer more appealing for a 29-year-old righty with a solid 3.76 ERA through his first 140 career starts. The Mets had acquired Stroman from the Blue Jays before the 2019 Trade Deadline, and he posted a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch. With New York short on rotation depth behind ace Jacob deGrom, a reunion for 2021 made sense for both sides.

Result: TBD

José Abreu, 1B, White Sox, 2019
Accepted $17.8 million qualifying offer for '20

Background: Abreu was a consistent rock for the right side of the White Sox infield, and he was an All-Star for the third time in 2019, hitting .284 with 33 home runs and an AL-leading 123 RBIs. Despite those big numbers, Abreu might have struggled in the free-agent market because he was entering his age-33 season, was rated as a poor defender and was a righty-righty first baseman. Abreu stated repeatedly how much he enjoyed playing in Chicago, and he initially committed to the White Sox for one more season. The two sides extended that relationship further on Nov. 22, when they replaced the qualifying offer with a three-year, $50 million contract that runs through '22.

Result: All Abreu did was lead the AL in hits, RBIs, slugging and total bases during the abbreviated 2020 season, more than enough to make him a finalist for the league's MVP award. He also served as a leader for an exciting White Sox club that made its first postseason appearance in 12 years.

Jake Odorizzi, P, Twins, 2019
Accepted $17.8 million qualifying offer for '20

Background: Odorizzi has been a consistent pitcher throughout his career, and he was arguably the Twins' most consistent starter in 2019 as he pitched to a 3.51 ERA -- his lowest mark since '15 -- and a 3.36 FIP, the best of his career. His 27.1 percent strikeout rate was also a career high. In the past, it might have been an easier decision for Odorizzi to reject the qualifying offer and test the market for a multiyear contract after posting such numbers. But Odorizzi's 4.3 WAR in 2019, per FanGraphs, would have been the fifth highest among available free-agent starters behind splashy names like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Wheeler.

Result: Odorizzi looked to set himself up for a better multiyear contract with a strong performance in 2020, but unfortunately a series of injuries, including a line drive to the chest and a lingering blister, limited him to just four starts in which he did not pitch well (6.59 ERA). He entered the free-agent market following the season.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, P, Dodgers, 2018
Accepted $17.9 million qualifying offer for '19

Background: This was a situation where a high-value, one-year deal made perfect sense for both sides. Ever since joining the Dodgers from South Korea in 2013, Ryu had been highly effective -- when he was able to take the mound. His career ERA in the Majors was 3.20 through 2018, but that was in fewer than 100 starts and 600 innings spread over six seasons. Various injuries had gotten in the way, including shoulder surgery and elbow tendinitis that cost him all but one game from 2015-16, and a severe groin strain that limited him to 15 starts in '18. Ryu’s health record would have scared many teams, but the Dodgers had the depth to withstand some missed time.

Result: It could not have worked out much better. Ryu had two brief stints on the injured list but still made 29 starts and pitched 182 2/3 innings, both his most since his rookie year in 2013. The lefty earned a start in his first All-Star Game, led the Majors with a 2.32 ERA, and put himself into NL Cy Young Award contention. That helped him score a four-year, $80 million contract from the Blue Jays.

Jeremy Hellickson, P, Phillies, 2016
Accepted $17.2 million qualifying offer for '17

Background: The 2011 American League Rookie of the Year with the Rays had seen his numbers slip since then, including a 4.62 ERA with the 2015 D-backs after a trade from Tampa Bay. Hellickson was traded again after the '15 season, this time to Philadelphia, and resurrected his value by posting a 3.71 ERA over 32 starts and 189 innings. That made him arguably the Phillies’ top pitcher. According to Hellickson, other teams’ reticence to part with a Draft pick influenced his decision to accept.

Result: The reunion wasn’t quite as sweet. Hellickson started fast in 2017 but ultimately had a 4.73 ERA when the last-place Phillies traded him to Baltimore, where his struggles escalated. That left him languishing on the market until March 2018, when he settled for a Minor League contract with the Nationals.

Neil Walker, 2B, Mets, 2016
Accepted $17.2 million qualifying offer for '17

Background: Walker was a model of consistency in Pittsburgh, where he had an OPS+ between 106 and 126 in six straight seasons. That sort of production continued in 2016 after a trade to the Mets. Walker hit .282/.347/.476 (121 OPS+) with 23 homers in 113 games, but a herniated disk in his back required surgery and ended his season in late August, throwing his free agency into some doubt and helping keep him in Queens.

Result: Walker returned for Opening Day 2017 and was having another typical season when he sustained a hamstring tear in mid-June and missed about six weeks. The Mets, scuffling well below .500, traded him to the Brewers soon after his return, during the August waiver period. In the following offseason, Walker didn’t land a contract until March, signing a modest one-year deal with the Yankees.

Brett Anderson, P, Dodgers, 2015
Accepted $15.8 million qualifying offer for '16

Background: Anderson’s situation was similar to the one the Dodgers faced with Ryu a few years later. Like his fellow lefty, Anderson had been effective but not especially durable throughout his career. When L.A. signed him to a one-year deal before 2015, Anderson had pitched barely more than 200 innings over the previous four seasons. He then managed a career-high 31 starts and 180 1/3 innings for the Dodgers, posting a 3.69 ERA, but still would have faced some skepticism on the open market.

Result: The Dodgers gambled on a second straight healthy season and didn’t get one. Anderson made his 2016 debut on Aug. 14 and ultimately pitched just 11 1/3 innings due to a back injury and blister issues. He settled for an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Cubs for '17.

Colby Rasmus, OF, Astros, 2015
Accepted $15.8 million qualifying offer for '16

Background: Rasmus signed a one-year deal with the Astros ahead of the 2015 season, after six up-and-down campaigns in St. Louis and Toronto. He proceeded to have a solid if not spectacular year in Houston, batting .238/.314/.475 (116 OPS+) with 25 homers in 137 games for an Astros club that made and won the AL Wild Card Game.

Result: Rasmus’ second go-round in Houston was a dud. After a strong April, he batted a meager .191/.252/.297 over the rest of the season and finished with a career-low .641 OPS in more than 400 plate appearances. Strong defensive numbers according to advanced metrics still gave him positive WAR value, but Rasmus took a significant pay cut ($5 million guaranteed) when he signed a one-year deal with the Rays for 2017.

Matt Wieters, C, Orioles, 2015
Accepted $15.8 million qualifying offer for '16

Background: Wieters had a longer history with his club than anyone else on this list, but a larger factor in his acceptance of the qualifying offer may have been health. Baltimore’s first-round pick (No. 5 overall) in the 2007 Draft -- who had been in the Majors since '09 -- underwent Tommy John surgery in '14 and didn’t return until June of the following season. That gave him all of 75 games, including 55 behind the plate, to state his case as a free agent. Wieters was solid in that time (.267/.319/.422, 101 OPS+) but perhaps wanted a full season to demonstrate his value.

Result: On the plus side, Wieters was healthy (124 games), made the All-Star team, and helped the Orioles grab a Wild Card berth. On the other hand, his .243/.302/.409 line with 17 homers didn’t stand out. The following January, Wieters took a deal with the Nationals that ultimately was worth $21 million over two years with his exercising of a 2018 player option.

Conclusion
Half of the players to accept a QO had some sort of significant injury issue in their recent past that probably pushed them toward not taking their chances in free agency. Others (such as Gausman, Hellickson and Rasmus) were coming off good seasons but had not necessarily been consistent performers throughout their careers.

Ryu provides an all-around best-case scenario for an accepted QO -- a player who takes advantage of the one-year platform by putting up a career season, giving the team its desired production and landing the player his big, multiyear deal. Ryu's experience has so far been more the exception than the rule, but Gausman and Stroman will have a chance to challenge that dynamic in 2021.