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Qualifying offer predictions: Who will accept?

@RichardJustice
November 4, 2020

Qualifying offers, once almost universally rejected by players, will get a long second look over the next few days as players attempt to gauge their value in an uncertain free-agent marketplace. Every player will ask himself if he’d be better off accepting the $18.9 million deal for the 2021 season

Qualifying offers, once almost universally rejected by players, will get a long second look over the next few days as players attempt to gauge their value in an uncertain free-agent marketplace.

Every player will ask himself if he’d be better off accepting the $18.9 million deal for the 2021 season and making another run at free agency a year from now hoping for an offseason not impacted by a global pandemic.

6 players receive qualifying offers

Such a decision comes with another risk factor as the labor agreement is scheduled to expire on Dec. 1, 2021. So the six players -- a record low -- who received a qualifying offer by Sunday’s deadline have plenty to consider.

Since the inception of the qualifying offer in 2012, only 10 of 90 players have accepted. But the one-year deal is large enough at $18.9 million and the market in such uncharted waters that every player is likely to examine his options more closely than ever before.

Let’s consider the six players and predict what they’ll do:

J.T. Realmuto

He’s 29 years old and one of the best two or three at his position. That means his benchmark is the four-year, $73 million contract Yasmani Grandal got from the White Sox last offseason. Not coincidentally, the Mets are in the market for a catcher, and new owner Steve Cohen is looking to make a splash. Realmuto’s timing could not be better.

Prediction: Declines.

Trevor Bauer

Speaking of perfect timing, the 29-year-old right-hander enters the marketplace fresh off a Cy Young-caliber season. He might also be the one elite player confident enough in his own ability to accept the qualifying offer and bet on landing an even bigger payday after next season. But he has long said he wants to sign one-year deals as a free agent, so this is his chance.

Prediction: Declines. UPDATE (11/5): Bauer rejects qualifying offer

DJ LeMahieu
His .336 batting average is the best in baseball during the last two seasons with the Yankees and he seems unlikely to play elsewhere anytime soon, even though the Yanks will focus their spending on rotation upgrades. He might test the market, but players seldom leave the Yankees for more money elsewhere. And even if LeMahieu, 32, accepts the qualifying offer, it’ll be with an eye on a long-term deal.
Prediction: Declines.

George Springer
Springer, 31, is the best free-agent position player as well as a nice fit for either the Red Sox or the Mets. Coincidentally, both teams will be in an acquisition mode this offseason. Those dynamics make his decision to enter the free-agent marketplace an easy one.
Prediction: Declines.

Marcus Stroman
He should accept the Mets' offer for two reasons. First, after missing the entire 2020 season, the 29-year-old needs to reestablish his value, and $18.9 million is nice bridge-season money. Second, life around the Mets figures to be interesting as Cohen puts his stamp on the franchise.
Prediction: Accepts.

Kevin Gausman
In a normal offseason, he’d be fielding offers of three to five years after one of his best seasons. The 29-year-old benefitted from the Giants' blueprint of having him throw fewer fastballs and more changeups and sliders. If he accepts the qualifying offer, it almost certainly would be with the idea of getting a long-term deal done with the Giants over the next few weeks.
Prediction: Accepts.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.