Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Predicting the toughest qualifying offer decisions

October 29, 2018

Before we can get to the fun of trades and free agency, we have to get one piece of bookkeeping out of the way: qualifying offers. That's the process when teams must decide whether to extend a one-year, $17.9 million contract to eligible free agents; the offers must come within

Before we can get to the fun of trades and free agency, we have to get one piece of bookkeeping out of the way: qualifying offers. That's the process when teams must decide whether to extend a one-year, $17.9 million contract to eligible free agents; the offers must come within five days of the end of the World Series (deadline is today at 5 p.m. ET), and the players who receive them have 10 days to accept or reject the offer. If they turn it down and sign elsewhere, their former team can gain some compensation in return.
For the most part, the drama is in who receives an offer, not who accepts one. In the six previous offseasons with this system in place, there have been 73 qualifying offers issued, and only five (Brett Anderson, Jeremy Hellickson, Neil Walker, Colby Rasmus and Matt Wieters) have accepted them. That said, last year we saw what difficulty players like Alex Cobb, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland and Lance Lynn had in the market after turning down an offer. Will that affect decisions this year?
Either way, there are some very interesting names out there this year. So just as we did last year, let's make some predictions of who will receive one and what they'll do with it. (Last year, we predicted nine offers would be extended, and all would be declined. We went 9-for-9.) 
For our purposes, we're assuming that players with opt-out clauses like Clayton Kershaw and David Price will remain with their current team, though they are eligible to receive the offer if they don't.

Not eligible due to trades
Only players who spent the entire year with the same team are eligible to receive an offer, so players like Manny Machado, Andrew McCutchen, Zach Britton, Nathan Eovaldi, Josh Donaldson, Matt Harvey, James Dozier, J.A. Happ and Wilson Ramos aren't part of the discussion.
Not eligible due to previous qualifying offers
Players may only receive the offer once, so Nelson Cruz, Walker, Player Page for David Robertson and Daniel Murphy (who was traded this year anyway) won't be receiving another.
Obvious offers, definitely getting declined
OF Bryce Harper, Nationals
SP Patrick Corbin, D-backs

There's not much to discuss here. Harper, like Machado, is a generational talent who is going to get a record-shattering contract. The Nationals will give him the offer just for the compensation, with no expectation he'd actually take it. (He won't.) Corbin is the best pitcher available on the market. One note: There is a chance Washington could re-sign Harper, in which case Draft-pick compensation would not be a factor, but it's hard to see Arizona bringing Corbin back.

Likely non-offers
OF Adam Jones, Orioles; C Jonathan Lucroy, A's; 3B Adrian Beltre, Rangers; RP Cody Allen, Indians; RP Adam Ottavino, Rockies; OF Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; 2B DJ LeMahieu, Rockies; SS Freddy Galvis, Padres; OF Nick Markakis, Braves; SP Carsten Sabathia, Yankees; OF Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians; RP Justin Wilson, Cubs; DH Evan Gattis, Astros; IF Daniel Descalso, D-backs; Marwin Gonzalez, Astros
It's not that these players aren't good, of course. We just wrote about how Ottavino is likely to hit it relatively big this offseason. Most will get jobs and many will add value in 2019, but if offered $17.9 million for next year, each of these players -- due to age, injury or poor performance -- would probably take it in an instant, knowing they'd never make that much annually on the free-agent market. That's a good sign that it won't be offered.
There's a strong case for the Astros to offer Gonzalez -- they probably should -- but they reportedly will not.
Everything so far has been pretty straight forward. We're left with these actual decisions to be made ...
On the bubble
RP Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox
Kimbrel may very well be on a Hall of Fame track, and the only reason we're not calling this a slam dunk is because the Red Sox just exceeded the luxury tax again and Kimbrel showed some slight weaknesses in a career-high home run rate and a walk rate twice as high as it was in 2017. That said, he's only 30 and he'll get a big deal somewhere, so he wouldn't take this.
Prediction: Receives offer / declines offer
Video: What is the free-agent outlook for Craig Kimbrel?
SP Dallas Keuchel, Astros
Like Kimbrel, there are some warning signs here: Keuchel's strikeout rate dropped to a below-average 17.5 percent, and his ground-ball rate dropped from an elite 66.8 percent to a merely strong 53.7 percent. But since he turns 31 on New Year's Day, this is probably his last shot at a big contract. The Astros will reportedly extend an offer, but Keuchel likely won't take it.
Prediction: Receives offer / declines offer

SP Charlie Morton, Astros
Over his two years with Houston, Morton has a similar ERA to Carlos Carrasco and the same strikeout rate as Blake Snell in about as many innings. While he's turning 35 next month, the performance has been stunning, and it's likely that the Astros would be thrilled to have him back for one year. Morton could do better than that on the market, but not at $17.9 million per year, and 35 year olds with injury histories may not want to be out there with the qualifying offer on them anyway. Let's hedge our bets on this one. 
Prediction: Receives offer but signs two-year deal with Houston anyway

CF A.J. Pollock, D-backs
If Pollock could ever stay healthy -- he's taken 500 plate appearances in a season just once, back in 2015 -- he'd be one of the most desirable free agents on the market. He still might be, because at his best, he's a star-level player who pairs an above-average bat with strong center-field play, plus value on the bases. Pollock will turn 31 in December, which means he won't pass up a chance to show he's the best outfielder available other than Harper.
Prediction: Receives offer / declines offer

C Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
Generally, arguments that postseason performance can significantly enhance or injure free-agent prospects are overblown, but Grandal's October was so disappointing that he might be the exception to the rule. That said, the state of catching in baseball is weak these days, and his .241/.349/.466 with 24 homers and elite pitch framing makes him a desirable target in a very slim field. There's some chance the Dodgers don't offer and also a chance that Grandal accepts, but we'll assume that his agents will focus on his very good regular season over his high-profile postseason failures.
Prediction: Receives offer / declines offer

RP Andrew Miller, Indians
Miller's four-year, $36 million free-agent deal after the 2014 season seemed large at the time, but it's proven to be one of the greatest values in recent history, for the teams, anyway. However, he was on the disabled list three times this year (hamstring, knee, shoulder), and he never really looked like his dominant self. There's plenty of reason to believe Miller can rebound, but Cleveland isn't going to risk doubling his salary to find out.
Prediction: Does not receive offer
LF Michael Brantley, Indians
When the Tribe picked up Brantley's $12 million option last year, it seemed like a huge risk given his recent injury history, but he repaid it and then some with a .309/.364/.468 line, getting into 143 games. With Brantley and Chisenhall headed to free agency and Bradley Zimmer likely to miss time after shoulder surgery, Cleveland's 2019 outfield looks incredibly weak -- you can't start Leonys Martin, Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin -- so it'd welcome Brantley back for a single year. He's likely to test the market, however.
Prediction: Receives offer / declines offer

SP Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
Speaking of injury histories, Ryu has thrown fewer innings in the past four seasons (213 2/3) than Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber or Justin Verlander did just in 2018. He got into just one game in 2015-16 thanks to shoulder and elbow issues, then missed time since due to hip, foot and groin problems. When Ryu is healthy, however, he's often very good -- in the 82 1/3 innings he threw this year, he had a sparkling 1.97 ERA. Still, he wouldn't get this much per year on the market, and he won't get the offer here.
Prediction: Does not receive offer
2B Jed Lowrie, A's
After something of an up-and-down year, Lowrie has been outstanding for the past two seasons, hitting a combined .272/.356/.448 with 37 home runs, even briefly shifting to third base when necessary. But he turns 35 in April, has never made more than $8 million in a season and is looking at a lot of competition at second base on the market (Dozier, Murphy, LeMahieu). Lowrie would all but certainly jump at this offer, and the A's aren't likely to extend one to him.
Prediction: Does not receive offer

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.