Earlier today, I wrote this article looking to define some of the precedents that were set by Colby Rasmus being the first player in MLB history to accept a qualifying offer. Rumors of Rasmus taking the $15.8 million, one-year deal surfaced Thursday evening. Since then, it has been announced Matt Wieters will also be returning to Baltimore on a qualifying offer, while lefty Brett Anderson becomes the first pitcher to ever accept a qualifying offer and will head back to the Dodgers in 2016.
In my earlier article, I tried to basically assign ‘labels’ to the factors that played into Rasmus accepting a qualifying offer. So far, a few trends should be becoming clear to teams about the types of players liable to accept a QO:
The largest commonality between Anderson, Rasmus, and Wieters is that they’re all young for free agents, none of them checking in above 30 years old. Anderson debuted at 21 years old, and agreed to a qualifying offer today already going through free agency for the second time at the conclusion of his age 27 season. Rasmus debuted at 22 years old, and, same as Anderson, accepted a QO yesterday during his second go-round with free agency, after qualifying for six-year free agency for the first time after the 2014 season. Wieters qualified for free agency for the first time after 2015, but still debuted age 23 and reaches free agency at 29.
The significance of all three of the QO-accepting players being under the age of 30 is that it underlines the trend that players likely to take QOs will be young free agents. It is much easier to ‘bet on yourself’ after an age-27 season, with ‘peak’ years at 28, 29, and 30 years old awaiting ahead—not so much when you’re 34.
- VOLATILITY / REASON TO QUESTION CONSISTENCY
The second thing that Anderson, Rasmus, and Wieters have in common is all three have some factor that has given teams issue committing significant money and/or years of security to each. In the case of Wieters and Anderson, the primary factor holding back the type of production needed to justify a large open-market deal is health. While some health issues have held Rasmus back at times, he’s also just plain disappeared in his bad seasons—and reportedly has struggled with focus throughout long seasons while being an enigmatic personality who can’t necessarily get comfortable in any clubhouse.
Wieters posted a 2.6 WAR in 2013 while providing plus defense at catcher and hitting 20 HRs, then was an all-star after a torrid first half in 2014. Since then, though, injuries have significantly impacted Wieters getting on the field—derailing what otherwise looked like the former first-rounder’s easy road to a huge open-market payday after 2015.
Anderson has seen his value impacted by health perhaps as much as any starting pitcher I can think of this side of Josh Johnson. It seems the ‘rap’ on Anderson has never been a question as to his actual performance on the field—it is how much he’ll actually get out on the field at all. Anderson accumulated 5.5 WAR—more than half his career total—between the ages of 21 and 22, looking like he could have been an early-career extension candidate. After those first two years, though, Anderson would not pitch 100 innings or make 15 starts in a season again until 2015, this past season. That said, when he has been healthy, since 2009 Anderson has totaled a 3.72 ERA and nearly 60 percent groundball rate. This past season, Anderson totaled a 3.69 ERA and a groundball percentage at a whopping 66 percent.
Rasmus has consistently been between a three and four win player in his best seasons, peaking at 5.1 WAR in 2013. He’s also had three years in which he totaled less fWAR combined in three seasons (2.3) than he did in any of his good seasons individually.
Be it for reasons of health—or general inconsistency in output—all three players clearly decided they thought they could up their value to a level commensurate with how each camp is hoping to be paid by waiting a year, and sacrificing long-term security for a lofty AAV of 15.8 million. Wieters will be looking to prove his injury-riddled days are behind him, and he should be paid like an elite catcher. Anderson will hope to show he’s capable of making 25+ starts in back-to-back years, so he could get paid like a left-handed starter with his ERA and ground-ball outputs should be. Rasmus will try to avoid being billed as a perpetual enigma, hoping to make enough contact to tap into his power consistently enough to appeal to teams as a power/speed package capable of playing centerfield.
- COMPETITIVE FREE AGENT CLASSES AT THE SAME POSITION
In the case of Rasmus and Anderson, I think a third common factor is unusually deep classes at starting pitcher and in the outfield this offseason. There are enough factors to cause teams to pause about Anderson (health) and Rasmus (consistency of offense) in terms of multi-year deals anyway—and those reasons seem too much to overcome from a team’s standpoint when there are so many other good options at both player’s positions in this free agent class.
Rasmus—a player who will need to convince teams he will make consistent contact and remain capable of playing centerfield into his thirties to get his ‘top dollar’ multi-year deal—certainly does not have the reputation of Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward, or Yoenis Cespedes. In a weaker market without options like these, perhaps a team would be more willing to overpay for Rasmus for lack of better options. Sometimes that does happen.
The same could be said for Anderson, who might have been able to convince teams to pay him like a mid-rotation left-handed starter on the open market if it weren’t for the presence of David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto, etc.
Both Rasmus and Anderson will try and silence their doubters with more health and consistency in 2016 instead, waiting for a less-deep 2017 free agent class to seek the multi-year paydays both have sought for two years now.