Usually the MLB offseason is full of big moves and signings and that is why it is called the ‘Hot Stove’. This offseason has been a bit slower however, and that might have something to do with qualifying offers.
When the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and the MLBPA went into effect, there was a bit of a change to free agency. Instead of having Type A and Type B free agents, teams are now able to make a one-year qualifying offer that is determined by the average of the top 125 players the season before. Attached to any player who receives the qualifying offer, but refuses it, is a first-round draft pick, and that is where the problem seems to lie. Teams now seem more and more reluctant to offer contracts to any but the absolute top free agents because the cost includes the surrender of that draft pick. Young players are becoming more and more enticing to teams because of the chance for them to be superstars under team control for a good amount of their early years, and every draft pick counts.
In the first three years of the system not one player accepted a qualifying offer in hopes of landing a long-term deal. One player that went this route was Kendrys Morales in 2014.
Morales was offered a qualifying offer by the Seattle Mariners, but rejected it in hopes of getting a longer deal. That decision backfired on him when he wasn’t able to land a deal and was out of baseball until June when the draft pick was no longer attached to him.
The players that are offered these deals are usually some of the top free agents, because when a team makes the offer and has it turned down by a top-dollar player, it means they will receive a draft pick if another team makes that player an offer. Also, you never know when a top player might just say yes, hoping for a better year to usher them into free-agency. Now players have another thing to keep in mind when declining these offers, the additional cost of that draft pick attached to their own value.
In this offseason for the first time ever, three players accepted the qualified offer. Brett Anderson with the Dodgers, Colby Rasmus with the Astros and Matt Wieters with the Orioles were the three and will play the 2016 season on a one-year, $15.8 million deal.
The money is nice, but it will be interesting to see what happens next offseason depending on those three players’ performance in 2016.
Then, there is the other side of the issue.
One example is Justin Upton who, along with many others, was offered a qualifying offer by the Padres, a deal he did not sign. Now, Upton may have to settle for a one-year deal and hope to hold or increase his value in next year’s free agency because interested teams have trouble parting with that draft pick.
Players who don’t sign a deal during the free agency period will either have to wait until June when the draft pick is lifted, or sign a lesser deal. That isn’t saying that teams won’t end up signing them anyway and lose the draft pick, but the market is moving slowly, and as each day passes the hope of a big paycheck decreases.
Maybe instead of having a first round pick attached, it should be a second or third or something else that a team has to forfeit. These days, having young players is key to building an organization and unless you are a team that has a lot of money year in and year out to sign free agents, young players will continue to be the keystone to building an organization.
Some teams don’t mind the draft pick if they are in a “win-now” stage, but for others trying to get to that next step, the decision is very tough whether to keep a draft pick (outside the top 10) or sign a big name free agent.
Something needs to be changed to get these players on the field and get them the contracts they deserve. Players work their whole career to get this chance to have a big deal, and they are being restricted that opportunity with qualifying offers.