Major League Baseball’s 2015 qualifying offer period came and went, and for the first time ever, a player has accepted the offer. This year, in fact, we had three players take the one-year contract worth $15.8 million to stay with their current teams.
The qualifying offer is a way for teams to offer a one-season contract to an impending free agent who has not been traded within the past year. The salary offered is the average of the highest 125 salaries in MLB, $15.8 million for this year. If a player is offered a qualifying deal and declines, the team that eventually signs him to a free agent contract must compensate with a draft pick.
Daniel Murphy, for example, was about to become a free agent when the New York Mets offered him a qualifying deal, but he turned it down to pursue greener paychecks. Whichever team signs Murphy will owe the Mets their first-round draft pick for 2016.
Over the past three seasons, all 34 players who received an offer declined it, but this year three of the 20 offers were accepted. Houston Astros’ outfielder Colby Rasmus etched his name in the record books by becoming the first player to accept a qualifying offer. Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson joined Rasmus before the 5 pm deadline to accept last Friday.
For most players, declining makes sense because they believe they can sign a multi-year deal worth greater value. Rasmus and Wieters, both 29 years old, and Anderson, 27, wisely looked at the markets ahead and saw that their best option was the contract right under their noses.
Rasmus would be entering a market saturated with talented outfielders — Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward and Yoenis Cespedes — who will fetch more attention than him. He hit extremely well in his short playoff run for the Houston Astros this season, but his reputation will not allow for a lavish pay raise. He will have the highest salary on the roster and continue to be a veteran presence on a young, budding team.
Wieters, a former first-round-pick and highly prized prospect, will try to rebound from a poor year. Due to injuries, he has only played in 101 games over the past two seasons and despite having solid numbers to somehow make the 2014 All-Star game with 104 at bats, Wieters was disappointing when he did make the field this year. Even though next year’s crop of free agent catchers is stronger than this year’s, Wieters must reestablish himself.
Anderson’s acceptance is the most surprising, but far from a mistake for the lefty starter. It would be quite a stretch to make a case for Anderson deserving $15.8 million so capturing that salary, even for a one-year contract, is worthwhile. The Dodgers proved they lacked pitching depth behind aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Anderson made 31 starts in 2015 as a league average starter and with Greinke a free agent, the Dodgers can rely on Anderson to hold down one rotation spot.
Qualifying offers are a great opportunity for players and teams alike, and in 2016, we will finally get a chance to see the outcome of players accepting such offers.