Teams on the verge of losing their best players to free agency have but one lifeline tossed to them by MLB’s CBA: the qualifying offer. The CBA affords that teams may offer an impending free agent a one-year contract at the price of the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and, if the player rejects that offer, then the team gets draft pick compensation at the end of the first round in the next draft.
If that player subsequently signs with another team, that new team will forfeit a draft pick for the signing: either their first rounder, or, if they select in the top 10, their second rounder. For 2015, that “protected” group will actually be the first 11 picks, thanks to the Astros’ extra pick at number two overall (for failing to sign 2014 first pick Brady Aiken).
The price of the qualifying offer for this offseason has been established, and it’s $15.3 million, which is a near 10% bump from last year’s $14.1 million. That’s a healthy chunk of change, and teams will have to decide whether to risk a player accepting if that offer is made. In the history of the qualifying offer, not one has been accepted yet, but several players last year may have regretted their decision to decline, including Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales. Teams will be cognizant of that fact this year, because players will be cognizant of it. Perhaps the pool of qualified free agents will shrink this year.
To be eligible to receive a qualifying offer, a player must have been with his team the entire year. It’s something of a silly rule, but it means that guys like Jon Lester – who was traded midseason – are not eligible for a qualifying offer. That means he can be signed without any draft pick compensation, regardless of all of the qualifying offer stuff.
Other players, like James Shields or Max Scherzer or Russell Martin, are locks to receive qualifying offers, but the threat of draft pick compensation might not drag their markets down much, given their overall value. For fringier free agents, however, receiving and rejecting a qualifying offer could really hurt their market. Once again I say, with the price of a qualifying offer escalating along with the negative impact, teams and players will not treat their qualifying offer decisions lightly.
For the Cubs, the impact here is not related to their own players. Carlos Villanueva is the team’s only free agent, and he will not receive a qualifying offer. But, the Cubs could very well be impacted in terms of which marginal players receive such an offer, and in terms of how the Cubs’ pursuit thereof could be affected.
Qualifying offers are due within five days of the end of the World Series. Decisions on acceptance or rejection are due one week thereafter.