With the Chicago Cubs still playing meaningful baseball – as meaningful as it gets! – this month, we haven’t had an opportunity to dig into looming offseason issues as much as we might have otherwise by now. It’s ok. There’s still time.
But, since we’ve got an off-day to ourselves, I thought it worth noting that MLB has released its qualifying offer figure for this offseason, and it’s $15.8 million. That’s up from $15.3 million last year.
In case you need a refresher: the “qualifying offer” is the offer of a one-year contract for next season at price set by averaging the top 125 salaries in baseball. A team with an outgoing free agent who was on the team for the entire previous season may make a qualifying offer to that player for the following season. If the player accepts, boom, there’s your new contract.
If the player declines the qualifying offer, his new team will lose a draft pick in the following draft (a first rounder if the team picks outside the top ten; the team’s next pick if they’re within the top ten) when it signs that player. His old team will receive a compensatory draft pick after the first round.
Because teams are generally reluctant to give up draft picks (and the associated bonus pool amount), the qualifying offer sometimes has the effect of depressing a free agent’s market. Still, no player has accepted a qualifying offer since it came into existence a few years ago.
For the Chicago Cubs, the in-house implications here are pretty clear, and they relate to one player: Dexter Fowler.
The 29-year-old center fielder was sufficiently successful in 2015, as well as in the years that preceded it, that he is going to receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs, assuming he’s not extended before that. Because I suspect that the market for Fowler is going to be robust – think four or five-year type deals in the $60 to $80 or possibly even $100 million range – I doubt the Cubs will be able to extend him before he reaches free agency. And, of course, for that same reason, he’ll decline the qualifying offer.*
So, then, if Fowler signs with another team, the Cubs will pick up an extra draft pick soon after their first round pick (currently 28th overall). That could come in handy if the Cubs, themselves, sign a free agent who has received a qualifying offer.
That’s the other obvious set of implications for the Cubs: who else receives a qualifying offer, and will the Cubs pursue any qualified free agents?
Remember, players have to have been with their current team all season to be eligible to receive a qualifying offer, so players traded mid-season are not eligible (David Price, Ben Zobrist, Yoenis Cespedes (I believe he was ineligible anyway by a certain contract clause), Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake are among those players).
The list of potential qualified free agents is still extensive, though. Some examples: Jason Heyward, Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Davis, Alex Gordon, Zack Greinke (if he opts out), Howie Kendrick, Denard Span, Hisashi Iwakuma … I could go on. It’s a ton of guys this year. Mike Axisa at CBS has a nice write up on the crop and how he thinks they’ll land.
Qualifying offers must be made within five days of the end of the World Series. Decisions by the players on the offer must be made within one week thereafter.
It’s fun to look back almost one year to the day when considering these issues, as I suspected even back then that the Cubs might be looking for one-year players like Dexter Fowler so that they could, a year later, make him a qualifying offer. It reminds you how much advance planning has to go into these kinds of decisions, and how they can affect a team far down the road.
*(With respect to Fowler and the Cubs, I’ll soon have much more to say on the merits of extending, or not extending, a guy who is obviously very valuable to the team. I’ve addressed this a bit before, but as you well know, though, it’s not always as simple as, “This guy is good and valuable, so the Cubs should definitely pay him whatever it takes.”)