After a couple years of relative stagnation in overall salaries, I suppose it makes sense that the Qualifying Offer has also stagnated. But I can’t say I expected a DROP.
Per Buster Olney:
Sources: MLB clubs have been informed that the qualifying offer for free agents this winter is set at $18.4 million. That’s down slightly from $18.9 million QO of last winter. Free agents extended a QO will accept or reject before the expiration of the current CBA Dec. 1.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 12, 2021
The Qualifying Offer is an offer for a one-year deal, set at the average salary of the top 125 players, which provides draft pick compensation to the team making the offer if the outgoing free agent rejects it and signs elsewhere. The offer must be made within five days of the end of the World Series, and then the free agent has 10 days to accept or reject.
At just $18.4 million for a one-year deal in 2022, the “risk” to teams in making this offer is greatly reduced. That is to say, if the Qualifying Offer were pushing $20+ million, teams might think just a little more before they made an offer that they feared would be accepted. Now, at $18.4 million, fringe players might be slightly less inclined to accept, and teams would also feel slightly less burned if the player did accept.
That is to say, I expect a boatload of Qualifying Offers this year. And I was already expecting a lot! I could imagine all of Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw, Robbie Ray, Carlos Rodon, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Michael Conforto, Jon Gray, Eduardo Rodríguez, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Taylor, Justin Verlander, and Nick Castellanos getting QOs this year. Maybe more.
As we’ve discussed, this is a particular problem for the Cubs, who are not going to want to sacrifice a very high second round pick (and associated bonus pool money, *AND* a chunk of IFA bonus pool space) for a short-term signing, which figures to be their focus. I’m not gonna say you can completely cross all qualified free agents off the Cubs’ list (we can make an argument for Castellanos, for example), but it’s just so much harder to justify the non-monetary cost when it’s a guy you’re signing for just one or two years. It’s a lot easier when it’s three or more years, and I don’t know how many of those the Cubs will be pursuing this offseason.
While the Cubs don’t HAVE to sign any of these guys – it’s still a robust free agent class – you want the pool from which they can sign to be as large as possible.
So … root for a lot of teams to be surprisingly stingy in the QO process, I guess?
The only hope would be that, while compensation for the losing team stays in place through the CBA talks, the penalties for the signing teams goes away. Then the Cubs could monitor this whole group in the hopes they could sign a couple to high-AAV, short-term deals. At present, though, the expectation is that the whole system will stay in place for this offseason.