With the World Series underway, the offseason approaches, and just five days after the World Series ends, teams will have to decide on whether to make their outgoing free agents a one-year, $18.4 million Qualifying Offer, which, if rejected, will entitle the team to draft pick compensation.
We have talked at length about “the Qualifying Offer problem” for the Cubs this offseason – i.e., the draft pick/bonus pool/IFA cost to sign a free agent who has received and rejected a Qualifying Offer – and I want to remind us all that it is a relative problem: not only do the Cubs “pay” more because of their market size, but they also have a particularly high draft pick at stake.
To that end, I wanted to point out MLBTR’s summary of how each team stands in relation to the costs associated with signing a qualified free agent. It’s one thing to know that “it costs the Cubs a lot,” but it’s another to know how every other possible suitor out there is situated. It turns out, there are a number of other teams kinda in a similar situation when you go through them individually.
As a reminder, because they are a larger-market team that is not over the luxury tax, the Cubs’ “cost” for signing a qualified free agent is their second highest pick in the draft (the number 7 pick in the second round), the bonus pool space associated with that pick, and $500,000 in International Free Agent bonus pool space.
Other teams in that particular tier: Angels, Astros, Athletics, Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals, Giants, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, White Sox, Yankees. Among those teams, the Angels (13th in the second round), Mets (14th pick overall, compensatory), Nationals (5th in the second round), Rangers (3rd in the second round), and Red Sox (41st overall, compensatory) have similarly-valuable second-highest picks at stake. (And even for other teams in this group, the pick they have at stake is only about 10 to 20 spots below the Cubs’ second rounder, so it isn’t THAT much better.)
Moreover, there are two teams – the Dodgers and the Padres, per MLBTR – that are over the luxury tax, so the cost to them to sign a qualified free agent is their second highest AND fifth highest picks (and bonus pool space), and $1 million in IFA money. So that’s even worse.
So, you could argue that, while the Cubs have a “Qualifying Offer problem,” so do the Dodgers, Padres, Angels, Mets, Nationals, Rangers, and Red Sox. And the other large-market clubs aren’t that far off.
Really, where there’s a strong competitive advantage in the qualified free agent market is for the smaller-market clubs (which, well, that’s how the system is designed). Those clubs – Brewers, Diamondbacks, Guardians, Marlins, Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Tigers, Twins – are supposed to have an advantage. And they do, in the form of only losing their third-highest pick in the draft (no IFA money) when signing a qualified free agent. (Note that, for these purposes, the Cardinals are treated like the Cubs, not the Pirates/Reds/Brewers.)
If the Brewers and Cubs are going after the same qualified free agent, the simple reality is that signing the player will “cost” the Cubs more. That doesn’t mean you don’t do it, but it does mean you have an extra layer to consider there.
When it comes to the shorter-term, higher-AAV free agents, I could see some of these smaller-market clubs wanting in on the action, and where the guy has received a qualifying offer, those teams will hold a clear advantage over the Cubs in terms of the total “cost.” But again, the Cubs aren’t really on an island there, or at least as much of an island as I was thinking when considering the issue in the abstract.
So, anyway, maybe the “problem” is slightly less of a problem, since the Cubs would often be bidding against other teams in the same or similar situations?
Note, though, that the expectedly large VOLUME of qualified free agents this offseason is still kind of a pain. With the price tag on the Qualifying Offer going down this year to just $18.4 million, I could see a whole lot of offers made – Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw, Robbie Ray, Carlos Rodon, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, Michael Conforto, Eduardo Rodríguez, Noah Syndergaard, Chris Taylor, Justin Verlander, Nick Castellanos (please, Cubs), and maybe more.