With Spring Training games beginning in about a week, the MLB off-season is just about at its end. Teams have made their moves and players have found their new homes, well most of them. Above-average, game-changing type players such as Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler remain unsigned and without jobs because of one thing, the dreaded qualifying offer.
Ian Desmond and MLB Qualifying Offers
The qualifying offer system is meant to offer teams a chance to keep their best players who are impending free agents by allowing them to sign said players to a one-year deal worth the average amount of the top 125 player salaries from the previous season . The player either accepts the offer and stays with their current team or rejects it and enters free agency. Only players who played the entire season with one team can be offered a qualifying offer so players who are traded mid-season are not permitted to the offer. Teams who lose their players to free agency are given a compensation draft pick once their former player is signed by another team. Teams signing players who had qualifying offers on the table forfeit their first-round pick or second round pick if their first draft pick is in the top ten. For example, if Ian Desmond is signed, the Nationals are awarded a draft pick between the first two rounds of the 2016 draft and the team signing Desmond must forfeit their first-round pick in the upcoming draft unless it is top-ten protected.
The problem with this system is that it keeps good players like Desmond and Fowler without jobs because teams are weary to give up draft picks. More than likely the players eventually drafted by teams that are interested in qualifying offer free agents will never end up being as good as Desmond and Fowler but most teams nowadays prefer younger, cheaper players and want to hold onto draft picks as assets to potentially use in trades. Sometimes players reject qualifying offers only to sign a longer term deal with their current team but in the case of Desmond and Fowler their teams decided a long term contract wasn’t in the cards. With the Cubs signing Jason Heyward, there was no room for Fowler in their outfield and Desmond is being replaced in Washington by a more affordable player, Danny Espinosa.
This system has been in place for four years and while it benefits teams, it hurts players. In the 2009 off-season a player the caliber of Desmond’s would never go the entire off-season without being signed. Teams lose something by signing Desmond so many teams, for faulty reasoning, back away from the player. Even without a job up to this point, no one can fault Desmond for refusing the Nationals offer. On the open market he should have received more money than that of the qualifying offer and more security than a one-year deal.
Players have very little incentive to accept qualifying offers. This was the first year since the implementation of the system that any players even accepted a qualifying offer, (Matt Wieters, Brett Anderson, and Colby Rasmus). Players have a right to explore the open market and the current system infringes on players abilities to receive a market value contract and truly reap all the benefits of a completely open market.
The players aren’t the only ones that suffer, here’s to hoping fans of the game get to see Desmond and Fowler in uniforms soon. After signing fellow qualifying offer free agent, Yovani Gallardo, the Orioles have also shown interest in Fowler. Unfortunately for Desmond, the White Sox, who had been a rumored destination, just signed Jimmy Rollins (a worse but more affordable player) filling their hole at shortstop. Hopefully this draft pick compensation system is fixed before next off-season so above-average players aren’t sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring once the season begins.