The Qualifying Offer is a one-year deal provided by teams to their free agents. What makes a player eligible to receive it is if they played the entire season with one team and have never received it before. For example, Javier Baez is one of the marquee free agents this winter, yet he was ineligible to receive the qualifying offer because he was traded mid-season. The qualifying offer is worth $18.4M, which is the mean salary of the highest-paid 125 players in MLB. A grand total of 14 players received it and they have until November 17th to accept or decline the offer.
Usually, it is easy to tell if a player might accept or reject the offer. It is only a one-year deal, so it does not provide much long-term security. Additionally, the offer brings about a higher salary than most players would make on an AAV scale. Major free agents like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien are all but likely to reject it. One of the players who many thought might accept the offer, outfielder Michael Conforto, declined it. It is always interesting to ponder which free agents might actually accept the offer. Since its conception in 2012, only 10 of the 96 players offered a QO actually accepted it.
The Most Interesting Cases
Michael Conforto is a talented player who just had the worst year of his career. He is only 28 years old and it seemed likely he would accept the offer and go back out onto the market next offseason. Conforto’s decision to decline makes it more interesting to wonder if Noah Syndergaard will do the same. Coming off Tommy John Surgery, he has only thrown two innings since 2019. That is the downside to all of this. His injury is what makes it seem likely he will accept the qualifying offer. It serves as a one-year pillow contract in which “Thor” can rebuild his value into free agency next year.
With that said, he has the type of upside that can be leveraged into multi-year offers. Sure, $18.4M is a lot to turn down for someone who has barely pitched in two years. However, ace-caliber pitchers make more than that in today’s game. When healthy, Syndergaard has been exactly that. He has a career ERA of 3.32, 2.93 FIP, has a top-10 Cy Young finish, and has multiple 180+ inning seasons under his ledger. Perhaps he wants the security of a multi-year deal, even if it is a lower average annual value than $18 million. Teams know that a healthy Syndergaard can provide a big boon to their rotation.
Eduardo Rodriguez is not the most flashy or well-known free agent pitcher. However, his is perhaps the most interesting case of all the qualifying offer decisions. You look at a pitcher who just posted a 4.74 ERA across 31 starts, and you think of a durable fifth starter who just isn’t that good. However, this is not the way to describe Rodriguez. He may have been the unluckiest pitcher in baseball this year. The Boston Red Sox infield did not do him any favors this season as the left side alone combined to post -23 outs above average (OAA). This contributed to an abornally high .363 BABIP and an ERA much higher than other measures. His xERA, FIP, and xFIP all ranged between 3.32 and 3.55, which is much more in line with how true talent as a pitcher.
Between his 10.6 K/9, 3.32 FIP, and 3.8 fWAR in 2021, there was a lot to like about his season. This is where it gets interesting. At the end of the day, baseball is about results. The result of his run prevention does not look great. While Rodriguez is not an ace, he is a great No. 2 or 3 option on most teams. He has stated his desire to remain in Boston but the question is if he is willing to take the one-year contract, or seek long-term security. It looks like a realistic option that Rodriguez declines the offer and works out a multi-year deal to stay in Boston.
Justin Verlander wants to pitch until he is 45. He wants to be the Nolan Ryan of the 21st century. This is incredible and what makes his case very interesting. Coming off Tommy John Surgery, Verlander has thrown six innings since 2019. 2022 will be his age-39 season, meaning he wants to pitch for at least five more years. On reputation alone, there are several teams out there that would be willing to give Verlander more than $18 million. However, there probably are not as many who would offer him a multi-year deal. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2019, his last full season, as he posted a 21-6 record with a 2.58 ERA and 300 SO over 223 innings.
Considering Verlander held a workout for teams on Monday, he might look to make his free agency decision sooner rather than later. Per ESPN insider, Buster Olney, “Justin Verlander impressed at his workout today, with velocity up to 96 mph.” Verlander’s most recent contract was a two-year deal worth $66 million. Even at the age of 39, a healthy Verlander can likely command at least $25 million on the open market. It just comes down to Verlander’s willingness to accept either a one-year deal or multi-year deals. Whether or not Verlander wants to return to the Houston Astros is unknown, but his reputation and talent make for an interesting decision, regardless of his age.
In most years, it is pretty well-known who would accept or decline the qualifying offer. 2021 is not an exception, yet we still have a few free agents whose cases are extremely interesting. Whether its because of injury, age, underperformance, and whatever else, these three players are most unsure to accept or decline. This time of the year is always fascinating because it is a reflection on what some free agents prioritize and how certain players view themselves.
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