Qualifying offers have fundamentally altered Major League Baseball offseasons since 2012. Some of the hottest free agents available now come with extra baggage.
Organizations are allowed to offer their players that enter free agency a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. If a new team signs a player who rejected his qualify offer, then that team has to sacrifice a first-round draft pick or the next highest pick.
Teams that finished bottom 10 by record the previous season have protection of their first round pick. The other 20 ball clubs might be more hesitant to sign players who rejected qualifying offers because they would lose a first rounder.
The media covers players’ asking prices and the various teams they are rumored to sign with. According to Hardball Talk, starting pitcher Ervin Santana asked for an over $100 million deal in free agency. He rejected the qualifying offer that the Kansas City Royals made him.
Santana began March without a contract with a ball club. The media reported on every rumor regarding teams he was linked to, but nothing came to fruition until mid-March.
He ended up signing an underwhelming one-year, $14.1 million with the Atlanta Braves. Perhaps he would not have gotten a nine-figure deal regardless of the qualify offer, but it made teams already hesitant about Santana even more concerned. The consequence of losing a future draft pick kept him on the free agent market until just two weeks before the season began.
The Braves signed Santana a few days after their ace Kris Medlen suffered an injury during spring training that they feared would sideline him throughout the entire 2014 season. He ended up needing major surgery.
Even though Santana cost a first rounder, the Braves are a competitive team that was not willing to give up due to the loss of Medlen.
“It depends on where they are as a franchise. The Braves see themselves as a World Series contender. They are expected to win right now. They had to sacrifice their future to an extent,” said Jared Diamond, the New York Mets beat writer for the Wall Street Journal.
Diamond believes that qualifying offers mainly come into play for second or third tier athletes and emergencies, such as what happened to the Braves. Teams are comfortable giving up a prospect for star-caliber free agents knowing that they will get production of out of the signee.
“If you’re a real star, you get signed,” he said. “You get signed no matter what because you’re a great player.”
The qualifying offer system favors teams that make offers to free agents who end up not returning because they get compensated with a draft pick. Free agents that are not bonafide stars, such as Santana, seem to suffer in the process.
Newspaper outlets and blogs strive to educate fans on the intricacies of qualifying offers.
“There’s not enough of a sample. Every year, there’ll be more of an understanding. Their agents [of second and third tier talent] made a miscalculation, and it’s hard to blame them. No one knew how it would go down,” said Diamond.