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October 26, 2012

Overthinking It

Predicting the First Offseason of Qualifying Offers

by Ben Lindbergh

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For the next several days, much of the baseball world will be watching the Tigers and Giants fight it out in the fall classic. But for the 28 teams whose seasons have already ended, the focus will be on what to do once the World Series is over and the winter’s work begins.

As soon as the Series ends, eligible players will become free agents. Under the new CBA, teams can still seek draft-pick compensation for departing free agents, but the old system of classifying free agents as “Type A” and “Type B” based on past performance has been abolished. Now, a team that wants to receive a compensatory pick at the end of the first round in the following year’s amateur draft has to make a “qualifying offer”: a one-year contract equal to the average of the top 125 salaries from the previous season (in this case, $13.3 million).

A player’s former team can continue to negotiate with him if he rejects the offer, but if he signs somewhere else, his new team will have to forfeit either a first- or a second-round pick (the first 10 picks are protected). In some cases, this could affect the size of the contract a free agent ultimately receives, since a team won't want to pay full price for a player and surrender a low pick (though the eventual earnings of a player good enough to receive a qualifying offer probably won't be affected as much as those of a relief pitcher who qualified for "Type A" status under the old system). A team can’t be compensated for a free agent unless he spent the whole season on its roster, which rules out mid-season trade targets like Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, and Shane Victorino (not to mention the amazing Marco Scutaro).

Qualifying offers must be extended by 5:00 PM Eastern on the fifth day after the World Series. Players who receive them will have until the seventh day after the Series to accept or reject. So which players are good candidates for qualifying offers, and what will their teams decide to do?

Easy Decisions

Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Hamilton, the highest-profile impending free agent, will almost certainly sign a lucrative, long-term contract somewhere this winter. He won’t be tempted by a one-year contract for a lower salary than he made this season, but the Rangers have nothing to lose by making the offer as they size up the market for his services.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
Lohse’s 16-3 season set him up for the kind of mega-contract a team might regret. The Cardinals won’t be the ones to give the 34-year-old big bucks, but they’ll want to collect a pick when another club does.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

David Ortiz, Red Sox
Ortiz made more than $14.8 million in 2012 and had his highest True Average ever (.343) when his achy Achilles allowed him to play, so a short-term contract at a lower AAV would be a best-case scenario for Boston. Ortiz and the Red Sox are reportedly close to a two-year deal that could be finalized this week, though, so the Sox likely won’t need to make a qualifying offer.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? No, assuming an extension is signed before Ortiz becomes a free agent. Otherwise, yes.

Jake Peavy, White Sox
The risk here is that teams will be too wary of Peavy’s injury history to offer him a multi-year contract or a single-season salary higher than $13.3 million when the White Sox decline his $22 million option for 2013. That risk seems small, though, since Peavy is still just 31 and stayed healthy and effective all season.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Rafael Soriano, Yankees
Following a successful season filling in for Mariano Rivera, Soriano is expected to opt out of the $14 million he’s owed for 2013. The Yankees wouldn’t mind bringing him back for one year as insurance for Rivera, so they’ll extend a qualifying offer. However, Soriano will want to go to a team where he can close instead of playing second fiddle to a 43-year-old, and he’ll probably command a multi-year contract. The Yankees will be glad to get the pick.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Nick Swisher, Yankees
The Yankees reportedly don’t want to re-sign Swisher for the price he’ll probably command, but they wouldn’t mind bringing him back on a one-year basis, even at a roughly $3 million raise from his 2012 salary.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Difficult Decisions

Michael Bourn, Braves
A qualifying offer would be a sizeable raise for Atlanta’s free-agent outfielder, but Bourn is a Scott Boras client, and his agent will want to pursue a bigger payday. The Braves might still bring him back, but they’ll make sure to get themselves a draft picking before deciding whether to up their offer.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Edwin Jackson, Nationals
Jackson faded in September, finishing yet another season as a league-average pitcher who seemed like he could be better. Even if that’s all he is, though, there’s value in an average starter who’s stayed off the disabled list since 2004. Jackson might get a better offer from a team that’s willing to pay more for his potential, but Washington wouldn’t be upset if they wound up with him for another year.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
The Yankees want to bring Kuroda back, but the newly budget-conscious club might want to make an opening offer below $13.3 million instead of starting the bidding there. The righty made $10 million this season and will turn 38 before Opening Day, so it’s possible that they could snag him for a little less, but his success in the AL East should attract other suitors. Extending a qualifying offer makes the most sense.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

Shaun Marcum, Brewers
Marcum is an effective starter when healthy, but he’s topped 200 innings only once, and he suffered another injury-plagued season in 2012. The soft-tosser’s fastball velocity sank slightly lower after his return from elbow tightness, and small-market Milwaukee likely won’t want to be on the hook for $13.3 million in the event that another team doesn’t pay him like a more durable pitcher.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? No

Mike Napoli, Rangers
It’s hard to find catchers who can hit, so Napoli should draw significant interest despite his down year and lackluster defense. However, a qualifying offer would represent a considerable raise, and he might decide to accept it and try to build his value back up for a bigger payday after next season. Catchers tend to decline quickly, and the Rangers might be wary of committing that much cash to one who is about to turn 31.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? No

B.J. Upton, Rays
The Rays’ highest-paid player made $7 million this season; offering Upton nearly twice that would be a considerable risk for a small-market team with a notoriously tight payroll. However, Upton will probably receive a multi-year offer from another team, and the Rays depend on draft picks to keep the cost-controlled talent coming. Even if Upton were to accept the Rays’ offer, they could probably find a team to take him via trade.
Will he receive a qualifying offer? Yes

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

17 comments have been left for this article.

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