Let’s talk about qualifying offers, the weird quirk introduced in the last CBA that almost certainly will be either eliminated or considerably changed in the next CBA. Intended to provide compensation for teams losing free agents, it’s instead put some lower-level free agents — think Kyle Lohse, Kendrys Morales, & Stephen Drew — in a position where they can’t come close to their value because teams don’t want to surrender a draft pick to sign them.
That hasn’t been a problem for the elite guys like Max Scherzer & Robinson Cano, but it’s also opened a loophole where free-agents-to-be practically beg to be traded because teams can’t drop an offer on a player they acquired in-season. This year, that’s a godsend for older or fragile guys like Ben Zobrist & Scott Kazmir, and it could be a nightmare for good-but-not-elite players like Daniel Murphy & Colby Rasmus.
Anyway, this year, the qualifying offer is $15.8 million for one season. (That’s not an invented number; it’s the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball.) Remember, no one has ever accepted a qualifying offer. As we reviewed, the Dodgers could have five potential free agents to make calls on (yes, Zack Greinke counts once he opts out; no, I’m not pretending we care about Chase Utley or Bronson Arroyo once options are declined).
Four of them are pretty easy. The fifth, well…
Ha. Not a prayer. A 37-year-old coming off his worst season with Corey Seager clearly ready to go doesn’t warrant a roster spot, much less a big raise over the $11m he made this year.
Yes. Obviously. Free agents of this caliber will get paid, draft pick be damned. Ideally he returns and this isn’t an issue, but this is a free pick, because there’s a zero percent chance he accepts the offer, and you sure as hell wouldn’t be mad if for some reason he did. (He won’t.)
Nah. This assumes that he’ll decline his player option and test the market, which is not a certainty. Howell has been pretty useful in three seasons in Los Angeles, but even a team that literally does not care about money is not going to quadruple his 2015 salary for a non-elite middle reliever.
Yes. Of course. With Zobrist, Utley, and Murphy, the second base market is relatively deep this winter, but Kendrick contributed another reliably solid season, and someone will look past the pick and pay him. You’d be thrilled if he accepted the offer, but of course, he won’t, so you’ll take the pick.
This is the trickier one. Anderson’s Game 3 implosion left a bad taste in the mouths of fans, mostly those angry that the team went with him as the No. 3 starter rather than trading for Johnny Cueto, David Price, or Cole Hamels. (None of whom had any October difficulties!) That ignores that he was never intended to be the third-best starter until Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy blew up… but that’s another conversation.
Anyway, despite the fact that it seems Anderson has been around forever, he still isn’t even 28 until February, and 180 innings of 3.69 ERA/3.94 FIP are numbers that any team in baseball would take from a back-end starter. Since he was paid $10m coming off years of injuries, it’s understandable that he’d want a raise after a healthy season, and since he can’t necessarily count on another one, he’d be best served to market himself for a multi-year deal right now.
Now, he’s probably the kind of guy who falls into that Lohse/Drew trap and is crushed by the offer, but that’s not necessarily the Dodgers’ problem. If he accepts the offer, then a rotation that has two starters right now — and that’s if you rely on Alex Wood — gets a third, and you pay him slightly more than you want for the luxury of committing only to one year. “But $15.8m is too much for a fifth starter,” you protest, and, well, probably, but so what? He’s getting a bump over 2015, and a few million here or there, on this team, just doesn’t matter. Which is to say, you can’t say “I’d be okay with him for $10m but not $15.8m,” because the difference is irrelevant.
So the choice is really between “let him walk for nothing,” or “hope for a pick, risk paying slightly too much for a back-end starter while avoiding a multiple-year commitment.” Seems easy to me, especially when remembering no one has ever taken an offer.