By Accepting Qualified Offer, Los Angeles Lefthander Joins Rare Company
Advice To MLB Players: Take The Money And Run To Avoid A Fickle Free Agent Market
Before Rejecting Team Offer, Examine The Unfortunate Case Of An All-Star Third Baseman
As the current decade heads to its last two years, complete games by starting pitchers have become very rare in Major League Baseball. In fact, there were fewer than two dozen nine inning shutouts in 2018, and that total will be even less as we approach 2020.
What has been even rarer during that time, believe it or not, is the number of players who have accepted qualifying offers of multi-millions of dollars. By rejecting what their current team has offered, eligible players can then pursue the free agent market.
While early on most players found more money on the open market, that trend has shifted in the past several seasons. That fact was made blatantly obvious last winter, when Mike Moustakas turned down a qualifying offer of seventeen million dollars by Kansas City.
The All-Star third baseman then found a lukewarm free agent market awaiting him, and he ended up signing with the Royals just before Spring Training for nearly half the sum he had been offered just a few months before.
You would think that what happened to Moustakas would have served as a wake up call to potential free agents this winter, but obviously that has not been the case. In November there were seven players who received qualifying offers from their teams, but only one of them accepted it. The other six may now face a free agent market that was as tepid as the one the Kansas City third baseman faced last year.
Left handed starter Hyun Jin Ryu, who made limited appearances due to injury last season, accepted the $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers. His teammate, catcher Yasmai Grandal, declined a similar offer and has now entered free agency.
Former National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper was among the decliners, choosing to forgo an offer from the Washington Nationals. Closer Craig Kimbrel, a former All-Star, turned down an offer from the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.
Dallas Kuechel, a left hander who won the Cy Young Award in 2016, walked away from a seventeen million dollar offer from the Houston Astros. The other two players who rejected qualifying offers were from the Arizona Diamondbacks, starter Patrick Corbin and outfielder A.J. Pollack.
Until Ryu took the money pit up by the Dodgers, only five other players have accepted qualifying offers since the practice was instituted in 2012. All but one of them did so wisely, based on their production and contracts signed the ensuing year.
Matt Weiters accepted $15 million from the Orioles in 2015, going on to double his home run total and earning selection to the American League All-Star squad. In spite of the increased production, however, Weiters still received a free agent contract worth five million less than what the Orioles had offered the previous season.
Outfielder Colby Rasmus of the Astros, on the other hand, saw his production take a nose dive after accepting the QO. His home run total dropped from 25 to 15, and his batting averaged thirty points to .206. Because of the decline, Baltimore was able to sign him to a free agent contract worth just one third of what he had gotten from Houston's QO the season before.
Shortly after accepting the QO from the Dodgers in 2015, starter Brett Anderson suffered an injury which ruined his season. His win total went from ten down to just one, as he pitched only eleven innings in 2016. After Los Angeles let him go as a free agent, Anderson managed to sign with the Chicago Cubs for just one fifth of what he had made from the QO the year before.
After cashing in on the QO from the Phillies in 2016, pitcher Jeremy Hellickson saw his numbers suffer. His win total dropped from twelve to six, and his earned run average went from 3.65 to 5.43. As a result of that decline, Philadelphia traded him to Baltimore at the July trade deadline.
In 2016 second baseman Neil Walker agreed to the QO from the Mets and, looking back, he is the only player who probably should have left it on the table. Because Walker nearly doubled his home run total and raised his batting average twenty points that year, he was awarded with a contract for $17 million rather than the ten he had accepted the winter before.
The five year history of qualifying contracts has clearly shown that most players should accept them, for there is a trend of declining production the following year. Unfortunately, only Ryu actually learned the lesson from the case of Mike Moustakas last winter.