Unless MLB and the player’s union quickly finalize a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) changing the qualified offer (QO) system, the current QO system will stay in effect unless a new CBA changes it retroactively. Most analysts expect the current QO system will stay “as is” and will be modified for next year.
On the morning of September 26th, it was a near 100% certainty that Wilson Ramos would be the only Nationals player that they would extend a qualified offer to. In an instant that changed when Ramos injured his knee later that day. There is now a near 0% chance the Nationals will extend a $17.2 million (estimated) qualifying offer to Ramos. Pending free agents like Mark Melancon are not eligible to be tagged by the QO since they were acquired during the season. The Nats will not tag Stephen Drew or Chris Heisey with a QO.
It appears the only way the Nationals will be affected by the QO is if they acquire a player tagged with a QO. Players who will be tagged this year and looking like “sure things” are Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, and Kenley Jansen. Matt Wieters accepted his QO last year, and while he is eligible this year, it is unknown at this point if he will be tagged again with a QO.
Background on the QO and the CBA
This will be the 5th off-season of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which is set to expire on December 1st of this year, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was very optimistic back in May that both sides would reach an agreement long before it expired. The CBA includes the Qualified Offer system to compensate teams who offer their current players who are eligible to leave for Free Agency a ‘QO’.
The player can either accept it or reject a QO, and they have 1 week to decide, and if they take it, they would stay with their current team for 1 year at the QO amount or if they decline it and sign with a new team, their old team would get a compensation Draft pick if the player signs with a new team prior to the 2017 June draft. The QO amount is determined by the average salary of the top 125 players in the MLB for 2016. It is believed that amount will be near $17.2 million for any player receiving a qualified offer.
Here’s the QO schedule:
- November: (November ?, 2016 5:00 PM EST) 5 days after the World Series ends sets the deadline for teams to make their QO’s (Qualified Offer) to pending free agents and this is optional for teams to offer (see below)
- November: (November ?, 2016 5:00 PM EST) 12 days after World Series ends sets the deadline for Free Agents to accept/decline their QO’s (see below)
Past Issues with the QO System
Let’s look at two of Scott Boras’ free agents from prior years in Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. Neither signed by Opening Day in 2014 and held out for a great deal, and were willing to wait until the June draft to find a suitable contract, and if necessary, hold out until the June’s draft where the QO compensation expired and the team that signed them would only have to pay for approximately 4 months of service and wouldn’t cost them a Draft pick. Drew was the starting shortstop on the Red Sox 2013 World Series championship team, and Kendrys Morales who hit 23 HRs with 80 RBIs for the Mariners rejected the 2014 QO amount of $14.1 million. Both were good Free Agents that appeared to be burdened by the QO draft compensation the new team would have to forfeit if they signed them prior to the June 2014 draft.
Boras in 2014 said this about Drew and Morales, “The system they’ve been dealt has basically prevented them from free agency. They want to make sure about their next step, whatever that will be. It means either signing a long-term contract now, and we’re still taking offers on those or a number of other prospects that could occur after the season starts or in June, after the draft happens. Like any players, they want to play baseball. But they’re also looking at the long-term aspect of their careers. This system has placed them not in free agency, but it’s placed them in a jail.”
Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz both turned down their QO’s after the 2013 season and sought multi-year deals and both settled for 1 year deals, and in Cruz’s case got $8 million from Baltimore costing him $6.1 million if he had accepted the QO when offered, and Santana took a 1 year deal for the $14.1 million with the Braves.
The current QO system will stay in effect unless it is changed in baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. Most likely the QO system will be changed as the player’s and their agents, and their union (MLBPA) have voiced displeasure over the system.
Boras continued, “I started preparing these guys in November  for what I knew was going to happen. Everybody talks about these players turning down these [1 year] Qualifying Offers like they’re ‘village idiots’. The reason is, they don’t want to be in the same position again next year. If I’m a good player, I’m going to take the prospect of free agency. If I’m one of these players, I’m not on the train to Free Agency. I’m on the Ferris wheel of multiple qualifying offers. It’s circular, and there’s no escape hatch to the system. The integrity of the game is at hand here. Clubs are refusing to employ premium free agents for their true market value because of an artificial, collectively bargained process that does not help the game or the fans’ perception of the game. These players earned their free agency and played at very high levels to get it. The credo has to be, ‘We pay performance, and the best performance should be compensated appropriately.’ Under this system, we have a huge gap. We have players of lesser performance getting compensated dramatically more.”
As the story went, Kendrys Morales was none too pleased with the situation and with his agent and eventually dropped Boras as his agent and moved to the Wasserman Group. Stephen Drew had averaged below ‘Mendoza’ since the 2013 season until this year, and Boras is still registered as Drew’s agent. Drew will once again be a Free Agent this off-season, and as mentioned, the Nationals will not extend a qualified offer to Drew although Mike Rizzo has mentioned he would like to re-sign Drew.