As quickly as the baseball season officially ended with seven games of an unforgettable World Series is as quickly as the next stage began — the offseason.
Kicking off one of the most active offseasons in professional sports is the start of MLB free agency. For the past few years, before a player on an expiring contract has hit the open market, the team that currently owns his services is able to provide a qualifying offer. This offer — $15.3 million for one year — is somewhat comparable to the National Football League’s franchise tag. The caveat, in baseball, is that if the offer is declined — in the previous two seasons, no player has accepted the offer — the new team that signs the player must provide a draft pick to the former franchise as compensation.
The mindset behind this theory is that teams should be somewhat protected by free agency, and that losing a player to a team with a bigger budget is not entirely without some benefits. In concept, the theory is sound. In practice, it is flawed.
Many players actually remain unsigned because of this system. For example, Kendrys Morales did not sign with a team until June 9th, when his acquisition would not cost the Mariners a draft pick. Stephen Drew saw his value plummet as his high contract demands and first or second round pick — depending on the team that signed him — was too steep a price.
In all likelihood, even with the recent memory of seeing players like Morales and Drew have their stock plummet because of the association with a lost draft pick, every player will likely decline his qualifying offer. When they do, they will be free to negotiate with any team as a free agent.
Here are the top free agents who received a qualifying offer, assuming they all decline their offers: