The amount of a qualifying offer will jump from $13.3MM to $14.1MM this offseason. Not a bad raise, considering most 20-30 year-olds haven't made $800K in their entire lives.
Teams often have to decide whether to protect themselves by extending the qualifying offer with the promise of a draft pick should the player decline it and sign elsewhere, or to avoid the risk that a borderline player may accept the offer and earn a substantial salary on a one-year deal. Sometimes, extending the offer is a no-brainer, like in the Red Sox case with Jacoby Ellsbury. The oft-injured centerfielder is talented enough to earn significantly more than $14.1MM per season and will undoubtedly sign a multi-year deal this offseason.
Other situations aren't as cut and dry, but still favor the club. Players like Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees afford their team a win-win situation. Should Kuroda accept the qualifying offer, the Yanks will have a top-of-the-rotation starter at a fair price for 2014, and if Kuroda declines in favor of the open market, New York will be awarded a first- or second-round pick as compensation. Then there are the truly tough choices for teams like the Red Sox have in Stephen Drew and the Giants with Tim Lincecum.
These teams would love to pick up an additional draft choice in the 2014 Draft, but they may decide the risk of being forced to bring back their players isn't worth the potential gain. It's not that Drew and Lincecum would gravely injure their 2013 clubs next season, but San Francisco and Boston (and other teams in this situation) may have plans that clash with an option that proves to be too expensive in contrast to the alternatives. Boston especially, has begun to gravitate away from swanky high-dollar commitments, and they're also among the league's best in manipulating the landscape of the draft.
Players also have evaluations to make when qualifying offers come in. Last year, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse navigated the well-chronicled environs of the post-qualifying limbo. Both players ended up with multi-year deals at less per season than the $13.3MM figure of the Q.O. Cleveland and Milwaukee surrendered draft picks in this April's draft to sign Bourn and Lohse. Players like Lincecum and Drew may be inclined to accept the one-year deal (should they be offered it) in an effort to guarantee a solid payday and build their value for the 2015 free agent market. Should they decline, they could find themselves victims to the Bourn-Lohse effect, as MLB Trade Rumors' Jeff Todd puts it. It's not exactly a mano-a-mano situation, but the player's agents and general mangers may begin to feel that way in the midst of negotiations. Here are a few thoughts from around the league on players and teams that could find themselves rose-in-teeth, come decision time:
The San Francisco Giants vs. Tim Lincecum
Other offers might be in the 2/20 range, and they'd take him away from an adoring fanbase and out of his comfort range. If he nailed the one-year deal, he'd be in line for high-eight, low-nine figures. Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles
The Boston Red Sox vs. Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Jarod Saltalamacchia and Mike Napoli
I expect Napoli, Drew, Salty, and Ellsbury to all receive qualifying offers, with all of them declining. The Sox will likely try to re-sign Napoli and Salty, hoping that attaching draft pick compensation to them thins out their markets (whether that works or not is another matter entirely, but there's no harm in trying). Ellsbury is going to sign elsewhere regardless of the QO, and Drew will probably end up signing a lucrative multi-year deal elsewhere despite his own QO since he's a more than capable shortstop. Marc Normandin, Over the Monster
The Kansas City Royals vs. Ervin Santana
Logic dictates that the Royals make the qualifying offer to Santana and that he declines. Unless the Glass family are willing to increase payroll significantly, it just doesn't seem probable that this situation plays out any other way. Santana's penchant for delivering spectacularly disastrous seasons should all but eliminate the possibility of his acceptance of the Royals' qualifying offer when multiple years in the range of $15MM per year is the alternative. Josh Duggan, Royals Review
The Cleveland Indians vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
Jimenez will be made an offer, but is pretty sure to decline it because after the second half he had, he's sure to get multiyear offers. The only other candidate on the team would be Scott Kazmir. With him, it seems to come down to whether you think his second half is who you think he is going forward. If you look at his splits, you'll find he was also very good after the break (really, the entire Indians rotation was), someone worth $14M a year. Teams might not put that much stock in 3 good months though, considering his career from 2010-2012. Jason Lukehart, Let's Go Tribe
The Texas Rangers vs. Nelson Cruz
The Rangers have said they are planning on making him the qualifying offer. The folks in the media think he's likely to decline, as he wants a multi-year deal, but its not a slam-dunk he will decline. No one else will get an offer. Adam J. Morris, Lone Star Ball