Just six MLB free agents received the one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer from their clubs prior to Sunday’s deadline: Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer, Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, Astros outfielder George Springer, Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman, and Giants right-hander Kevin Gausman. All six players must accept or decline the offers by 5 p.m. ET on November 11.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this news wouldn’t have been terribly surprising, as this is a relatively weak free-agent class, and one of its top talents, outfielder/DH Marcell Ozuna, already received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals last winter before eventually signing a one-year deal with the Braves, making him ineligible to receive a qualifying offer again.
The biggest surprise among the six is Gausman, who was designated for assignment by the Braves and moved to the bullpen by the Reds in 2019 before joining the Giants on a one-year deal and finally beginning to regain the form he displayed early in his career with the Orioles. The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly reports that the team is discussing a long-term deal with the 29-year-old starter, who posted a 3.62 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP over 12 appearances (10 starts) in 2020.
Bauer, 29, is widely regarded as the top starter on the market heading into free agency, having posted an NL-best 1.73 ERA and 0.80 WHIP with two complete-game shutouts in 11 starts in 2020. It’ll be interesting to see if he puts any thought into considering the offer, as he’s previously expressed a desire to only accept one-year deals in an attempt to bet on himself and maximize his earning potential.
Stroman, 29, is expected to return to baseball in 2020 after opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was stellar in 2019, throwing for a 3.22 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP over 32 starts between Toronto and New York.
Realmuto, 29, is the best catcher to reach the free-agent market in several generations, as the two truly elite backstops of the last decade, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, both signed long-term extensions with the clubs that drafted them rather than hitting free agency in their primes. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of contract the .278/.328/.455 career hitter is able to obtain during a winter that is expected to be unfavorable for free agents as teams try to cut costs after an abbreviated season played almost entirely without fans.
LeMahieu, 32, is the best pure hitter on the free agent market, and he’s quite frankly a player that the Yankees can’t afford to lose at the height of their current competitive window. The .305/.357/.430 career hitter has posted an incredible .336/.386/.536 slash line since joining the Yankees for the 2019 season and led the majors in batting average in 2020 while leading the AL in OBP and OPS.
Springer, 31, may be the most coveted free agent on the market, coming off a season in which he hit .265/.359/.540 with 14 homers. It’ll be interesting to see how much of an effort the Astros make to keep the three-time All-Star and 2017 World Series MVP, as they’ve already spent to keep veterans like Jose Altuve and Justin Verlander and will need to keep enough money available to try to retain Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman in the coming offseasons.