Qualifying Offers: Who Should Accept?

 It’s year three of MLB’s qualifying offer experiment, and we’ve got our list of players that were extended $15.3 million contracts by their clubs. These are they:

Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles
Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies
Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates
Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
James Shields, Kansas City Royals

During the last two offseasons, exactly zero of the 22 players that were extended qualifying offers accepted them. I think that changes this year, after we all saw what happened to Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales once they turned them down. Since the team that signs a player that received a qualifying offer has to give up either their first or second round draft pick, it really depresses the markets on these good, but not great players. Would you give up a first rounder to pay Michael Cuddyer to hit outside of Coors Field? Of course not. You’re a smart person who can properly value baseball assets.

There are your elite free agents that will obviously turn down their qualifying offers, some guys who should absolutely take the qualifying offer, and one who resides in contract purgatory, if your definition of purgatory is deciding whether or not you should make fifteen point three million dollars next year. Here’s how I’m breaking them down:

Won’t Accept
Russell Martin
Victor Martinez
Hanley Ramirez
Pablo Sandoval
Max Scherzer
James Shields

The bottom four guys are all going to get huge multi-year deals. Martin and Martinez are going to get large multi-year deals, but theirs won’t be as long as those other four. This is a simple decision for these rich men who will be much richer very soon.

Should Accept
Melky Cabrera
Michael Cuddyer
Nelson Cruz
Francisco Liriano
Ervin Santana

Melky has the PED stain on him and was awful in 2013. He was good in 2014 (2.6 fWAR), but I don’t see a team that would be willing to go long term for a player with his history and give up a pick for him. Without a QO attached he’d be in line for a three or four year deal, making nine to 12 million per. With it, he’s looking for a job in March. Take that guaranteed paper, Melky.

Cuddyer will be 36 next season. He was great last year, but that was because he killed the ball so hard in Colorado (1.255(!) OPS) that it didn’t matter what he did on the road (.734 OPS). He should stay in Colorado where he’s Paul Bunyan. With the qualifying offer wrapped around his neck, I don’t see him getting more than Cruz did from the Orioles last season, and I’d bet on him getting under that. Would a team even offer him $15.3 million over the next two years if it meant surrendering a pick? Doubtful, right? Cuddyer should take the deal, or he might end up going the Stephen Drew route and signing after the 2015 draft.

Cruz knows how this works, as the Rangers made him a qualifying offer last year, which led to him signing a one year, $8 million deal with Baltimore. He had a better year than anyone could’ve hoped for, as he hit 40 bombs and proved to be a steal for the O’s. But still, he’ll be 34 next year, and I can’t see a team that would be willing to go more than two years on him. If I’m Cruz, I tell the O’s I’d take two years at $25 million, or I’m accepting the qualifying offer. Cruz will probably be back in Charm City next year, it’s just a matter of sorting out how long he’ll be staying.

Liriano has been really good to great for Pittsburgh the past two years, but he was really bad the two years prior. Liriano is one of the younger players that received a qualifying offer, but that doesn’t mean he should tempt the free agency fates. Given his erratic history, I don’t believe many teams would go longer than three years on him if he didn’t have qualifying offer attached, and I think he’d be in the same situation that Ervin Santana was in last year. Liriano has made “only” $19 million and change in his career, so nearly doubling your total career earnings in one season seems like the right choice to me.

Santana did this last year, and got his one year deal from the Braves. He had a good enough season in Atlanta, but he’s another year older and was better in 2013 than he was in 2014. No one made him a long term offer last season, so there’s no reason for him to believe that will magically change now. I think he’ll either take qualifying offer, or sign a two to three year deal with Atlanta for about $12 million per season.

Choices, Choices
David Robertson

I think making a qualifying offer to a relief pitcher is bonkers. Relievers are super fungible, hard to predict, and get hurt all the time. There are maybe three or four relievers in the majors who are worth that kind of money, and I don’t think Robertson is one of them. The Yankees obviously would like to have him back and I they can probably hash out a three or four year deal, but the opportunity for Robertson to get a huge one year paycheck and hit free agency again next season must be tempting. I can see this one going either way, but, regardless of his choice, Robertson is most likely closing in the Bronx next season.

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Jason A. Churchill

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