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Will any of the twenty players to receive a QO accept it?

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The deadline for MLB teams to extend a qualifying offer to pending free agents was Friday. Will any of those twenty players be the first free agent in four years to accept the QO from their team?

Former Nats pitcher Marco Estrada was one of twenty players who were tendered a qualifying offer by their former teams on Friday. Could he be the first player ever to accept the QO?
Former Nats pitcher Marco Estrada was one of twenty players who were tendered a qualifying offer by their former teams on Friday. Could he be the first player ever to accept the QO?
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals had four players that everyone expected to receive a qualifying offer before the 2015 season began. With the season now in the books, the Nats actually gave that qualifying offer to just two of those four players: Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann. Doug Fister and Denard Span each looked like sure things before the season began, but the Nats didn't tender the $15.8 million qualifying offer to either player.

We discussed the players that the Nats decided on a few weeks ago, primarily focusing on Span. While I didn't make any definitive statement as to whether or not I thought Span would receive the qualifying offer, I was a bit surprised Friday evening when it was announced that he didn't receive one. Barring any setbacks or early indications that his recovery from hip surgery was going to be slowed, it seemed like the most likely outcome was that the Nats would give him the offer and that he would reject it. As discussed in the comments below that article, even if they gave Span a QO and he accepted it, it would have been unlikely to be a big overpay, and it would only have been a one year deal. The fact that two of the other free agent outfielders - Dexter Fowler and Colby Rasmus - who I would consider mid-tier free agents (much like Span) received qualifying offers added to the surprise of Span not getting one. While Fowler and Rasmus head into the offseason healthy, a healthy Span would certainly be expected to be atop that middle tier outfielder group.

We already know about the (now technically former) Nats players who have become free agents, though. Let's spend a little time today talking about the twenty players who did receive qualifying offers to see if one of them will finally be the first player to call his team's bluff and accept it. The 2015-16 offseason will be the fourth year that the qualifying offer system has determined free agent compensation. In the first three years under the qualifying offer system, exactly zero players have accepted the qualifying offer. Over the years, there have been a handful of players whose rejection of the qualifying offer seemed risky. At least a couple of those players have to regret turning down the qualifying offers they received.

  • Stephen Drew turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer for the 2014 season from the Boston Red Sox. Six weeks into the 2014 season, he re-signed with the Red Sox for $10.1 million after no other teams were willing to concede a draft pick and sign Drew to the big multi-year deal he wanted. He signed a one year deal for $5 million with the Yankees last season. Over the past two seasons, he's earned just $1 million more than he would have in 2014 if he'd accepted the qualifying offer.
  • In that same offseason, Kendrys Morales was tendered a qualifying offer by the Seattle Mariners. He rejected it and eventually signed a one year deal with the Twins after the 2014 draft once the pick was no longer attached to him. Six weeks later, the Twins traded him back to Seattle. In 2015, with no compensation tied to him, Morales inked a two year deal (with a third option year) with the Royals. In the past two years, Morales earned a grand total of $13.9 million, or about $200,000 less than he would have made in 2014 alone if he'd just accepted the qualifying offer in the first place.
Here are the twenty players who received qualifying offers on Friday:

Player Position Former Team
Ian Desmond SS Nationals
Brett Anderson SP Dodgers
Wei-Yin Chen SP Orioles
Marco Estrada SP Blue Jays
Yovani Gallardo SP Rangers
Zack Greinke SP Dodgers
Hisashi Iwakuma SP Mariners
Ian Kennedy SP Padres
John Lackey SP Cardinals
Jeff Samardzija SP White Sox
Jordan Zimmermann SP Nationals
Dexter Fowler OF Cubs
Alex Gordon OF Royals
Jason Heyward OF Cardinals
Colby Rasmus OF Astros
Justin Upton OF Padres
Matt Wieters C Orioles
Daniel Murphy 2b/3b Mets
Howie Kendrick 2b Dodgers
Chris Davis 1b/OF Orioles

When considering that there are ten starting pitchers on this list who would have draft picks attached to them (if everyone on the list above rejects the QO), let's not forget that there are some big name free agent starters who were ineligible to receive a QO. Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, and David Price were all traded during the season. When you look at those five outfielders who received a QO, don't forget that Yoenis Cespedes is also going to be out there looking for a big payday as well. Don't forget that Fowler and Rasmus will have draft picks attached to them while a similarly valued (perhaps slightly higher valued) player like Span will not have a draft pick attached to him. The majority of these guys figure to reject the qualifying offer, just as every free agent has since this system was put into effect. More than half of the players on the list above can probably ignore that they received a QO, knowing that they'll easily surpass that value on the open market. However, there are a handful here who should probably give accepting the QO some serious consideration.

Ian Kennedy: 2015 - 9-15, 4.28 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 174:52 K:BB ratio in 168.1 IP.... Career: 75-68, 3.98 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 1140:412 K:BB ratio in 1234.2 IP

Kennedy had a breakout season in his second year with the Diamondbacks, finishing fourth in the Cy Young balloting after compiling a 2.88 ERA and (cough) winning 21 games. Alas, that was in 2011. His strikeout rate (9.30 the past two years) is something that may convince teams to try and take a stab at him despite the fact that a draft pick is attached to him. That said, Kennedy is a 31-year-old with a career ERA (and FIP) just under 4.00. He's coming off of a season in which his ERA was well over 4 despite calling Petco Park home. Since that 2011 breakout, he's finished with an ERA and FIP of over 4.00 in three of four seasons. Maybe the strikeout rate convinces a team that he's got a little more upside than his other ratios in the past four years suggest, but that's really only taking his profile from that of a middle-to-back end starter to a straight middle of the rotation guy. Is that going to convince a team to give him more value in a three or four year deal than he'd be looking at with 1/$15.8 million?

Marco Estrada: 2015 - 13-8, 3.13 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 131:55 K:BB ratio in 181 IP... Career: 36-34, 3.95 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 639:201 K:BB ratio in 722 IP

Estrada had the best year of his career at the right time. Just a year removed from shuffling between the rotation and the bullpen in Milwaukee, Estrada began the year as a reliever in Toronto. By the end of April, he'd taken advantage of an opportunity that some injuries in front of him created and worked his way into the rotation. By the time all was said and done, Estrada made two starts in the ALCS, including the Game 1 start against the Royals. His changeup was suddenly getting Johan Santana type praise as well.

That's awesome, and Estrada certainly did quite a bit to rehabilitate his career this season and earn himself what figures to be a pretty decent payday. That said, the 32-year-old Estrada has just over $10 million in career earnings, including a career high $3.9 million salary this past season in 2015. There's a track record here of a guy who has generally been a back end starter/swing man for most of his big league career. In fact, he's had just one season (2013) where he's had less than six appearances out of the bullpen. If you were aware that many teams might look at you through that microscope, would you have an easy time turning down $15.8 million?

Brett Anderson: 2015 - 10-9, 3.69 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 116:46 K:BB ratio in 180.1 IP.... Career: 37-41, 3.83 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 502:179 K:BB ratio in 674.1 IP

From a talent and consistency standpoint, Anderson has been better than the two pitchers listed above. When you add durability to the mix, though, teams may be a bit more gunshy. Anderson threw a career high 180 innings in 2015. In seven big league seasons, that's the second time that he's made more than nineteen starts in a single season and just the third time that he's thrown more than 100 innings. Here's an excerpt from Anderson's free agent profile at MLB Trade Rumors:

Since 2011, Anderson has missed significant time with elbow issues resulting in Tommy John surgery; an oblique strain; a stress fracture in his foot; a broken finger; and a herniated disc in his lower back. Many of those injuries haven’t been arm problems, at least, and it’s possible Anderson has partially been the victim of flukes, but that long list is still a scary one.

Tommy John surgery has become fairly commonplace, but Anderson has had a laundry list of injuries that have cost him a lot of time over the years. It would be reasonable to think that some GMs will shy away from signing a player with that type of injury history, particularly when a draft pick is added to the mix. To balance things out a bit, Anderson is also one of the younger players on this list (27), so teams may be more willing to take the risk on him because they're not expecting much (any?) age related decline.

Other pitchers who are a little iffy

John Lackey is coming off of a great season (2.77 ERA), but his age (37) was probably limiting the length of his next contract a bit. A draft pick is now attached to him as well. I don't think it will really be that big a problem for Lackey, though.... Wei-Yin Chen is another name (like Kennedy or Estrada) that just doesn't jump off the page as someone who will get better value than the 1/$15.8M that a QO presents him with, but he's had more consistency than Kennedy or Estrada and has been extremely durable.

Colby Rasmus: 2015 - .238/.314/.475, 25 HR... Career: .245/.313/.443, 141 HR

Rasmus is a middling defensive outfielder with nice power and strikeout problems. Once considered a terrific five-tool prospect, Rasmus seems to have decided to try and go the three true outcomes way instead. His walk rate is a tad low to truly fit that mold, but his strikeout rate (31.3% the past three years) and Isolated Power (.228 in that same span) are certainly trending in that direction. As a free agent last season with no draft pick attached to him, Rasmus signed a one year deal with Houston for $8 million. He did boost his OBP from .287 (2014) to .314 and bumped his home run total from 18 to 25, so he is coming off of a better season than he was in 2014. Still, it's hard to see him nearly doubling his salary when a draft pick is now involved.

Dexter Fowler: 2015 - .250/.346/.411, 17 HR, 20 SB... Career: .267/.363/.418, 65 HR, 114 SB

I'm not really sure what to make of Fowler's free agency. I've always liked Fowler, and his career statistics with the bat should certainly make him an attractive option this offseason for a lot of teams. Oddly enough, he's always seemed like a player who doesn't get as much recognition as he's deserved for what he's done. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he's spent most of his career calling Coors Field home? It could also have something to do with his reputation for being subpar with the glove in Center Field.

Still, let's just look at that triple slash line. That's the prototypical leadoff man right there. He's never hit for a huge average, but he's carried a 12.4% walk rate for his career. He's got a little pop (double digit homers in three of the past four years) and good speed. While his success rate on the basepaths tells me he's not someone I'd want to see given the green light every time he's on base, he fits a nice hybrid of the old school (gulp... Dusty) leadoff man and the new school leadoff man with his .363 career OBP. The OBP wasn't that inflated by Coors, as he had a .375 OBP in 2014 with the Astros and a .346 OBP this season in Chicago.

Other hitters who are iffy

Daniel Murphy seemed to be a fringe guy before his massive postseason performance. I think he was probably going to get the QO either way, and I do expect him to reject it. He's (extremely) limited defensively. He's a good average/mediocre OBP guy who racks up his fair share of extra base hits - primarily doubles. He was also the toughest man in MLB to strike out this season. He'll get a three year deal somewhere.

Will anyone accept it?

I think this is finally the year that someone takes the guaranteed money that the qualifying offer gives them, and I wouldn't be shocked if there are multiple players who go that route. I'll go with Estrada as the most likely pitcher to accept it. As much as his changeup separated his performance from past years, he just doesn't have a successful enough track record so that I feel confident he'll get the three years/$36 million+ that would make turning the QO down. Rasmus is the clear choice of the position players. He settled for just over half of the QO last year without the draft pick attached to him. He didn't show dramatic enough improvement with the bat this past season so that I think he can feel confident that a team will make it worth his while to turn the QO down either.