The last few MLB offseasons have proven that baseball, without a shadow of a doubt, has a flawed free agent system. The flaw lies behind the qualifying offer system; qualifying offers result in slow developing markets for top tier players, which causes a ripple effect for the lower level free agents and the trade market. The system has been around since the 2012-2013 offseason, and has had progressively worse effects each year it sticks around.
How the qualifying offer works -
- The value of the qualifying offer is determined annually by averaging the top 125 player salaries from the previous year. All qualifying offers are for one year contracts.
- Teams have until five days after the World Series to make qualifying offers. At that point the players have seven days to accept.
- Once a team makes a qualifying offer, the player has two choices: he can accept the one-year deal or decline in search of other offers. If he declines the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team will have to surrender a top draft pick
- No player who accepts a qualifying offer can be traded before June 15th of the following season, unless he gives his consent. Even if a player grants such consent, only $50K in cash can be exchanged as part of the trade.
- Teams that sign free agents who turned down qualifying offers will surrender their first unprotected draft pick in the following year’s draft. The first ten selections in the draft are protected. Should a team with a protected pick sign a player who rejected a QO, those clubs would then surrender their second-highest selections.
- Forfeited picks don’t go to other MLB teams (as they used to under the old Type A/B system). Instead, they disappear and the first round is condensed. In turn, teams that lose a player who declined a qualifying offer are awarded a compensatory pick at the end of the first round, before the competitive balance choices. Such compensation picks are awarded in the inverse order of record. As a result of these rules, the draft order is constantly fluctuating over the offseason.
- When a team re-signs a player that has previously declined a qualifying offer from that team, no draft forfeiture or compensation takes place.
- Only players who have been with their clubs for the entire previous season are eligible for compensation. Thus, players traded mid-season cannot recieve qualifying offers.
- Qualifying offers operate independently of options. Hence, a player can receive a qualifying offer even if their option is declined (whether by team or player) or if they opt out.
The reasons it is a flawed system -
A better name for qualifying offers would be the cat and mouse game between an agent and a GM. I will profile three different types of players, and how their situations play out the majority of the time. Not included below, is how the lack of interest in many free agents also slows the trade market.
- Number one would be the younger-in their prime player who is near the top of his free agent class. Said player is more than likely in line for a qualifying offer, which his agent will very wisely tell him there is no logical reason to accept. What reason is there for a player, in his prime, to accept a one year contract when he could potentially get a multi-year deal for more money? Said player then declines the offer, which attaches the price tag of a draft pick to him. Some teams who provide a perfect fit for this player then lose interest, and the other ones decide they aren't willing to pay him as much considering they will also lose a draft pick. This player then suffers in a slow developing market, and often settles on a deal that is not best for him at this point in his career.
- Number two is the player who has thrived in the league for some time, but is perhaps coming off a down year. This players agent will tell him that while he could accept the one year qualifying offer and attempt to build his free agent stock, it would likely be wiser to decline it and get the big bucks while you can. For obvious reasons, a player who has the tags "lose a draft pick", and "coming off a down year" will cause the majority of front offices to balk. Even if the interest remains, they will look into other options first, perhaps as a ploy to let the market for said player cool down a bit before offering him less than he is looking for.
- The third, and final profile, is the veteran who perhaps has more value in the clubhouse than on the field. This player could perhaps still be at a level where he could still be an every day player, but more often than not is a better fit as a bench, utility, or platoon option. These players absolutely still have a place somewhere in baseball as a clubhouse leader and mentor for up-and-coming stars. While many of these players do not receive qualifying offers, thus they do not have a draft pick attached to them, still suffer the results of the system. The interest level that should be there is not, due to the slow developing market for bigger names. Players like this are normally able to find teams once the big names are off the table, but due to the slow pace at which big names are disappearing over the last few years, it makes it hard for these players to find jobs.
The ways it effected last offseason -
I will now but at least one face to each of the above profiles, all of which had the described scenario effect them in the 2015-16 offseason.
- Profile number one's player in the last offseason was outfielder Dexter Fowler. Fowler was one of the top available outfielders in baseball, yet he did not sign a contract until February 25th. Dexter was entering his age 30 season, and was coming off of one of his best career seasons, which is a perfect recipe for a nice contract in free agency. There is some concern with Fowler's consistency and perhaps his ability to stay on the field, which combined with the loss of a draft pick caused teams like Cleveland to take a reluctant pass on him. Fowler wound up taking a one year deal from the team he had declined the qualifying offer from, and made less money than he had the previous season.
- Profile number two is shortstop turned outfielder Ian Desmond. Desmond had three silver slugger awards on his shelf, three years with 20+ HR (2012-2014), four with 20+ steals (2011-2014), and three years with 70+ RBI (2012-2014); yet he was unable to find a job until February 29th. Despite being established as one of the leagues top shortstops, his .233 AVG/ 19 HR/ 62 RBI/ 13 SB 2015 made teams unwilling to cough up a multi-year contract, big bucks, and a draft pick. For Desmond, this resulted in an extremely late sign, a one year year deal to play out of position, and made $3 million dollars less than in his previous season.
- Profile number three fits several players, a lot of whom are now out of baseball due to their failure to find a job last winter. Outfielder David Murphy played very well in Cleveland from 2014-mid 2015, where he was traded to the Angels and put up some pretty decent numbers. Murphy hit .282 with 10 HR and 50 RBI in 2015, and projected to get a 1-2 year deal worth decent money as a platoon outfielder. Murphy failed to find a deal, and wound up signing a minor league pact with Boston, before being cut and signing a minor league deal with the Twins. Despite his decent 2015 numbers, Murphy played only ten professional games in 2016, all of which were in AAA. Veteran slugger Marlon Byrd did wind up finding a job, which ended in failed PED test after appearing in 34 games, but finding work was not easy for him either. Byrd was coming off of his third straight 20+ homerun season, but his age and the pace of the Winter kept him without a contract until March 18th. Byrd wound up having to fight for a spot on a minor league contract without having the benefit of a full spring training. The final example is Jonny Gomes, the hardest guy to dislike in baseball. Gomes was a platoon player at best on the field, but the effect he had both in the clubhouse and on Major League Baseball still deserved a place somewhere. Unfortunately for Gomes, that place wound up being a short lived deal in Japan. Below is an article from last offseason when Gomes made the decision to play baseball in Japan.
How it can effect this offseason -
Several players on the market fit the above mentioned profiles, but luckily for them this year may not be as bad due to a thin market. There are also a good crop of players who were eligible for qualifying offers that did not receive one, such as Mike Napoli and Matt Wieters. Due to the lack of big names on the table, teams may be more willing to throw out their draft pick, but the key factor this Winter will be the trade market. The lack of free agents will leave many teams with unfulfilled needs that they will need trades to fill, but players in trades will carry higher price tags if there is still a good selection on the free agent table. There will be a heavy need for starting pitching, which is extremely thin in the free agency category this season, yet it can still be highly affected by names still on the table. If the offseason once again progresses slowly, hopefully baseball will take the hint and do away with qualifying offers, or at least alter the system.
When any franchise makes big splashes in the offseason, especially big moves for their starting rotation, without any exceptions there are always extremely high expectations put on that team for the next season. The Arizona Diamondbacks made several of last offseason's biggest moves and finally garnered the national attention they have lacked for so many years, but they lost it by under-performing in the regular season. The D-Backs moved some huge pieces to get RHP Shelby Miller and second baseman Jean Segura, and spent big bucks to get starter Zack Greinke and reliever Tyler Clippard. Along with the core of underrated players that Arizona already had on their roster, the 2015-2016 offseason overhaul was almost guaranteed to give them a great season. Several months later, Arizona has again missed the playoffs, as they finished a horrendous 69-93. After all the optimism for Arizona heading into 2016, what went wrong? How do they fix it?
The Offseason moves that didn't work out - Shelby Miller, Zack Greinkie, Tyler Clippard
While one year is obviously no gauge on if a contract or trade worked out, the first year of a deal is often the most important one. Unfortunately for Arizona, neither of their big starting pitching acquisitions looked good in year one, which now puts huge question marks on their 2017 season. Greinke dealt with some injury issues during his worst season since 2005, while Shelby Miller spent a chunk of the season in AAA. Reliever Tyler Clippard struggled with the Diamondbacks, and would in turn be traded to the New York Yankees at the end of July.
At twenty-six years old, infielder Jean Segura could still be considered to be a guy who has not quite reached his prime. Segura is also coming off of his best season in baseball by far (Career highs in games played, runs scored, hits, doubles, homeruns, RBI, batting average, OBP, SLG), and will be one of the biggest keys for Arizona to rebound in 2017.
Where can the difference be made in 2017? The numbers show that Arizona's offense was adequate, and with guys like Pollock and Peralta expected to be healthy for the full season they should be fine. It is more than obvious that Arizona's pitching was their downfall in 2016, which means that should be their offseason priority. Comebacks from Shelby Miller, who posted a 3.02 ERA two seasons ago, and Zack Greinke, who posted an ERA above 3.00 for the first time since 2012, would make a world of difference, but they will likely need to add pitching. Arizona does have some young pitching they have been waiting on to develop over the past few years, but they need to add some arms if they wish to contend in 2017. The fact remains that the roster they currently have has a very solid and underrated core, but they will need to get some help.
The big story in baseball both of the last two seasons has been about the Chicago Cubs trying to buck what has become a 108 year curse. The Cubs have not won the Fall Classic since 1908, and just by reaching the 2016 World Series they broke a 71 year drought. The city of Cleveland, on the other hand, had not won any major sports championship in 52 years; that is until the Cleveland Cavaliers broke that curse up by coming back after trailing three games to one in the 2016 NBA finals. However, the Cubs hopes to end a 108 year long drought has been put on hold by the Cleveland Indians, who currently hold a 3-2 series lead. The last time the Indians reached the World Series was in 1997 when they lost in seven games to the Miami Marlins, who were then the Florida Marlins. The Indians have not won the World Series since 1948 when they beat the Boston Braves in 6 games, meaning it's been 68 years since the championship flag has flown at the Indians stadium. However, while it may be 16 years shorter than the Indians drought, the bigger drought for Cleveland is the number 52.
No major Cleveland sports team has won a deciding championship game in Cleveland since the 1964 Cleveland Browns
Winning a championship is an incredibly huge deal, winning one at home is even better. It has been 52 years since any major Cleveland Sports team won a championship on their home turf, dating back to when the Cleveland Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in what was then called the "NFL Championship" game. The Cleveland Indians lost World Series game five after taking a 3-1 lead, which means they come back to Cleveland for two chances to erase both curses at the same time.
32 year old Josh Tomlin gets the ball in game six, as the Tribe looks to prevent a game seven
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The Indians won the 1948 series in six games on the road, and now have a chance to do so at home. Righty Josh Tomlin and the well rested Cleveland pen will go against 2015 NL Cy Young winning righty Jake Arrieta in game six, as they look to finish the series off a day early. Tomlin got off to a great start in 2016, followed by a horrendous August, but he has capped it all off with an incredible finish. Josh posted a 1.40 ERA in September, had one very solid start in October, and has gone 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA this postseason. All Cleveland will need is an early run off Arrieta, and a solid 4-5 innings from Tomlin - then it's all up to the bullpen and their 1.56 postseason ERA to seal the deal.
Should their be a game 7, Terry Francona and the Indians will rely on Corey Kluber, who's postseason record is now 4-1 with an ERA of .89
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Should the World Series go to seven games, the Cleveland Indians will break yet another drought. It has been 15 years since Curt Schilling started three World Series games, and Corey Kluber is set up to be the first one to follow his incredible feat. We all know how good Kluber is, but he has now shown he is one of the best performers in October with his 30.1 innings of pure dominance in the 2016 postseason. While he is likely to be matched up against a tough foe in Kyle Hendricks, Kluber seems to have an upper-hand in this matchup. Let's also not forget that the Tribe has only one home loss this postseason, and were 53-28 at home during the regular season. On the flip-side, the Cubs were 46-34 on the road this season.