Seven players received a qualifying offer before today’s deadline and many of them could be targets for the Braves this offseason. But will the fact that they received a qualifying offer potentially limit Atlanta’s interest? I definitely think it could for most of them.
First, let’s go into the qualifying offer (or QO) process as briefly as I can. After an old system of offering arbitration to earn draft pick compensation eventually led to several middle relievers being left frozen out of the process, baseball changed to the simple compensation process that we now have. Well, comparatively simpler. In it, teams must offer a player a one-year contract for the mean salary of the 125 highest-paid players in the game in order to receive compensation should the player via free agency. This year, that means a one-year, $17.9 million contract. Hardly chump change. The player then has ten days to decide if he wants to accept the deal.
Imagine being offered nearly $18 million and saying “no.” I need to teach my girls to throw left-handed.
There are several new rules that affect the compensation a team receives for losing a QO free agent and the price a team signing a QO free agent must “pay.” Since the Braves didn’t offer a player a QO, I’m going to link to this explanation of the rules that affect the team losing a QO free agent. Now, let’s look at what the Braves might give up to sign one of these seven free agents.
In the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that went into effect last winter, the Braves were moved off the non-market disqualified list. For revenue reasons, this is better for Atlanta but it also hurts them more for signing a QO free agent. Had they remained on the non-market disqualified list, they would have only had to give up their third-highest pick for signing a QO free agent. But since they are on the market disqualified list, they will surrender their second highest draft choice along with $500,000 of their international signing bonus pool.
If your head is spinning, you’re not alone. But let’s try to investigate this completely.
- The international signing bonus pool won’t be a problem because of the previous penalties already levied against the Braves last winter as part of former general manager John Coppolella’s ban. Atlanta’s signing bonus pool was already zero for the 2019-20 class. The Braves are limited to bonuses of $10,000 or less when the new class becomes eligible to sign on July 2, 2019. So, no big deal here.
- The second-highest draft pick of next June’s draft is still a first round pick for the Braves. Because Atlanta failed to sign Carter Stewart, they receive the ninth pick of the 2019 draft. Because of that, their second first round pick, currently #21, would be surrendered by signing a QO free agent. It should be said that Stewart’s camp has argued that the Braves didn’t offer at least 40% of the pick’s slot value. If found true, the Braves would lose that #9 pick and would then lose their second-round pick while keeping the #21 selection if a QO free agent is added. I don’t believe that’s going to happen because Alex Anthopoulos’s professional standards give me faith that the Braves wouldn’t have risked such an embarrassment.
- If the Braves sign a second QO free agent, they would lose their third highest draft pick. And so on and so forth.
It should be noted that I’m not a collective bargaining agreement expert and I’m merely going by my interpretation and those of respected publications like the Wall Street Journal, Baseball America, and others. If I’m wrong, I welcome the correction.
11/2/18, 11:00 PM EST edit: I could be wrong about my understanding of the CBA rules. As the appropriately-named Braves Options Guy pointed out via the Knockahoma Nation twitter account, an explanation at MLB.com points out that the Braves remain non-market disqualified. Many articles at the time the CBA was signed suggested otherwise. If true, both of the Braves’ first rounders would be safe – pending the Carter Stewart situation – and Atlanta would lose, at most, its third-highest pick (currently their choice in the second round). Who to believe? It’s hard to say. I will continue to try to find clarification on this point.
Let’s move on to the more intriguing discussion. Did a team extending a qualifying offer to a free agent hurt Atlanta’s interest in that player? For most of the free agents, I believe so. Guys like pitchers Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, along with outfielder Bryce Harper were already predicted to receive a qualifying offer. That leaves just four other players and I think in each case, it hurt the chances of the Braves signing them.
- Yasmani Grandal – As I wrote before, I am not all that fond of getting into a long-term deal with Grandal in the first place. Signing catchers to deals of at least four years rarely works out for the team, especially when the player will be at least 30-years-old when the deal starts. With other options already on the market – namely Wilson Ramos – I believe the Braves will definitely pass on Grandal.
- Craig Kimbrel – A popular pick for many Braves’ fans, Kimbrel is another player I long felt the Braves would pass on. Kimbrel had his second “down year” during his three-year run to finish an extension he originally signed with Atlanta. While he was still wonderful (2.74 ERA, 3.13 FIP), you search for signs of decline from closers and in those two bad seasons sandwiched around a tremendous 2017 campaign, Kimbrel has the two worst walk rates of his career. That’s not to say Kimbrel will stop being a great pitcher, but closers are often overpaid based on what they ultimately do for the team. Long-term deals for 30-year-old closers, like those for catchers, rarely work out for the team. Having to surrender a first-round pick just makes it more likely Atlanta passes.
- A.J. Pollock – In 2015, Pollock was one of the best players in baseball. He was the rare example of a true five-tool player who had all tools working at the major league level. 2015 was also the last time he played in at least 115 games. Pollock might be better off with a move to a corner outfield spot, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has put up a fWAR of 4.2 in the 238 games since posting a 6.8 fWAR in 2015. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pollock accept this qualifying offer, actually. But I would be shocked to see the Braves be interested in an injury-prone outfielder who will also cost them a first-round pick.
- Hyun-Jin Ryu – Another guy I think could sign his qualifying offer, Ryu was excellent in a limited 15-start run after coming back from a groin strain. He struggled in the NLCS and World Series, but that shouldn’t hurt his market much. However, the qualifying offer might. Since a 30-start rookie season in 2013, Ryu has made 66 starts (and one relief appearance) in the four years since. Again, he was tremendous in 2018, but turns 32 next March. If Atlanta had interest before, I think that interest was squashed by news Ryu received a qualifying offer.
What do you guys think? Will Atlanta even consider a player with a QO? Will they still be interested in Grandal, Kimbrel, Pollock, and/or Ryu? Let me know below. Also, I’ve previously gone over the free agent cases for Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, and Patrick Corbin.