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2016 Qualifying Offers: Who Accepted and Who Declined?

Yesterday at 5 p.m. ET was the deadline for ten players extended qualifying offers to determine whether or not they would accept these offers. Of the ten players given qualifying offers this season, Jeremy Hellickson (SP, Phi) and Neil Walker (2B, NYM) were the only players who elected to accept. This makes Hellickson and Walker only the fourth and fifth players to accept their qualifying offer, a paltry number considering that sixty qualifying offers have been extended to impending free agents since the system was implemented in 2012.

What is a Qualifying Offer?

Teams may extend qualifying offers to any of their impending free agents, unless the player was traded mid-season (this made Aroldis Chapman, for example, ineligible to receive a qualifying offer). The offer is a guaranteed one-year pact with a salary equal to the average of the top 125 annual salaries in Major League Baseball. This year’s qualifying offer was valued at roughly $17.2MM. Qualifying offers essentially give the player’s former team the right of first refusal.

Once a qualifying offer is extended, players have seven days to determine whether they would like to accept or decline. If the player declines a qualifying offer, they then become an unrestricted free agent and are able to sign with any team, including the team whose qualifying offer they rejected.

If the player signs with a new team, the new team must forfeit their highest unprotected draft pick (typically the top 10 picks are protected), and the player’s former team receives a draft pick in a supplementary round sandwiched between round one and round two. The pick forfeited by the player’s former team simply disappears; no other team receives the pick.

If the player re-signs with his former team, the draft compensation falls off. Following the 2015 season, the Orioles signed Chris Davis after he had rejected a qualifying offer, but because the Orioles were the team that extended him the offer, they did not have to forfeit their first round pick.

The final possibility is that the player accepts his qualifying offer. If he accepts the offer, he is guaranteed full no-trade rights until June 15th. The player can still be given another qualifying offer following a season in which he has accepted a qualifying offer.

With all that being said, the collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and MLBPA expires in December, and the new CBA could do away with the qualifying offer system entirely.

Players Who Received Qualifying Offers

In total, ten players received qualifying offers this season. I have ranked them below in order of their potential earning power in this offseason (players who will likely make more are at the top).

  1. Yoenis Cespedes, LF – Declined QO

Cespedes unsurprisingly declined his qualifying offer. Although many expect Cespedes to re-sign with the Mets, it makes perfect sense for him to test the waters of free agency coming off a 31-HR, 86-RBI season. Cespedes offers an elite power bat capable of producing MVP numbers and while he may be on the wrong side of thirty, he should have no trouble netting a five-year, $120MM deal at minimum.

  1. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH – Declined QO

Encarnacion, the former Toronto Blue Jay, also expectedly elected free agency. Encarnacion will have draft compensation attached, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent to potential suitors, considering they will be acquiring a player who has hit 34 or more dingers and knocked in 98 or more RBI each of the past five seasons. Expect Encarnacion to grab a multi-year deal close to $100MM somewhere in the AL East.

  1. Kenley Jansen, RP – Declined QO 

Jansen decided to enter free agency and sever ties with the LA Dodgers, and chose the perfect time to do so. Jansen represents the cream of the crop in terms of relievers in baseball right now, and with elite relievers becoming ever-more important, Jansen will likely get a three-to-four year deal in the range of $17MM per season.

  1. Mark Trumbo, 1B/RF/DH – Declined QO

Trumbo had a breakout year this season with the Orioles, smacking 49 dingers and adding 108 RBI. Whoever signs the southpaw will be able to comfortably trot out Trumbo every day; he missed only three games in all of 2016. Unfortunately for Trumbo, he doesn’t have the track record of Encarnacion, so he will likely only get a $15MM contract per year for four or five seasons.

  1. Justin Turner, 3B – Declined QO

Turner would be higher if not for his age (he will be 32 at the start of the 2017 season). He got a relatively late start with the Dodgers, signing with them as a minor league free-agent after being non-tendered by the Mets in 2013. He has revitalized his career since heading to LA: Turner is now a perennial .275 hitter with average-or-better defense, who hit a career-high 27 home runs this past year. Turner will likely join Trumbo in the $15MM per year range, but may only receive three years because of his age and less-durable position.

  1. Ian Desmond, CF/SS – Declined QO 

Desmond followed his expected path and rejected the Rangers’ qualifying offer today. Demond has hit 20 homers in four of the past five seasons (he hit 19 in 2015), and has also added some prowess on the basepaths, swiping 100 bags over that same time frame. Desmond also will attract potential suitors with his ability to play both positions in the infield and outfield. The .267 career hitter will probably get around $15MM per year for four seasons, a similar deal to Trumbo and Turner.

  1. Jose Bautista, RF/DH – Declined QO

Bautista, the former Blue Jay, checks in at number seven on this list, which may come as a surprise to some. Those who are not surprised will point to his 2016 statistics: 56 games missed, .234 batting average, only 22 homers and below-average defensive value. The 36-year-old showed the market that he is an aging slugger who cannot provide much on defense and has increasing strikeout troubles (he struck out 19.9% of the time last year, his highest percentage since 2010). His age also stunts his earning power. He’ll likely sign with an AL team as a DH for no more than three years and $50MM.

  1. Dexter Fowler – Declined QO 

Fowler was tagged with a QO last season and it took until late February for him to find a home. Fowler reminded the league this season that he is one of the premier leadoff hitters, and got on base at a .393 clip in 2016. It’s still troubling that almost no teams were willing to snatch him up last year when he had draft compensation attached, and he will enter free agency this year the same way. Because of this, I expect Fowler to only net about a 4-year, $48MM pact.

  1. Jeremy Hellickson, SP – Accepted QO 

Hellickson accepting his qualifying offer has garnered mixed reviews. Some view it as the right decision, noting that the righty has never been especially durable and was not likely to get a contract worth more than $17.2MM per year (the value of the qualifying offer). Others say that Hellickson could have cashed in on this year’s historically weak starting pitching market, so accepting the offer was a mistake. Hellickson will join a young Phillies rotation likely to feature other under-30 pitchers Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola and Jake Thompson.

  1. Neil Walker, 2B – Accepted QO

Walker also accepted his qualifying offer, which was probably the right move for him. Whether he was going to receive the qualifying offer at all was in serious doubt after a back injury cut the 31-year-old’s season short in mid-August, but the Mets took a risk in extending him the qualifying offer and hope it will pay off now that he has accepted. The Mets will likely have to return playoff standout and New York native T.J. Rivera to the minors as a result of Walker accepting. Assuming Walker is able to match his career-high 23 homers from 2016, he should have no trouble receiving a qualifying offer at the end of 2017 and perhaps cashing in on a bigger payday.

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