Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Qualifying Offers: Are they working? (2015 edition)


The QO didn't affect Scherzer's next contrct very much.  Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The QO didn’t affect Scherzer’s next contrct very much. Photo AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Last year we did a quick analysis of all the Qualifying Offer-receiving free agents to see if the system was “working.”  (note; from here out I’ll use the abbreviation of QO for Qualifying Offer).

Now that James Shields has signed, there remain no more free agents on the market who received a QO from their former team.  Lets take a look at how the qualifying offers affected the markets for those players who got them this off-season.

Here’s a table of the 12 players who received QOs ahead of free-agency (I hope this table is readable once it publishes…)

Year Player Old Team New Team Draft Pick Forfeited Signing Date Subsequent contract (w/o options) Money up/down per AAV Q.O. Screw the player?
2014 Melky Cabrera TOR CWS 3-81 12/15/2014 3yr/$42M -1.3 Not Really
2014 Nelson Cruz BAL SEA 1-21 12/1/2014 4yr/$58M -0.8 No
2014 Michael Cuddyer COL NYM 1-15 11/11/2014 2yr/$21M -4.8 Sort of
2014 Francisco Liriano PIT PIT none 12/9/2014 3yr/$39M -2.3 Sort of
2014 Russell Martin PIT TOR 1-18 11/18/2014 5yr/$82M 1.1 No
2014 Victor Martinez DET DET none 11/14/2014 4yr/$68M 1.7 No
2014 Hanley Ramirez LAD BOS 2sup-69 11/25/2014 4yr/$88M 6.7 No
2014 David Robertson NYY CWS 2-45 12/9/2014 4yr/$46M -3.8 Sort of
2014 Pablo Sandoval SFG BOS 2-44 11/25/2014 5yr/$95M 3.7 No
2014 Ervin Santana ATL MIN 2-43 12/11/2014 4yr/$55M -1.55 Not Really
2014 Max Scherzer DET WAS 1-29 1/21/2015 7yr/$210M 14.7 no
2014 James Shields KC SD 1-13 2/9/2015 4yr/$75M 3.45 no

It should be noted that for the third consecutive year, not one player who received a QO accepted it despite its ever increasing value ($15.3M for 2015).  Is this “reverse collusion” on the part of the players, not to play the QO game?  For the third year, there were players about whom pundits scratched their heads as to why they chose not to take the offer.  While not as obvious as in 2013 (when both Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales vastly over-stated the market for their services and were severely penalized as a result), the fact that especially Michael Cuddyer and David Robertson didn’t take the QO remained puzzling.

So, among the 12 players, who was hurt?  In the end, nobody really.

  • Half the players got new contracts with AAVs above the QO figure, in some cases significantly above.  So they’re not being “hurt” by the system.  This list includes Russell Martin, Victor Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, James Shields and of course our own Max Scherzer.
  • Another 3 players (Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Ervin Santana) signed longer term deals for slightly less than the AAV of $15.3M.  I say these guys were “not really” hurt since they guaranteed themselves 3-4 years and in each case nearly or more than $50M of earnings.   Each player rightly gambled and guaranteed themselves $50M instead of $15M.

The remaining three players each kind of have extenuating circumstances.

  • Michael Cuddyer (inexplicably) signed a 2yr/$21M deal with New York instead of taking a 1yr/$15.3M deal to stay in Colorado.  There has to be more to this story; why wouldn’t his agent have advised him of taking the QO and then hoping to get a 1yr/$6M deal the following off-season??  Wouldn’t that have been the better play?  Did he want to leave a losing team in Colorado?  (If so, why the heck did he go to the Mets??)  The Mets even more inexplicably gave up the 15th overall pick to get an 35-yr old corner outfielder who played just 49 games last year due to injuries and who has a combined 3 bWAR in the last two seasons.   One can see the nature of the kind of player you can generally get in the mid-first round here.  So while Cuddyer’s AAV is way below $15.3M, because he voluntarily signed the Mets contract he only screwed himself 🙂
  • Francisco Liriano declined the QO and then re-signed with the same team (Pittsburgh).  He got a 3yr deal for $39M.  Most pundits would agree that nobody would have given Liriano a $15M/yr longer term deal thanks to his age and injury history, so his taking lesser money AAV but for longer is a smart move for him.  Perhaps the QO limited his market, forcing him to go back to Pittsburgh … or perhaps not.
  • David Robertson declined the QO but got a 4yr guaranteed deal for $46M … as a reliever.  Which is fantastic, considering the volatility of the reliever position in general.  So even though his AAV is far less than $15.3M, he made out big time with the amount of guaranteed money.

San Diego gives up the best draft pick (13th overall) to get Shields’ services for four years, but five teams altogether give up first round picks to sign players.  Boston gives up its two second round picks to play Ramirez and Sandoval on the right side of their infield for the next four years.  A number of very wealthy teams pick up supplemental first round picks (Dodgers, Yankees and Detroit), which (like all FA compensation) kind of seems to defeat the purpose of helping “poorer” teams off-set the loss of marquee players.

Lastly, the order (and pools) for the 2015 draft is now set.   A better look is here, showing all the picks gained and lost.  Houston has the 2nd, 5th and 37th overall picks, 12 picks in the top 10 rounds and has an astounding $17M of bonus money to acquire players.  Washington has just $4.1M to sign its first 10 picks, meaning we’re likely looking at another set of college seniors drafted in rounds 6-10.  More on the draft later on.

So, to answer the question of the day; are QOs working?  This year they seemed to have worked; you can’t really argue that any player was negatively affected and teams that lost players got compensation picks.  You can argue whether the right teams got these picks.

Fyi; the spreadsheet with all this analysis is here:

29 Responses to 'Qualifying Offers: Are they working? (2015 edition)'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Qualifying Offers: Are they working? (2015 edition)'.

  1. The QOs should be interesting to contemplate for all four Nats next winter. Obviously, the Nats will offer to Zimmermann, he will turn it down as he’ll be looking at making well more than $16M per year. The loss of a draft pick won’t dissuade a team from signing him, either.

    Things get more interesting when you talk about Desmond and Fister. Both will be looking for AVVs right around $16M, maybe a little more for Desi. I think the Nats will offer Desi the QO, that he will turn it down, and that with his value added as a SS, it shouldn’t affect him. But do they offer to Fister? He’s the type of player the QO could hurt, right on the borderline. If they don’t offer, though, they get nothing for him. (If they don’t re-sign him, of course.) In thinking about this situation, perhaps he remains a trade candidate right now.

    Then there’s Span. He’s not worth $16M, but if Taylor and Goodwin aren’t ready, it might be worth offering on Span as a one-year bridge and encouraging him to take it. That’s an unlikely scenario, but it’s possible. The offer would leave Span all but dead in the water with trying to sign with anyone else.


    11 Feb 15 at 5:32 pm

  2. Assuming that Fister and (IMHO) Span put up solid seasons again the Nats ABSOLUTELY make a qualifying offer to both players.

    Span averaged about 3 WAR over the past two seasons (2.9 bWAR, 3.6 fWAR). He was considerably better than 3 WAR last season by both metrics. If he puts up another 3 WAR season the Nats should make a QO. Because $16M is actually slightly under the going rate for a 3 WAR player. And because the commitment is only for one season, so there isn’t any long term impact on your ability to manage payroll – it’s a one off. And if Taylor or Goodwin are ready, there’s the 4th OF spot opening up with McLouth’s contract ending (the Nats do have a $6.5M option for McLouth – just imagine the heads exploding if McLouth earns that option!).

    Fister is much the same – if he has a season in line with the past few, he’s well worth $16M as the going rate for 3 WAR (by both bWAR and fWAR he’s averaged over 3 WAR per season, even with fWAR blah on his 2014 – 4.5 bWAR, 1.3 fWAR).

    Both players would be likely to decline a QO so that they could play for a higher guaranteed $$ total even if they didn’t beat the AAV. So, pocket two more comp picks. But even if they accept the QO the Nats wouldn’t really be hurt. If Fister and Span have solid seasons, they’re getting QOs.

    John C.

    11 Feb 15 at 5:59 pm

  3. I agree with this. In the absence of injury, JZ and Desi are no brainers, and if Span and Fister repeat their 2014 performance, they also are no brainers. And I would be happy if any or all of the 4 took it.

    I suspect none would, though.


    11 Feb 15 at 8:03 pm

  4. I’ll concede to John that, theoretically, based on WAR, Span’s valuation could be as high as $18-20M per. But c’mon, there’s no way the league sees him as worth that much, with limited power and with speed that will decline into his 30s. I would think that the AAV he will be looking at after next season will be in the $12-14M range for three or four years.

    As for the Nats, they have to be counting on Span’s number coming off the books. I think they’ll be banking on having that money to put toward an extension for someone else. Who that would be, don’t know. (I would say of all the upcoming FA’s, Strasburg is the player they would most like to re-sign, but potentially the most difficult to do so.)

    That said, would it hurt the Nats to make the QO to Span? They sure don’t want to pay a 4th OF $16M. If Taylor and Goodwin both tank, they would probably try to re-up Span for a couple years, even though that doesn’t fit into their monetary plans. If the Nats do make the QO to Span, however, he’d have to be strongly tempted to take it. I really think that teams would be reluctant to give up a draft pick to sign him.


    12 Feb 15 at 5:14 am

  5. A one year deal doesn’t equate to the same AAV over a 3-4 deal, though. Bourn got what, 4/$52? Span is a better player than Bourn with more track record, and I think he would at least be in line for that. Looking at Melky, or Gardiner, I think $13m ish over multiple years would be easily reached, and someone would give up a pick for him. So I think the QO is ‘safe’ but again, if he puts up another similar year, I’d be fine with keeping him. They have a lot of money coming off the books next year.

    But he has to stay healthy. Without health, he shouldn’t get QO.


    12 Feb 15 at 8:00 am

  6. Assuming nobody gets traded. I think QOs go out to Zimmermann, Desmond, Fister but not Span (i think he’d take it). Desmond and Zimmermann are no brainers to offer and to have it declined; both are looking for and expecting 9 figure deals. Fister is a bit trickier agreed; but look at the list of players who have been declining these things and I think he’d make sense to offer it.

    That being said, this is also the same GM who did NOT offer a QO to Edwin Jackson, inexplicably to me at the time. It was clear that someone was going to give him a 4-5 year deal for at or more than the QO value at the time (13M). And that’s exactly what happened. It makes you wonder if they had a “handshake” deal.

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 15 at 8:33 am

  7. EJax was a Boras client, so it’s quite possible the fix was in.

    Here’s a QO question that has never been an issue since no one has accepted one: if you make a QO to a player one season and he accepts it, can you then QO him the following season as well? Or can a play only be tagged once, like the NFL “franchise player” tag?


    12 Feb 15 at 9:17 am

  8. Two QOs in a row: it does not seem that is a limitation in place, based on the number of blogs out there who have included eliminating it as a possibility in their “how to fix the QO system” postings. 🙂

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 15 at 12:16 pm

  9. Even if he’s putting up strong seasons year-to-year, $16M as an AAV is likely a mild overpay for Span. But the reason that players aren’t accepting QOs is that they want more guaranteed money. And even if Span were to accept a QO, the fact that it’s just for the one year makes the overpay bearable. Not only does it not tie down long term contracts, but the risk of his speed and defense declining as he moves through his 30’s isn’t really much of a consideration.

    That and the fact that I’ve read that speed guys tend to age better (think Kenny Lofton). I’m just too lazy to go look it up right now 🙂

    John C.

    12 Feb 15 at 3:12 pm

  10. Span just finished a $9M option year and he’ll be 32 at the beginning of his next contract; i just have a hard time believing that he would NOT take the one-year 40% pay increase (assuming that next year’s QO rises at nearly the same rate t hat it has been…).

    I’d be curious to see what this year’s QO rejecters got paid in 2014 … probably a column I should add to the QO worksheet. Light bulb.

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 15 at 3:35 pm

  11. OK. Here’s the walk-year salaries of each of the 12 QO offered players this year:
    Cabrera: $8M. Cruz $8M. Cuddyer $10.5M. Liriano $8M. Martin $8.5M. Martinez $12M. Ramirez $16M. Robertson $5.125M. Sandoval $8.25M. Santana $14.1M. Scherzer $15.525M. Shields $13.5M.

    So, Span at $9M isn’t completely crazy as a walk year salary …. and would Span be any less likely to earn a big multi-year contract than someone like Cuddyer or Robertson?

    Cruz is obviously a weird case based on his being so screwed by the previous year’s QO. Oh, and Cruz is proof to a previous question on the thread about whether someone can get offered QOs two years in a row, because he did.

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 15 at 3:55 pm

  12. Todd, can you run a thread on the non-roster invitees. I can see an interesting discussion breaking out.


    12 Feb 15 at 3:59 pm

  13. Hey, if we are suggesting new topics, how about the article by Dave Cameron where he suggested eliminating the draft, but keeping a hard cap on spending similar to current levels. I can link to it right now, but will later.

    I thought it was an excellent idea, and really couldn’t see who would oppose it. Teams can only spend the same amounts on amateur players in total, but aren’t limited to draft slots to decide who that is, and the draftees get to negotiate with several teams, with the cap protecting against Yoan Moncada type deals. Plus, it would be easier to loop in the international guys.


    12 Feb 15 at 6:48 pm

  14. The Shields deal gives me hope for keeping Fister. And if I’m Fister, I’d start negotiating with the Nats and asking for Shields’ deal. I was expecting Shields to get more and think it’s a good basis to get a deal done.

    But if they can’t make a deal, then yeah, definitely QO him unless he has a bad season.

    Andrew R

    13 Feb 15 at 12:23 am

  15. There will be a truckload of good starters on the market next year:

    I don’t think there will be any rush to extend Fister (or Zimmermann) with so many other guys to choose from. Of course the Nats will also want to see how their home-grown crop of starters is progressing.


    13 Feb 15 at 6:01 am

  16. Maybe next year will be different, but Rizzo never seems to take any chances with his rotation. I thought signing EJax and Haren were unnecessary, and it’s hard to say that Scherzer was a needed signing for 2015. Giolito may be too can’t miss for Rizzo to block, but I can see Rizzo really pushing to keep the Scherzer, Fister, Gio and Roark at the top of the rotation for a few more years.

    Andrew R

    13 Feb 15 at 11:51 am

  17. Hey, to dredge up the Souza discussion from the other thread, I just listened to the Kiley McDaniel podcast with Carson Cistulli. I rarely take the time to listen to podcasts, but did listen to this one, and it was really interesting, if you can spare the time. He just came back from the DR, where he saw a bunch of Cuban prospects and talked a lot about them and how the whole international market works. Towards the end, he shares a bunch of anecdotes about life in the DR that are pretty funny.

    at some point, he discussed how he goes about putting together his prospect list (he has a top 200 coming out), and how the teams give input to it. He mentioned having to ignore the hype of prospects with big bonuses and focus on what a prospect shows. He brought up Souza as someone that he wasn’t thinking about as a top prospect, but that scouts from many teams (and he specifically said beyond just TB and the Nats) kept telling him to raise him up the lists, to the point where he probably will be top 50 now.


    13 Feb 15 at 9:32 pm

  18. Forensicane; never done a NRI analysis but it looks like fun. I’m out of town this w/e for V-day so can’t work on it til monday, but that’ll be a fun early week topic.

    Todd Boss

    14 Feb 15 at 12:14 pm

  19. Wally; Cameron’s draft idea was intriguing. I thought that its biggest weakness was the penalty it would automatically make against the wealthy teams. Which, lets be honest, are the “most important” teams for the league. Otherwise can’t disagree with his logic much.

    Todd Boss

    14 Feb 15 at 12:15 pm

  20. Carson podcast; I find him so utterly annoying that I’ve stopped listening to his stuff. 2 minute droning introductions shut me out. I’ll listen to McDaniel though b/c of what he does.

    Todd Boss

    14 Feb 15 at 12:16 pm

  21. I’ll be intrigued to watch Souza, but with no regrets. The Nats just weren’t going to play him or Harper in CF (to give Souza a corner spot), so there really wasn’t a place for him. People can debate that all they want, but it is what it is.

    Over Thanksgiving before the trade, I ran some accepted MLEs (Major League Equivalences) on Souza’s AAA numbers. Frankly, the numbers looked too good to be true, so I kept backing them off, but they were still very good. As I’ve noted before, at full strength, he came out as a close match offensively for Carlos Gomez.

    I think a baseline for Souza will be about 20/20, albeit with a lot of K’s. If he can make better contact with the off-speed stuff than he showed in his brief MLB time, he could be really good. Because of his size, people forget how fast he is. He was ticketed to play WR in the PAC-12 at Washington State.

    The big “however” is that there aren’t a lot of comps for guys who didn’t “make it” until their age-26 seasons. The best recent examples I can think of are two guys named Josh, Willingham and Donaldson, neither of whom was full time until age 27. They both turned out OK.

    As for Myers, he put up AA/AAA numbers at age 21 similar to what Souza did at age 25. That’s how he got to be so hyped.


    14 Feb 15 at 5:29 pm

  22. KW – that logic is similar to what McDaniel said scouts from numerous teams were telling him. Among other stat-related support, Souza is apparently one of only 3 or 4 guys projected to be 20/20 by the common projection systems (STEAMER, maybe, I dunno), and scouts were essentially saying that you have to move him up unless you just don’t buy into projection systems. And also there seems to be something of a split: traditional scouts are less bullish, but guys leaning more towards stats in their analysis love him.

    And I am really just passing on info that might be interesting to some of you, and don’t want to overstate my views on him. I like him, and thought he had potential, but I am not saying I am sure he is a 20/20 guy. I am unsure about the trade because I thought he provided excellent insurance for an injury at the corner OF or 1B spot, which has value.

    But as for his play in TB, I hope he does really well. To me, the success of the trade depends on (1) how well our two new guys do, and (2) how well they cover for his expected 2015 role (see above). Nothing to do with his performance with TB, and I could make an argument that it is in the Nats interest to make some trades where the guys they trade do well. Otherwise teams may think Rizzo is always sandbaging them, and become reluctant to trade with him.


    14 Feb 15 at 6:45 pm

  23. I have no inside knowledge on this whatsoever, but I think the Nats were caught off guard by Souza’s improvement in 2013 and dominance in 2014. He really wasn’t in their plans, other than maybe as a bench guy. They really didn’t even have a position for him. I remember seeing a photo on Todd’s site during the 2013 AZ Fall League of Souza with a 1B mitt. They seemed to be casting about for something for him to do. I don’t know if they just didn’t believe in him for CF, or if they were too committed to Goodwin and Taylor there. The no-no saving play seemed to indicate that Souza could get the jump and have the burst to cover the gaps.

    I don’t necessarily “blame” the Nats for this; in part they were caught off guard by a guy who nearly quit/got released suddenly emerging to dominate the IL (OPS more than 100 points better than anyone else). In part the positional shifts of others hurt. If Zimmerman didn’t have to go to 1B, perhaps Souza could have had a shot there.

    How good are the stats at which the stat guys are looking? They’re using their own versions of MLEs, which vary slightly from club to club and stat to stat. I threw away my MLE scribbles on Souza after the trade, but what I got was in the vicinity of 25 HRs, 35 SBs, and 35 doubles, projecting his AAA numbers to a full season and translating that to MLB equivalence. Those numbers seemed possible but aggressive, so I backed everything off about 5% in each category and still came up with a comp of Hunter Pence. I think he’s probably a better overall comp for Souza than Carlos Gomez. So Gomez as the high end, with Pence more likely as the best case.


    15 Feb 15 at 7:43 pm

  24. I’m pretty bullish on Souza, but I have to admit that KW is more bullish than even I! It’s clear that the Nats thought highly of him, given that it took two Top 100 talents in Joe Ross (#63 on Keith Law’s list) and Trea Turner (#88) to get him off of the Nats. It’s a classic sell high type of trade. I suspect that the Nats wish Souza well in his chance to play every day. I know that I do.

    John C.

    15 Feb 15 at 10:18 pm

  25. I’m not that bullish on him, either. I’m just giving an example of the types of numbers that the stat guys are getting that have them so excited about him. It’s those numbers that netted the two first rounders in return.

    In the small real-world sample, I was quite concerned that Souza managed only three hits in 26 MLB plate appearances. He really seemed to struggle with the off-speed stuff and didn’t look like a guy anywhere near his AAA OBP of 432. As I recall, his first hit was a squibber that barely counted. The other two, though, each went nearly 450 feet.

    Anyway, I wish him well, but I’m also satisfied with the return the Nats got for him. Now we just have to fret over whether Turner can actually cut it at SS.


    16 Feb 15 at 7:34 am

  26. Fangraphs/McDaniel’s top 200 out today:

    Souza #52. So yeah he likes him a ton. From a Nats perspective, an interesting list. He does not have Joe Ross in his top 200, where as Keith Law had Ross in the mid 60s. Likewise McDaniel has Souza very high while Law didn’t have him close to his own top 100.

    Todd Boss

    17 Feb 15 at 9:52 am

  27. I saw that is out, but haven’t gone through the write up yet. I have become a fan of McDaniel. I especially like the structure of his reporting: putting prospects in tiers is much more useful to my education than a pure list; the easy link to videos is great, too; and lastly, his balanced reporting on each prospect (what his specifics strengths and weaknesses are).

    I also like that he reports more from what the industry thinks than just his own evaluations.


    17 Feb 15 at 10:26 am

  28. It was obvious by the 2012 fall league that Souza was a special and talented player. I was laughed at when I was talking him up last winter, in part because of his age, in part because of his injury history (which may yet be his undoing), but mostly because the prospect mayvens talked about his long swing and his amphetamine history (meanwhile, our 1B was taking the same thing).

    I don’t see prospect as a late bloom-early bloom thing. think it is healthy for all of us to recognize, developmentally, when one hits a second gear and their development is all the more accelerated. That happened to Difo last year. It happened to Martin last year. It happened to Stephen Perez. It obviously happened to Michael Taylor.
    Souza is now gone and soon enough will be yesterday’s news. His performance wil be like that of Derek Norris – reflecting on the Nats’ prospects as well-developed and not overhyped and worth the cost.

    McDaniel, I might add, illustrated the obviousness of the Myers comparisons, for better or worse. I really liked his article, especially his willingness to think differently for himself and have his own favorites, and how he tiers folks – that’s an interesting twist.


    17 Feb 15 at 10:56 am

  29. […] When former Nat Ian Desmond signed, he became the final Qualifying Offer-attached player to come off the Free Agency board for the pre-2016 season.  So its time to publish our recurring “Are Qualifying Offers working” post.  We first visited this topic ahead of the 2014 season and again prior to the 2015 season. […]

Leave a Reply