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Qualifying Offers; Are they Working (updated for 2016)


Desmond gets a Q.O. ... and gets screwed. Photo Drew Kinback/

Desmond got a Q.O. … and gets screwed. Photo Drew Kinback/

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.

I don’t think i’m “burying the lede” by saying that, No, Qualifying Offers are not working (at least as far as the players are concerned).  But lets look at the results of this past off-season’s free agents with compensatory draft pick attachments and do some analysis (fyi, from here on out “Qualifying Offer” will be abbreviated QO):

Here’s my QO Worksheet in Google Docs, which tracks all the QO-offered candidates going back to 2012 and is the basis of a lot of this analysis.

Here’s some summary stats for this year’s QO candidates:

  • 20 Free Agents were offered QOs heading into this past off-season.  That’s a significantly higher number than in any of the year’s past (9 after the 2012 season, 13 after 2013 and 12 after 2014)
  • 3 Took the QO to remain with their original team (Brett Anderson, Colby Rasmus and Matt Wieters).  This represents the first time that anyone has actually taken a QO and, frankly, was something I never though we’d see.  The players union has convinced players to not act rationally to such an extent that I was sure that there was an unstated agreement to never take a QO.   After all was said and done though, I’m sure there’s probably 4-5 more players who probably wish they HAD taken the QO.  As it stands, Anderson, Rasmus and Wieters all get huge raises and nice healthy “pillow contracts” to re-establish value for the following off-season.
  • 3 more eventually Re-Signed with their QO-offering team (Chris Davis, Marco Estrada and Alex Gordon).  I’d only qualify one of these three as really being a significant re-signing; Estrada’s 2015 salary was $3.9M and he declined a $15.8M QO.  I guess you could argue that Gordon’s market was depressed by the QO … but I also think he was reticent to “leave home” and leave a team at the top of the game.
  • 9 guys who got paid just as they would have anyway; 5 of which got many millions more in AAV than their walk year contract.  But these are also the marquee FAs of this past off-season, so QOs were meaningless in the equation.  We’re talking about Zack Greinke (6/$205M), Chris Davis (7/$161M), Jason Heyward (8yr/$184M), Justin Upton (6/$132M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yr/$110M).
  • 8 of the 20 players who ended up taking LESS in AAV with their new contract.   Now, two of these players (Estrada and Ian Kennedy) may have taken less in AAV but both ended out well on the “plus side” of the free agent accounting; Estrada signed a 2yr/$26M deal (career earnings prior to this point: just over $10M) while Kennedy signed an astounding 5yr/$70M deal after completing a mediocre season in San Diego that had me personally predicting he may be still unsigned in June.  But the other Six?  Well they’re the QO system victims…
  • 6 Players who were clearly negatively affected by the QO and have a serious beef with the system.  Lets look at them one-by-one
    • Dexter Fowler: Walk year of $9.5M salary, after a media-misstep re-signs with his original club for 1yr/$8M with a $5M buyout (so $13M guaranteed) and a team-affordable option year for next year.  Now, you could argue that Fowler took a “home team discount” to stay with what everyone is calling the best team in the majors and I wouldn’t argue.  But Fowler was just the kind of mid-level veteran who frankly never should have declined the QO in the first place.
    • Yovani Gallardo: Walk year of $13M salary, a guy who just badly over-estimated his market after posting mediocre numbers in Texas.  Ends up with a sh*tty franchise (Baltimore) who hemmed and hawed with his medicals (as they’ve done in the past) and he ends up with just a 2yr/$22M contract.
    • Hisashi Iwakuma had a walk year of $7M and who probably wouldn’t be on this list were it not for his own medical issues causing the Dodgers to balk at a 3yr deal; he goes back to Seattle on a discounted 2yr/$20M deal.  I guess its arguable whether the QO really was affecting this guy; it didn’t seem like he wanted to even explore the market outside of a handful of west coast teams.
    • Howie Kendrick languished on the FA market until the end of January before decamping back for his old team, signing for just 2yrs/$20M.  Another guy who just never was going to be worth giving up a 1st rounder.
    • Daniel Murphy ended up taking $3.3M/year in AAV less than the QO value with Washington; it remains to be seen whether the Nats vastly over-paid for a poor defensive 2B whose value seems to be entirely propped up by a fantastic 2015 post-season.
    • Last, but not least, Ian Desmond who managed to leave more on the table (in terms of delta in his new contract AAV versus what he gave up in QO guaranteed salary) than ANY OTHER player in the history of the system.  His 1yr/$8M deal is 7.8M less than his QO; that’s more “lost money” than even Kendrys Morales, Nelson Cruz, or Stephen Drew left on the table … and a couple of these guys didn’t sign until May or June!  And this doesn’t even mention the 9-figure extension he turned down a couple years ago.

There have been plenty of lamenting pieces on Desmond in the last few days; i hope he’s not reading about how everyone is calling him a dummy for leaving $100M on the table between his spurned 7-year Washington deal and his declined QO.  He just got unlucky; he had an awful walk year, he fell squarely into the “mid-level veteran not worth giving up a draft pick” category, and he hit the off-season at a time when a huge number of teams are, to use a word, tanking.  Half the teams in the NL and a couple more in the AL are in positions where they’re not spending extra dollars in FA and are depending on in-house options for SS; combine that with those teams who already have quality short stops and you suddenly have a completely dried-up market for Desmond.  Take a quick peek at the RotoWorld depth charts for the NL and look at the guys who are slated to start … and then ask yourself if Desmond is a better option.

I still can’t quite figure out specifically why the White Sox didn’t sign him; who is their slated starter at short?  They had a protected 1st rounder and are not quitting on 2016, so instead of getting a quality guy like Desmond they’ve signed Jimmy Rollins as a MLFA/NRI and that’s who might be the starter?   The Mets are another obvious team that may be wishing they’d signed Desmond when it becomes more apparent that the guy they actually signed (Asdrubal Cabrera) can no longer play SS .. or hit for that matter.  Anyway…

I think Desmond has gotten pretty sh*tty representation, honestly.  He should have signed the extension and not held out for an Elvis Andrus contract that was never going to happen.  And he should have read the tea-leaves, seen how the market was looking, seen how teams are hoarding 1st round draft picks, seen how his .233 BA was going to hamper his market and just taken the QO to try for a bounce-back season.

There’s lots of people talking about the QO system and what to do with it; i’m guessing its going to be front and center in the next CBA.  But how do you compensate teams for losing FAs?  I don’t have a good option and I don’t think the “just sever ties between FA and the draft” is the answer either.  I guess we’ll see some creative solutions proposed as we get closer to the CBA negotiations.

10 Responses to 'Qualifying Offers; Are they Working (updated for 2016)'

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  1. There’s no truer statement in your post that about Desmond obviously having horrible representation. At the time he turned down that huge extension he’d had precisely ONE good season under his belt, and should have treated Uncle Teddy’s offer to shower him with cash as manna from heaven.

    I also don’t think teams were scared off of Desmond because of his .233 BA as much as I think they were the fact that his overall stats had declined three years in a row, his OBP had dipped below .300 and he had struck out an incredible 370 times in just two seasons. Combine that with the fact that–fair or not–his defensive woes were made VERY public nationally, to the point where he was mocked on Deadspin, and you have a guy the NATS took a big risk on by even giving him the QO.

    Karl Kolchack

    29 Feb 16 at 4:28 pm

  2. I read a quote from Desmond somewhere along the way that seemed to indicate that he was “abiding” by the MLBPA desires to turn down extensions, reach free agency, not take “team friendly” deals, etc as being the factors that went into his not taking the extension or the QO.

    Honestly, I hope he tears it up in Texas (better hitting environment), gets a chance to play some infield and turn himself into some sort of Zobrist-utility guy. You never wish ill will on a guy, especially someone like Desmond who by all accounts was a stand-up teammate and professional.

    Todd Boss

    29 Feb 16 at 4:34 pm

  3. When asked why he didn’t take the Q.O. Desmond gave almost the exact union line about not hurting future players. Like a lot of poorly educated players he bought their advice hook, line and sinker.

    Not even considering all the $$ he left on the table, he had a chance to play his entire career in 1 city in front of very forgiving fans and be a long time member of the Nats community.

    Now he gets to be a vagabond for the rest of his career, toting his 3 kids from one city to the next with no one remembering him one week after his career is over.

    We don’t have any significant memories of him because he was terrible under pressure, whether it was the postseason or his walk year.

    Who to blame other than the guy in the mirror.

    Mark L

    29 Feb 16 at 10:35 pm

  4. Oops. The quote was from when he was asked why he turned down the $107 million.

    Mark L

    1 Mar 16 at 5:14 am

  5. Now that he is signed, I don’t feel so bad for him any more. I mean, I think he deserved more than what he got, but instead of 5/$90, he may make 5/$40-50, and that is still so much money that his family will be well taken care of. I am just glad that he found a team and will not drag into the season.

    But it brings up two questions: (1) what kind of contract do you think Desi gets if there was no QO? I don’t think too high, since it appears no one wanted him as their SS, which would have taken him a while to accept anyway. 4/$35m?

    And (2) which do you prefer for the Nats:
    (A) Murphy at 3/$36m and the 28 and 29 picks, or
    (B) Desi at 1/$8m and the 14 and 29 picks?

    I would still say A. and I am surprised at my answer, but it made me realize that I have lost confidence in Desi as a core player, as much as I like him as a guy.


    1 Mar 16 at 7:03 am

  6. I’ll take Murphy and the extra comp pick. He’ll have less power, but his contact and OBP will be significant upgrades. Desi had his defensive issues, so it may be a wash defensively. The Nats’ INF defense as a whole will be improved.

    If you want to put Desi’s ’14 postseason vs. Murph’s ’15, then it gets really one-sided.

    I don’t know what the Nats would have done if Desi had accepted the QO. I think they were really banking on him not doing so.

    As others have said, I very much wish Desi well, as he was a key cog in the rise of this franchise. The way he declined the last three years, though, I wasn’t a fan of the long-term offer that he turned down. If Rizzo knew how easy it was going to be to steal the SS of the future, he probably wouldn’t even have made that Desi offer in the first place.

    I fear Mark is right, that Desi will be making at least four or five more stops to keep his career alive. If it can happen to a player the quality of Rollins, it can happen to anyone. Have glove, will travel.


    1 Mar 16 at 12:22 pm

  7. Yeah i think the real question is:
    – Desmond 1/$15 and 14, 29th picks
    – Murphy at 3/36 and 28th, 29th pick.

    If you think Desmond is a bounceback candidate, then you go option A. The odds of the 14th overall pick panning out are much higher than even 28th or 29th pick.

    Todd Boss

    1 Mar 16 at 6:50 pm

  8. What doesn’t get talked about is how much the Kansas City Royals devalued Desmond.
    They proved how important it is to put the ball in play, as opposed to striking out 185 times a year.

    Todd,if every year your stats are worse than the year before what are the chances of a bounceback season?

    Mark L

    2 Mar 16 at 8:30 am

  9. That’s a good way to lay it out, Todd. I think that you have to believe that Desmond isn’t just going to bounce back to 2014 Desmond, but that he’s going to bounce back to 2012-13 Desmond, in order to prefer the Desmond option. None of the projections that I’ve seen on FG or BR think that Desmond comes close to that. For comparison, the four different projections posted by FG have Murphy putting up between 1.6 and 2.1 WAR (1.9 average) where Desmond is projected for between 0.4 and 1.8 WAR (1.05 average) – and the 1.8 for Desmond is the outlier, a crowdsourcing fans-generated number based on nine ballots submitted. The difference from the numbers-based services between the two is slightly broader, with Murphy holding at an average of 1.9 WAR and Desmond slipping to 0.8.

    Now projections are projections, and I’m not certain whether all of those take into account Desmond’s expected shift to LF (which would hurt his overall WAR). If he’d stayed he obviously would have played SS. The Desmond option is very much the boom-or-bust scenario; he’s more likely to put up 4 WAR than Murphy is. He’s also more likely to be completely useless.

    John C.

    2 Mar 16 at 9:09 am

  10. MarkL: well yeah good point; Desmond has been trending down every year since his peak in 2012. So not exactly a good bounce back candidate.

    Todd Boss

    2 Mar 16 at 4:00 pm

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