Nationals Arm Race

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

Final QO Free Agent signs, 2024 Draft Order finalized


Super agent Scott Boras seems to have over-played his hand with his stable of FAs this off-season, leaving them with shorter deals, less guaranteed money, and far too little spring training to get ready. Photo via LA Times.

If you had March 18th for a two-time Cy Young award-winning free agent to sign, then you won the Scott Boras 2024 off-season bingo game. Blake Snell, who had this stat line last year as a 30yr old: 14-9, 2.25 ERA, 1.189 whip, 234/99 K/BB in 180 innings/32 starts, finally signed just a couple weeks before the season starts, virtually guaranteeing that he misses time for his new club San Francisco. He gets a handsome pay day for 2024 on a short-term gig (2yrs/$62M) but fails to secure the long-term deal that he probably expected coming off a Cy Young winning age-30 season, and probably heads back into FA next off-season w/o the qualifying offer dragging him down.

This is a two-part post. One briefly about the draft, then one about the QO in general.

2024 Draft Order. With Snell’s signing, the 2024 draft order is (finally) finalized. The Giants give up a 3rd rounder to sign Snell, and with it barring any additional last minute penalties we know how things are going. Here’s a link to the 2024 Draft order worksheet (with sources and past years all in the same place), showing the original order and how the various teams picked up or lost picks. Quick summary of movement:

  • Arizona, Baltimore: got supp-1st picks for having top-performing rookies
  • Minnesota, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto, and Sandiego: picked up picks at various points for losing QO-attached FAs.
  • St Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston: lost picks for signing the same QO-affiliated guys.

The Nats started with the #10 overall, then #48, #88, #118, #148 and so on. After all the movement, we now sit with #10, #44, #79, #108, #140, #169, #199 and so on. So we improved 4 spots in our 2nd rounder, 9 spots for our third rounder, 10 spots for the 4th rounder, and 9 spots for each round going forward.

Qualifying Offer recap for 2023 off-season

Ever since the Qualifying Offer system was introduced in 2012, i’ve hyper-tracked the players who have gotten tagged with them to gauge impact to their free agency. Here’s a Link to my Qualifying Offer Tracking xls. This past off season saw a massive drop in spending from teams, as typical big-money spenders sat out the off-season, were already maxed out and sitting at luxury tax penalties, or had serious revenue concerns with all the RSN issues we’ve been having. However, we also saw that Boras’ three QO-tagged agents sit and wait for months into the off-season before signing.

  • Cody Bellinger: didn’t sign until 2/24 for 3yrs/$80M
  • Matt Chapman: didn’t sign until 3/3 for 3yrs/$54M
  • Snell as discussed; didn’t sign until 3/18 for 2yrs/$62M

As others have pointed out, that’s less guaranteed money for those three guys than some guys got by themselves this off-season. None of them get the kind of 9-figure career-setting payday they probably wanted, but at least all three get opt-outs in case they blow up 2024 to try it again.

Snell therefore is the first QO-assigned player who I think was really hampered by the tag in years. When it first came out, several mid-level free agents took the QO confidently thinking they’d get t heir money like they always did, and got hurt by it. In fact, probably the worst example of the QO screwing a player involved one of our own, Ian Desmond, who declined a 1yr $15.8M deal but couldn’t find anything on the market and ended up taking a 1yr $8M deal three weeks into spring training that year. Now, Desmond eventually got paid by Colorado in a weird contract that turned out to be awful for the team, and of course all these guys are millionaires, so i’m not crying too much for them, but this analysis is more about players getting (or not getting) their worth.

The two sides had their chance to get rid of the QO, but bailed on it in the last CBA negotiations because the owners tied an International Draft to it, which is kind of ridiculous on both sides. QOs impact just a handful of the 1200 union members every year … and owners are just being stupidly short-sighted if they demand an international draft so that they can save a couple million dollars a year. But that’s a topic for another day.

At least these QO Boras clients can go into next off-season knowing they can’t get the offer again, which will free up their markets considerably.

Written by Todd Boss

March 19th, 2024 at 11:32 am

6 Responses to 'Final QO Free Agent signs, 2024 Draft Order finalized'

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  1. I’m not qualified to offer a detailed analysis on the subject but contracts this year mostly stayed short of the length predicted on MLBTR. last year while the AAV may have been lower the top guys mostly got longer deals.

    Montgomery has no QO attached to him and may be proof of the first line of the post.

    his projection was 6/$150M. I like this guy, he may not be an ace but he’s a durable, solid 2-3 starter. I may be nuts but I will not fall off my chair if the Nats get him for that. if he wants more or ends up with early opt outs, then they should pass.


    19 Mar 24 at 12:06 pm

  2. We probably should be pissed that the Nats aren’t picking #1 overall this year, but it’s not a great draft crop so not worth losing a lot of sleep. There seem to be some Nick Senzels among those being highly mocked.

    I don’t know what needs to become of the QO system. Since it no longer strips 1st-round draft picks, there’s not much sting. And the big-spending teams don’t seem concerned about the tax penalties.

    For those with an Athletic subscription, Rosenthal has an interesting take on the Boras guys:

    I certainly thought that Montgomery would be the first to sign since he didn’t have a QO attached. But I also understand the part where he’s 31 years old and isn’t more than a 5/6-inning guy. No one wants to give big bucks to the next Corbin.

    In addition to the big salary asks, Boras seems to have gone over the top with the opt-outs. What team wants to take the QO penalty for a guy who is only going to stay one season?

    Rosenthal makes some good points about Snell having to make a quick transition to new team/teammates/ballpark/place to live. You hear Soto still lamenting leaving the Nats, but he may be with his fourth team in four years in 2025 unless he re-ups with the Yanks. Bryce understood all of that and told Boras to screw the opt-outs plus get a full no-trade. He wanted to be settled somewhere. Admittedly, Philly is one of the LAST places I’d want to be settled, but at least he isn’t going through the FA stress every year. It cost him quite a lot of money to get that security, though.

    Along similar lines, I laugh at how cool everyone now thinks deferred money is now that Othani King of the Universe and the Almighty Dodgers are doing it. All the commentators thought it was such an awful thing that the Nats were inflicting on baseball. Never mind that the Bobby Bonilla deal happened a long time before Ted Lerner bought a team.


    20 Mar 24 at 11:30 am

  3. From today’s Athletic baseball newsletter:

    What is going on with the MLBPA?

    Well, this is certainly dramatic. The MLBPA is in the middle of a mutiny. Here’s what you need to know.

    It starts here: $2.8 billion. That’s how much teams spent on free agents this offseason; take out what the Dodgers spent, and that number is under $2 billion. It was $3.9 billion a year ago.

    The decrease in spending has led to some agents and players, unhappy with the union, banding together in their belief that agent Scott Boras has an outsized influence over current MLBPA leadership.

    As reported by Evan Drellich and Ken in this story, on a phone call on Monday night, player leadership confronted MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, urging him to replace deputy director Bruce Meyer with former MLBPA lawyer Harry Marino. Yes, former. Marino left the MLBPA after helping to negotiate the inclusion of minor leaguers into the union. He and Meyer apparently did not get along, leading to Marino’s exit.

    Yesterday, Boras weighed in, ripping the “coup.” Evan Drellich has the whole story, including this quote from Marino:

    “The players who sought me out want a union that represents the will of the majority. Scott Boras is rich because he makes — or used to make — the richest players in the game richer. That he is running to the defense of Tony Clark and Bruce Meyer this morning is genuinely alarming.”

    Drellich also reports that it now seems likely that either Meyer and Clark are both out, or neither is.

    Jack Flaherty of the Tigers, who is a member of the eight-player executive subcommittee and a Marino supporter, also weighed in, saying this:

    “(Free agency) is the big, glaring issue that everybody can see. Everybody can see the spending being down … if you take away the two signings by the Dodgers, it’s down by way more than that. Players are smart, and we’re gathering together to all head in the right direction together.”

    If you thought we were going to get five peaceful years between CBA negotiations, think again.


    20 Mar 24 at 12:26 pm

  4. The MLBPA’s issues is simple: they’ve allowed a salary CAP to go into effect without a corresponding salary floor.

    So there’s no incentive for a wealthy team like Washington or Chicago White Sox to spend up to a floor, nor is there incentive for a middle class team like Pittsburgh to actually try.

    Todd Boss

    20 Mar 24 at 2:28 pm

  5. I completely agree. It’s terrible not to have a floor, and criminal to let teams like the Nats get away with being so cheap. The Nats’ 2024 payroll is less than a third of that of the Yankees and the Mets. Now, money can’t buy you love, as the fan base of those two teams can attest. And frankly, blowing past the very soft ceiling shouldn’t be allowed either.

    The healthiest league of them all, the NFL, has a hard cap and a hard floor. Teams are required to spend within 11% of each other. If your team sucks, it’s not because of money (hello Dan Snyder). Of course the NFL can have this system because of full revenue sharing, particularly of TV contracts. And frankly, the greatest inequity in MLB is local TV contracts.

    I’m so frustrated with the Nats right now for not even pretending to try. I don’t know how a pro’s pro like Rizzo can keep a straight face and say they’re trying to contend when he’s got a non-tendered guy with a career OPS+ of 77 at 3B, and the power bat he brought in hasn’t topped the Mendoza line since 2019 (and is “hitting” .097 for the spring). Trevor Williams is still a starter despite a 5.55 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.

    Yes, they’re waiting on “the kids,” but they could have signed the Boras Four plus Hader, still been well under the tax line, and become fairly decent wild card contenders this year. You can argue whether those guys would have been a smart baseball investment, but there’s no doubt they would have improved the team, and made it more interesting to support.


    20 Mar 24 at 5:13 pm

  6. For those who love baseball, and have an Athletic subscription, this is a terrific read:

    Jayson Stark, “Baseball’s missing milestones: How long will 500/3,000/300 drought last? Who could end it?”

    Among those mentioned are “our” guys Bryce and Juan, with a brief nod that Max won’t reach 300 wins. Of course we saw seemingly half of Freddie Freeman’s hits produced against the Nats too. It’s interesting that Stark thinks that Soto has a better chance at the all-time walks record than he does at 3,000 hits (he has led the majors in walks for the last three seasons). Stark doesn’t have the right record-holder for walks, though — it’s Bonds, not Rickey Henderson. (And don’t get tripped up on the Immaculate Grid: Bonds didn’t make it to 3,000 hits. That seems to have been the main reason he wanted to play another season.)


    26 Mar 24 at 3:42 pm

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