Qualifying offer candidates

Under the new CBA, the old “Type A’ and “Type B” free agents no longer exist. Instead, teams making a “qualifying offer” to a player who signs elsewhere get two compensation picks: the signing team’s first round pick (with the first 10 picks protected) and a sandwich round pick.

A qualifying offer is a one-year contract at an amount equal to the average of the top 125 MLB contracts – currently about $12.4 million.

We are only just past the one-quarter mark in the Jays’ season, so it is premature to discuss whether any of the Jays free agents would rate a qualifying offer. But premature can be fun – so let’s do it anyway!

Kelly Johnson

Over the first 49 games, Kelly has performed to a 2.1 WAR (according to baseball reference) or a 1.5 WAR (fangraphs). Extrapolated over 162 games, this works out to a WAR of 5.0 to 6.9. To be conservative, say 5.0 – 5.5.

What is a 5.5 WAR 2B worth these days?

Well, if you look at the years 2009-2011 and calculate average WAR figures, you get Cano at 5.5, Pedroia at 5.4 and Kinsler at 5.3. Pretty good company.

On a “marginal value of a win” basis, one point of WAR is generally held to be worth ~$5 million (to a contending team, etc, etc). So a 5+ WAR player is arguably worth substantially more than $12.4 million per year.

So if Kelly were to accept the offer, the Jays would not be too badly disadvantaged. But would he be likely to so so? After all, he is 30 years old with an up-and-down history, and he would be coming off the best WAR season of his career. If he took a one-year deal with the Jays for 2013 and underperformed, he might not have the same opportunity in 2014. The temptation to leverage a huge 2012 season into a multi-year contract would be high.

Making a qualifying offer could result in other advantages for the Jays. Other potential suitors might hesitate to give up a first round pick, which would give the Jays some leverage in negotiating a multi-year deal themselves.

Edwin Encarnacion

Same arguments as Kelly. EE has a WAR of 1.5 (fangraphs) to 1.8 (baseball reference) over the first 49 games. Extrapolates to 5.0 to 6.0 WAR for the full season.

EE’s second half in 2011 would extrapolate to a WAR of just under 4.0, so a 5 WAR in 2012 would not be a total surprise.

Ideally, the Jays would want to sign EE to a long-term deal at a team-friendly rate. But if that were not possible, a $12.4 million offer for a single year would not be out of the question. Like Kelly, EE would likely want to leverage an outstanding 2012 into a multi-year contract, so it is not certain that he would accept a one-year deal, even at such a high value.

** ** ** **

Many things could change between now and October. A significant dropoff in production would make a qualifying offer far more problematic. Or they could sign multi-year deals with the Jays before the end of the season. Or A-squared could work some magic using one of both of them at the trade deadline. But knowing that a qualifying offer is a possibility can only strengthen A-squared’s position at the trade table and at the contract negotiating table.

The new "qualifying offer" system will create an interesting dynamic for players on the cusp of greatness. For some players (a Pujols, or - potentially this year - a Cole Hamels) making a qualifying offer will be a no-brainer. For most players, an offer of $12 million + will be out of the question. But for the players that a team might otherwise have offered $10 million or so, the new system creates an incentive to offer that extra couple of million. Many teams will consider risking a couple of million for the chance of earning two first-round draft picks a very worthwhile gamble.

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