In a rather slow baseball news day--sorry Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals fans--baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal slipped in a little tidbit of information that will be critical for this year's off-season. He reported that the number for this year's qualifying offer is set for impending free agents at a reported $17.2 million.
This reported figure is up 8.9 per cent from last year's $15.8 million qualifying offer, which is determined by the average annual salary of the top 125 contracts within Major League Baseball. The qualifying offer figure was $15.3 million in 2014 up from $14.1 million in 2013 and $13.3 million in 2012.
In case you were unfamiliar with the process, a qualifying offer can be made through the fifth day of the World Series to a player who has a week to accept the deal. If a team makes a qualifying offer to a player who signs a major league contract with another club before the June amateur draft, his former club would receive a draft pick as compensation at the end of the first round. The club signing the player would then lose their first-round pick in the amateur draft, unless that pick is in the top 10, in which case the club doing the signing loses its next highest pick.
The qualifying offer process has proved important in previous off-seasons as none of the 34 qualifying offers were accepted in the first three years of the MLB's current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before Colby Rasmus, Matt Wieters and Brett Anderson all accepted their qualifying offers last off-season. Notably, only players who have been with their former team for the entirety of the previous season can be extended qualifying offers.
Thus, this process will have some implications on the Toronto Blue Jays off-season with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Cecil, Michael Saunders and R.A Dickey all being at least eligible to receive a qualifying offer. With that said, it would be fair to eliminate Brett Cecil from contention of receiving an offer from the outset as the $17.2 million would make him the highest paid reliever in the game, which his 2016 ERA of 3.93 certainly doesn't support. Further, at nearly 42-years-old, R.A Dickey shouldn't be waiting by the phone for his qualifying offer to come in after finishing with his worst season in a Jays uniform at 1.0 fWAR while being paid $12.5 million. There's little reason to suggest he's worth a nearly $5 million pay increase next season.
That brings us to the more meaty important part of the conversation. In this, assuming that neither Jose and Edwin negotiates a quick contract after they hoist the World Series trophy, both will likely receive a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, which they will likely both decline. This doesn't mean that neither is coming back; rather, it's more of a business move to protect the Blue Jays in the event that they are unable to resign either player and lose two valuable players for nothing. From the two sluggers' perspective, both would surely garner more than $17.2 million on the open market, especially if you're talking about signing a one-year deal, which is what the qualifying offer has to be.
At one point, there was the thought that Bautista may be the type of candidate to sign a qualifying offer to play another season and rebuild his reputation after having a down year struggling with injuries in 2016. However, after being an integral part in the current Jays' postseason run, it's getting increasingly more difficult to envision him not seeing his value on the open market.
Once both of these two decline their qualifying offers, the Blue Jays are free to negotiate a deal of any dollar and term that they want. It's what the Jays did last season with Marco Estrada who sought a two-year deal at a lower average annual than the qualifying offer provided. Whether that happens or not is of course up to the parties involved.
The most interesting candidate for the qualifying offer process though has to be Michael Saunders. In June, with Saunders off to an all-star caliber start, the famous Jonah Keri was among the many who projected a big deal for Saunders, even arguing that he could see four years on his contract offer in the off-season. Now, thanks to a second half of the season where he posted a .178/.282/.357 triple slash line, he can likely expect to kiss that dream contract goodbye. It's not likely the Blue Jays are willing to go four years on an outfielder who was 11 runs below average per Fangraphs DRS metric, nor should they.
Really, it's unlikely Saunders even receives the qualifying offer from the Blue Jays this off-season unless the front office desperately thinks they need his outfield presence--they don't if they believe Dalton Pompey is ever going to be a major leaguer--and that another team would quickly scoop him up if the Jays blew their signing window. Not only that, using a WAR/$ figure from the 2014 off-season with a more than conservative measure of $8 million per fWAR, Michael Saunders would only be worth $11.2 million because of his 2016 fWAR of 1.4. He's just simply not good enough to warrant a $17.2 million contract, especially when the Blue Jays don't need his services in 2016.
If the Blue Jays do want Saunders back, expect him to negotiate a separate deal with a lower average annual, which could still end up being a one-year deal. That said, don't be surprised if the Blue Jays elect to let Saunders walk away at season's end and instead rely on Melvin Upton Jr., Ezequiel Carrera, Kevin Pillar, Pompey and (possibly?) Bautista for the 2017 season. From a front office perspective, that's just the smarter move.
At this point in time, these numbers are just food for thought as the Blue Jays continue to fight for a World Series. Eventually though, these contract possibilities are going to matter. Don't say we didn't warn you.