The $17.8 Million Answer

Last week, I discussed a few of the qualifying offer decisions facing teams and players this offseason. Yesterday, we learned which players found themselves on the receiving end of a QO. What happened and, given my analysis last week, what are the potential consequences? Let’s take a look.

Received a Qualifying Offer

The Obvious Ones
Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Josh Donaldson, and Stephen Strasburg all received offers. I think I’m on fairly safe ground by assuming all four will be turned down and that none of these players will have their markets seriously altered or damaged by the loss of a draft pick.

José Abreu
José Abreu is the one player I didn’t address last week who I probably should have. I didn’t actually expect there was much chance of the White Sox making this offer. Abreu should absolutely accept this contract; Nelson Cruz was considerably older last winter, but was had just had a better season and came with no loss of a draft pick, and received just a one-year, $14.3 million deal with a team option.

ZiPS Projection – Jose Abreu
2020 .269 .322 .462 587 72 158 34 2 25 98 36 136 2 109 -3 1.3

ZiPS suggests Abreu could fetch a one-year, $10 million contract, considerably less than the qualifying offer; that also doesn’t account for the value of the lost of a draft pick. I suspect Abreu accepts, lest he becomes one of the top candidates this winter for the free agent who doesn’t sign until June.

Madison Bumgarner
Madison Bumgarner was an obvious recipient of a qualifying offer, but he’s worth noting separately due to the likely consequences it will have for his next contract. I didn’t include Bumgarner’s projection in the previous piece, but given that Steamer just came out with a 2.1 WAR forecast for the left-hander in 2020, it’s probably worth demonstrating that Steamer’s not an outlier:

ZiPS Projections – Madison Bumgarner
2020 9 8 4.13 30 30 180.7 175 31 41 171 100 2.3
2021 8 7 4.23 28 28 166.0 166 29 38 152 98 1.9
2022 8 7 4.35 27 27 158.0 161 28 36 142 95 1.6
2023 7 7 4.36 25 25 145.0 148 26 33 130 95 1.5
2024 6 6 4.46 22 22 130.7 135 24 31 118 93 1.2
2025 5 6 4.60 20 20 115.7 121 23 28 104 90 0.9

This projection is for a neutral park, which matters for Bumgarner more than most. Bumgarner is more of a fly baller now than he was during his best years and doesn’t throw particularly hard, which is risky in a park that isn’t death to home runs. For his career, Bumgarner has a 58% higher HR/9 on the road than at home and with nearly a decade in the majors, that’s enough of a sample to declare it a concern instead of mere noise. ZiPS doesn’t explicitly use home/road data for individual players but it does see Bumgarner’s tendencies, valuing him at about 0.7 WAR per season more in San Francisco than in a neutral park. When you take the value of the draft pick into account, I’m not sure that Bumgarner is an obvious choice over Wade Miley given otherwise identical contracts.

Jake Odorizzi
The Twins made the smart move and extended a qualifying offer to Jake Odorizzi. The loss of a draft pick for the signing team adds risk to Odorizzi’s decision. The ZiPS projection for the right-hander’s next four years (8.7 WAR) is better than Dallas Keuchel’s four-year projection was entering free agency last winter (8.5 WAR). The situations aren’t identical, but the experiences of Keuchel and other second-tier free agents with compensation attached ought to at least serve as a warning to Odorizzi.

Perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but I still think Odorizzi can get a contract in the four-year, $70 million range, even with the lost draft pick. I’d rather have Odorizzi now than Jake Arrieta after his final season with the Cubs and while it took until March, Arrieta still squeezed a three-year, $75 million deal out of the Phillies. If Odorizzi wants to roll the dice, it may not be the worst idea to take Minnesota’s offer and bet on himself to match 2019’s 4.3 WAR. If he does that two seasons in a row and enters free agency without any strings attached, he might be able to pass the $100 million mark.

Marcell Ozuna
The Cardinals gave Marcell Ozuna his QO and even though I don’t think his next deal will get within spitting distance of $100 million, the market for interesting, young-ish corner outfielders isn’t exactly deep, making Ozuna one of the more compelling options. I’d be surprised if he accepted.

Will Smith
I think the Giants’ decision to make Will Smith an offer was the right one. The question now whether Smith accepts and in this case, I think he should. It’s a fair one-year salary for an excellent closer and if 2019’s crazyball returns, Oracle Park is one of the safest places to be. Playing for the Giants will affect his save totals going into free agency, but really, how many teams are using save totals for evaluation purposes anymore?

Zack Wheeler
There was no trademark Mets unpredictability here, with the team extending a qualifying offer to Zack Wheeler just as it should have. It’s extremely unlikely that Wheeler accepts and, at least based on the ZiPS projections, appears headed for a deal somewhere in the five-year, $100 million range. I would personally have ranked Wheeler as the third-best starting pitcher available after Cole and Strasburg in our 2020 Top 50 Free Agent Rankings rather than Bumgarner, as Wheeler projects better over the next four years, in both their respective home parks and in a neutral one.

Did Not Receive a Qualifying Offer

The Yankees Trio
Suggesting that thrift will remain the watchword in New York, the Yankees did not extend qualifying offers to Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, or Dellin Betances. I still think the Yankees ought to have at least made an offer to Gregorius, who averaged 3.7 WAR in his first four seasons in New York. Gregorius will be just 30 for the entirety of the 2020 season and has to be tempting for a team with a short-term shortstop problem.

Kyle Gibson

As expected, the Twins did not extend a QO to Kyle Gibson, though the right-hander will still likely end up with a one-year deal. It might surprise you, but Gibson’s 2.6 WAR in 2019 was identical to his 2018 WAR. ERA-influenced perceptions are still a thing! Like Lance Lynn last winter, I think there’s a chance that Gibson is one of the best value signings for a team this winter.

Cole Hamels
I think Chicago made a mistake by not extending a QO to Cole Hamels. I know the Cubs have decided to do a whole song-and-dance routine about their so-called budget constraints, but they should have jumped at the chance to bring Hamels back so cheaply. There are no internal options that are better bets for 2020 than Hamels, and a better option in free agency will cost more. Would the Cubs be so curiously cheap if they didn’t already have the World Series win?

Rick Porcello
Despite my speculation as to what the case for an offer for Rick Porcello would consist of, I didn’t think there was ever a real chance the Red Sox would take this risk. With J.D. Martinez not opting out of his contract, the Red Sox may not have made the offer even if Porcello was a considerably better pitcher.

Wade Miley
Without a draft pick encumbering Wade Miley, I’d expect him to get a decent-sized, one-year deal in the range of $8-$12 million. Considering the last six weeks of the season, I don’t think he’ll get a multi-year deal.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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3 years ago

Us Giants’ fans love us some MadBum but the perception was that the new (savvier) front office wasn’t going to sign him based on what he’s done in the past. Extending him a QO points to a little light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe he turns it down but will take 3 for $45M? The fit sure seems right, ballpark and all.