There is growing sentiment this offseason that the MLBPA and players didn’t do so well in the last CBA negotiation. Some have argued the owners have won the last several rounds of negotiations.
Instead of focusing on deep structural issues related to the devaluation of most free agents — the elite free agents, the Bryce Harpers and Yu Darvishes are always going to be paid — the players took home much smaller victories in the last CBA talks, such as improving dining options in the clubhouse.
The union’s primary focus during the last round of CBA negotiations seemed to be eliminating the qualifying offer or at least reducing the punitive nature of it. The Scarlet QO had compromised the markets for a number of players in past winters. And in the current CBA, the players did get a weakened qualifying offer.
It seemed like a small victory at the time, but it is looking less and less like a kind of victory and more like another factor in the historically slow offseason.
The offseason is now technically over. Of the nine players attached to a QO, six remain unsigned even with pitchers and catchers having reported to camps across Arizona and Florida.
Among the nine QO players — Jake Arrieta, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Lance Lynn, Mike Moustakas, and Carlos Santana — only Cain, Davis, and Santana — have signed deals. The one-year deal is tied to the average salary of game’s 125 highest-paid players, which was $17.4 million this offseason.
The problem remains, as FanGraphs alum and MLB dot com stalwart Mike Petriello notes, that while the draft-pick damages attached to the QO have been reduced, the tag is still apparently too great a cost when tied to a good but not great free agent.
Only 3 of 9 qualifying offer guys have signed.
I think b/c it's no longer "lose 1st pick," & b/c new rules are convoluted, it's easy to forget how much QO still limits FA.
If you're luxury tax payer, a QO guy costs you 2nd/5th picks, $1M of pool. Is a non-elite FA worth that?
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) February 15, 2018
The penalties associated with the QO are still apparently playing a role in reducing players’ marketability.
The key factor that limits the market is really this: signing clubs that were alos luxury-tax payers in the previous season (almost always a large-market team) are forced to surrender their second- and fifth-highest picks in the upcoming draft and forfeit $1 million in international bonus pool money, which is roughly 20% of many clubs’ international budgets. Signing an additional QO-tagged player would cost such a team its third- and sixth-highest picks. Teams that are not over the luxury tax and do not receive revenue-sharing surrender their second-highest pick and $500,000 in international pool dollars. All other teams forfeit their third-highest pick.
While all first-round picks are now protected, the total costs associated with the QO are still apparently too great for most clubs when a non-elite player is tagged with the QO. If given a mulligan, perhaps Cobb, Holland, and Moustakas would all agree to the one-year qualifying-offer contracts.
Moreover, as Craig Edwards found it looks like overall player salary could decrease this season. At the moment, there is one fewer player earning at least $10 million in 2018 (126) compared to a year ago (127). If the growth of the one-year salary of the QO slows, more clubs are likely to attach it to players in hopes of gaining draft-pick compensation. The number of free agents tagged could increase.
One notable free agent who wasn’t attached with a qualifying offer was Zack Cozart, and he signed relatively promptly this offseason. Cozart agreed to a three-year, $38-million deal with the Angels way back on Dec. 15, the time of year, when we were younger, when free agents used to sign. Dave predicted a three-year, $39-million deal and the crowd a four-year, $60-million contract for Cozart. That deal seemed fair to moderately club-friendly. When the remaining six players with QOs eventually sign — assuming they sign — this author suspects they will fall far below the public’s expectations and players’ asks back at the beginning of the offseason.
While the elite free agents will always be paid, one of this author’s posts at FanGraphs concerned the forces working against the middle-class of player and free agent. I revisited it in November. Beyond clubs operating more efficiently and similarly, beyond certain clubs holding back cash for the next year’s class of free agents, beyond the stronger luxury-tax penalties that have created something of a hard cap, one thing that hasn’t been discussed as much is that the QO remains an impediment for the non-elite players tagged with it.
The qualifying offer might not be on the top of the list of things for which the MLBPA ought to fight, but it remains a problem for many players attached to it.