The current MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement was put into place in 2011 and expires on December 1st of 2016. With the expiration, it is likely that players will find a way or work towards eliminating the current draft pick compensation. While the qualifying offer protects small-market teams and allows them to receive compensation for losing a player, it also comes with driving the price of free agents down. For that reason, players who receive qualifying offers need to truly be elite, or they pay the price in the open market.
From 2012 to 2014, all 34 players who received qualifying offers rejected them; however, after the 2015 season, a whopping 20 players received offers, with three players – Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus, and Brett Anderson – accepting the one-year, $15.8 million deals (the average annual value of the top 125 salaries in baseball), while a fourth, Marco Estrada, agreed to a two-year deal with Toronto. Unfortunately, there are several others who are still seeking roster asylum.
The market for Ian Desmond, Yovani Gallardo, and Dexter Fowler has been slow to develop, while we saw recent late signings for Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton, who, finally, received long-term deals with the newly popular opt-out clauses worked into those deals. In addition to Desmond, Gallardo, and Fowler, here are other names still available:
Cliff Lee, Mark Buehrle, Tim Lincecum, Doug Fister, Kyle Lohse, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Alex Rios, Greg Holland (Tommy John surgery), Marlon Byrd, David Freese, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Minor (coming off of shoulder surgery), Alfredo Simon, Matt Joyce, Ike Davis, Bronson Arroyo (Tommy John surgery), Juan Uribe, and superstar slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
Interestingly enough, the players above do not require draft pick compensation; however, many clubs now value the cost effective, team control mantra that comes with youth movements, while refraining from the over-inflated, under-performing, declining veteran deals, which causes the shelf period for players in free agency to continue to lengthen.
It certainly makes sense for clubs to give young players additional opportunities, especially if they have very little chance to succeed in a given year. Many teams will likely attempt to match the Houston Astros complete, disgraceful collapse and eventual successful rebuild, rather than giving $8 million to a 38-year-old infielder. The perfect example of this would be my hometown Cincinnati Reds plugging last year’s shortstop, Eugenio Suarez (who gives way at short after Zack Cozart‘s return from a knee injury), in at third base instead of signing David Freese or Juan Uribe to give mediocre production at a much greater cost.
Free agency for the elite players continues to be lucrative. Free agency for large market clubs continues to be a bountiful way to reload a roster quickly. However, free agency for small-market clubs and lesser players continues to be a battle of patience, as offers are slow to develop until desperation sinks in.
All of this goes back to ways that clubs and owners are able to manipulate the market. Qualifying offers and compensation picks protect clubs, but there is still no true protection for the players – outside of that whole guaranteed contract thing. There is so much money in baseball. Though some people complain about how much players are paid, they certainly are due their fair share of the pot. That isn’t happening right now. If players continue to sit out deep into the offseason, it is fair to cry collusion among the owners. Billionaires battling millionaires. You have to love first world problems.