As reported by CBS Sports MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the qualifying offer for the 2015-16 offseason has been set at approximately $15.8 million. The exact number down to the penny will be finalized within a week or so. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball.
The qualifying offer is a one-year contract worth that $15.8 million. If the team makes a free agent the qualifying offer and he rejects it, then they're entitled to draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. The system has been in place for several years now and we've yet to see a free agent accept the qualifying offer.
Teams have until five days following the end of the World Series to make the qualifying offer. Players then have seven days to accept or reject it. The qualifying offer must be made to receive draft pick compensation. There are no loopholes.
So, with that in mind, let's try to figure out which notable free agents will and will not receive the qualifying offer. Just to be clear, this is all speculation.
DEFINITELY GETTING QO
Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
Chris Davis, Orioles
Dexter Fowler, Cubs
Alex Gordon, Royals (assuming he declines $12.5-million player option)
Zack Greinke, Dodgers (assuming he opts out of final three years, $71 million)
Jason Heyward, Cardinals
Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
Howie Kendrick, Dodgers
John Lackey, Cardinals
Jeff Samardzija, White Sox
Justin Upton, Padres
Matt Wieters, Orioles
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Most of these players are self-explanatory, right? Davis, Gordon, Greinke, Heyward, Upton and Zimmermann are among the top free agents this winter and all are in line for way more than $15.8 million. Chen and Wieters are Scott Boras clients and Boras clients almost always look for the largest payday. They might not get $15.8 million annually, but their total packages will be worth more than that.
The Cubs acquired Fowler last winter hoping he would play his way into a qualifying offer and he did just that with 17-homer, 2.2-WAR season. Kendrick, Iwakuma and Lackey fall into the "their teams would happily take these veterans back on a one-year, $15.8-million contract if they accept the qualifying offer" category.
I was tempted to put Samardzija in the next group but decided against it even though he was so disappointing this season (79 ERA+). Samardzija is only 30, he's a workhorse (213+ innings three straight years), and it was only a year ago that he put up a 125 ERA+ and 3.7 WAR. I can't imagine the ChiSox would let him go for nothing, especially after not trading him at the deadline.
LIKELY GETTING QO
Brett Anderson, Dodgers
Ian Desmond, Nationals
Yovani Gallardo, Rangers
Ian Kennedy, Padres
Daniel Murphy, Mets
Colby Rasmus, Astros
Denard Span, Nationals
These are the players who I believe are likely to get a qualifying offer, though a shred of doubt exists. The Mets are notoriously tight with payroll, which is why they might not risk Murphy accepting a qualifying offer. I think he gets one though. Rasmus, like Fowler, seemed to play his way into a qualifying offer, especially this postseason.
Anderson will be one of the youngest free agents at 27 and he just threw a career-high 180 1/3 innings after throwing 206 1/3 innings total from 2011-14. I have to think he'll try to turn that into a multi-year contract. This offseason is likely the last best chance for Gallardo, Kennedy and Span to sign a big contract, so they'd decline a qualifying offer rather than accept the one-year deal and try again next winter.
UNLIKELY TO GET QO
Alex Avila, Tigers
Asdrubal Cabrera, Rays
Rajai Davis, Tigers
Marco Estrada, Blue Jays
Doug Fister, Nationals
David Freese, Angels
Chris Iannetta, Angels
Dioner Navarro, Blue Jays
Darren O'Day, Orioles
Good players, all of them, but not good enough for their teams to risk having them accept a one-year contract worth $15.8 million. A few months ago Fister was a lock for a qualifying offer, but injuries, a demotion to the bullpen, a 95 ERA+ and 0.2 WAR took him out of that price range. It's not impossible one or two of these players receive a qualifying offer, but it would surprise me.
NOT GETTING QO
Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays
A.J. Burnett, Pirates
Bartolo Colon, Mets
David DeJesus, Angels (assuming $5-million team option is declined)
Chris Denorfia, Cubs
Stephen Drew, Yankees
Jeremy Guthrie, Royals (assuming team declines $10-million mutual option)
Tim Hudson, Giants
Torii Hunter, Twins
Shawn Kelley, Padres
Cliff Lee, Phillies (assuming $27.5-million team option is declined)
Tim Lincecum, Giants
Justin Morneau, Rockies (assuming $9-million mutual option is declined)
Brandon Morrow, Padres
Joe Nathan, Tigers (assuming $10-million team option is declined)
Steve Pearce, Orioles
Mike Pelfrey, Twins
A.J. Pierzynski, Braves
Mark Reynolds, Cardinals
Alex Rios, Royals
Jimmy Rollins, Dodgers
Buehrle, Burnett and Hudson are expected to retire after the season, and there's no reason to risk making the qualifying offer. Colon and Hunter could retire as well. Besides, their performance isn't worth a qualifying offer. Lee and Nathan are former All-Stars near the end of their careers. Both are coming off major arm injuries too. No qualifying offers for them.
I think Lincecum's days as a well-paid rock star with the Giants are over. I do think he'll wind up back in San Francisco, but on a much smaller contract. He made $18 million in 2015, remember. After hip surgery and four straight years with no better than a 91 ERA+, Lincecum's not qualifying-offer worthy.
NOT ELIGIBLE FOR QO
Marlon Byrd, Giants
Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
Tyler Clippard, Mets
Johnny Cueto, Royals
Austin Jackson, Cubs
Scott Kazmir, Astros
Mike Leake, Giants
Mark Lowe, Blue Jays
Mike Napoli, Rangers
Gerardo Parra, Orioles
David Price, Blue Jays
Joakim Soria, Pirates
Chase Utley, Dodgers
Ben Zobrist, Royals
These players are not eligible for a qualifying offer because they were traded during the season. The rules state a player must spend the entire season with their club to be eligible for a qualifying offer, and these guys didn't do that. Big name free agents like Cespedes, Cueto, Price and Zobrist will not be tied to draft-pick compensation this winter.
It's debatable whether some of the other players listed would even receive a qualifying offer (Byrd, Jackson, Napoli, etc.), but the question has been answered for us. They're ineligible for the offer.
OPTIONS LIKELY TO BE EXERCISED
Nori Aoki, Giants ($5.5-million team option)
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays ($14-million team option)
Joaquin Benoit, Padres ($8-million team option)
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox ($13-million team option)
R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays ($12-million team option)
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays ($10-million team option)
Jaime Garcia, Cardinals ($11.5-million team option)
Adam Lind, Brewers ($8-million club option)
David Murphy, Angels ($7-million team option)
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox ($10-million team option)
Brendan Ryan, Yankees ($1-million player option)
Brad Ziegler, Diamondbacks ($5.5-million team option)
These are the contract options I expect to be exercised this offseason, meaning these players won't become free agents. Bautista and Encarnacion are no-brainers, and others like Benoit, Buchholz, Dickey, Garcia and Murphy are very safe. Position scarcity leads me to believe Ramirez will have his option exercised despite his poor year. Even if their current teams don't want these players, they have trade value at those salaries. No need to cut them loose for a measly draft pick.