Out of the 20 free agents given a qualifying offer (QO), only three accepted. They are the first three ever to accept one, but did they make the right call?
Before looking at each individual case, there are some similarities between all three of them so let’s delve in to those:
- Everyone left guaranteed money on the table – All three of Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson would have received contracts with a total value of more than the $15.8MM that they are now guaranteed. As such, they all now assumed the risk that what they at least left on the table will still be there next offseason.
- The AAV of the QO would have most likely been higher than they contracts they would have signed – In exchange for the risk above, all 3 guaranteed a better payday this year alone. While Wieters might have been able to slightly top $15.8MM this year, it’s close enough to not put him in the David Price tier (it would top both the total money and AAV easily, so it’s a no-brainer to reject the QO)
- This past season was a departure from their respective baselines – Wieters wasn’t his usual outstanding self after Tommy John surgery, Anderson threw the most innings he ever has and Rasmus seemed settled (and productive) after struggling to find a good home with St. Louis and Toronto
While all three were on most lists of free agents who would take the QO, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see another year of the QO simply being a mechanism for teams to recoup a draft pick for outgoing free agents. But, since Wieters, Rasmus and Anderson accepted, the question now is: Did the free agents err in not at least testing the waters of the free agent pool?
Matt Wieters: As Wieters is a client of Scott Boras, it seemed that he would test free agency. Even if the mega-contract that most people assumed Wieters would attract about 2 years ago was off the table, he still would have netted a significant contract, as he was in the top tier for catchers this offseason. Offensively, he was above average per OPS+ this past year, significant because he typically was league average before the Tommy John surgery. His overall B-ref WAR was below 1 this year, partly due to the fact he only played in 75 games because of the elbow. Even if he had played a full season’s worth of games, somewhere between 130 and 145 for the durable catcher, he would have posted a low-for-Matt-Wieters WAR.
This is where the savvy of Scott Boras kicks in. Scott Boras realized that if he could get Matt Wieters a full season to prove the elbow is fully healed, that mega-deal from 2 years ago should reappear. Scott Boras is all about maximizing dollars for his clients and he found a unique way to do it. Assuming that Wieter’s elbow is in fact 100% (he wouldn’t have taken the QO if it wasn’t), this is the most acceptable decision out of the three as Wieters is ready to be the first to use the qualifying offer system to enhance his take home, instead of see it depress his market. It is important to note that if he isn’t able to place himself in the David Price tier, or see the QO system eliminated by a new CBA, then he took on the risk for no return, and simply stalled the free agent process by accepting this QO.
Colby Rasmus: Rasmus became the first player in history to accept a QO, as he accepted it a full day before the deadline, rather than the day of the deadline like Anderson and Wieters. The $15.8MM represents almost a 100% raise for Rasmus, as he signed a 1 yr/$8MM deal late in the offseason last year and turned in a .238/.314/.475 line, becoming one of the better value signings from last offseason. The line was right around his career .245/.313/.443 line, and he was a not insignificant part of the Astros return to the postseason. An outfielder who can play all 3 OF positions, he has enough power (25 HRs this past season) to play substantial time in the corners, even if advanced metrics weren’t a fan of his defense, especially in CF. He would have been a good cost-saving alternative in the OF market, sure to gather attention once the top tier was either signed or at the very least, when sticker prices of the top tier were known.
From a purely statistical viewpoint, accepting the QO is a bit of a headscratcher. But, a look at the intangibles makes the acceptance look like a good call. After wearing out his welcome in St. Louis and Toronto, it seemed that he found a good home in Houston under the same GM that drafted him. It makes sense that he would want to return, especially as Houston should contend in 2016. A one year deal ensures that this past year wasn’t just a honeymoon phase, and that there is a long term fit. Also, MLB.com lists 3 OF among the Astros top 10 prospects, so it’s possible that there is only a fit into the intermediate future, if not over a shorter time span. It makes sense that Rasmus and his representatives couldn’t find enough reasons to not delay his foray into the market for a year, and get compensated at a nice rate for doing so. Both parties should find out enough about his future fit this year to decide if they want to keep Rasmus in Houston beyond this year, so accepting the QO ends up working out for both parties
Brett Anderson: If you asked an agent what kind of performance he would like to see in a contract year, Brett Anderson’s performance would be pretty close to the criteria listed. After an injury-plagued career, Brett Anderson started 30 games for only the second time in his career, and the first time since his rookie season. His ERA+ was 101, so he was right about at league average, but 180 innings of league average pitching is a valuable commodity in the league today. Even though his K/9 of 5.8 was his career low, it would make sense that Anderson figured out how to trade strikeouts for less pitches and thus a healthier arm. His K/BB of 2.52 is close enough to his career average of 2.9 entering this year that he isn’t giving up more walks in order to generate a career best GB% of over 66%, per Fangraphs. Overall, Anderson figured to cash in pretty well on the market this year as a good low cost alternative to the top tier.
Anderson’s injury history seemed to point to him taking his payday this offseason. He wasn’t in a Matt Wieters injury situation as he was healthy after years of injuries instead of vice-versa. A $15.8MM salary would be a raise, but after making $12MM this season it wouldn’t have been a career-altering raise like Rasmus received. Add on top that all pitchers are one pitch away from spending the next 12 months or more on the shelf, and it makes sense to see what was out on the market for Anderson. Even if he really wanted to stay with the Dodgers, a similar deal to the QO would have been waiting, and it’s not like the Dodgers are short on payroll room to the point that the offer might not have been there in 6 or so weeks. While athletes should be willing to gamble on themselves, his history says that another 180 inning season would be not too likely. While another stellar season would have netted him a bigger contract next year in a thinner free agent pitching market, the downside is too much to ignore. Out of the three QO acceptances, this was most confusing one of all.
Agents and front offices are watching to see what these three players do this year, as it will help inform future QO decisions. Regardless of how these three guys do in the market next year, the qualifying offer system provided a great paper and twig base for this year’s hot stove season.
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