The 2022 World Series is complete and the 2022-23 offseason is already underway. Over 100 players became free agents this past Sunday and soon teams will have to make decisions about contract options and qualifying offers. Here are the important offseason dates and deadlines you need to know.

The qualifying offer entitles teams to draft-pick compensation in the event they lose a free agent to another team. The QO is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and this offseason it is worth $19.65 million. That is up from $18.4 million last offseason. It was $18.9 million the offseason before that, so the top 125 salaries declined from 2020 to 2021. In related news, baseball had its first work stoppage in a quarter-century last offseason.

Earlier this year MLB and the MLBPA agreed to eliminate the QO and the free-agent compensation system entirely if and only if they agreed to an international draft. That didn’t happen, so the QO remains.

Teams have until five days after the end of the World Series (Nov. 10) to tender their free agents the QO, and players who receive it then have 10 days to accept or reject (decisions due Nov. 20). Players who accept the QO remain with their team, and players who reject it are attached to draft-pick compensation. Simple, right? The process is, but the decisions aren’t.    

With that in mind, let’s run down this offseason’s QO candidates. Here are the draft-pick compensation rules to get us started.

Compensation rules

Back in the day teams that lost an eligible free agent received a compensation draft pick after the first round. It was nice and easy. The current rules are a bit more complicated now. Here are compensation rules for teams that lose a qualified free agent:

  • Player signs contract worth $50 million or less: Draft pick after competitive balance round B (before the third round).
  • Player signs contract worth more than $50 million: Draft pick after first round.
  • Former team pays competitive balance tax: Draft pick after fourth round regardless of contract size.

The third bullet point applies only to the six teams that exceeded the $230 million CBT threshold in 2022: Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Phillies, Red Sox, and Yankees. Every other team will hope their qualified free agent signs a contract worth more than $50 million to secure the best possible compensation draft pick.

Now here are the penalties for signing a qualified free agent:  

  • Signing team paid CBT: Forfeit second- and fifth-highest draft picks, plus $1 million in international bonus money.
  • Signing team received revenue sharing money: Forfeit third-highest draft pick.
  • All other teams: Forfeit second-highest draft pick and $500,000 in international bonus money.

The first bullet point applies to the six teams that exceeded the $230 million CBT threshold this past season (Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees). The Athletics, Brewers, Guardians, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Royals, Tigers, and Twins received revenue sharing this season, so they’re the second bullet point. Every other team is the third bullet point.

In recent years we’ve seen several players hurt by the QO. Most notably, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel rejected the QO in 2018 and were unable to land new jobs until June 2019, after the draft and after the draft-pick compensation went away. Their new teams (Braves and Cubs, respectively) were able to sign them with no penalty. Michael Conforto did not sign after rejecting the QO last offseason, though he also suffered a shoulder injury during an offseason workout and required surgery, hurting his market.

Last offseason 14 players received the QO: Conforto rejected it and remains unsigned; Brandon Belt accepted it; Raisel Iglesias, Chris Taylor, and Justin Verlander signed new contracts to remain with their teams; Nick Castellanos, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Robbie Ray, Eduardo Rodriguez, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Noah Syndergaard rejected the QO and signed with new teams, giving their former clubs compensation draft picks. Teams do not gain or lose picks for re-signing their own qualified free agent.

Not eligible for QO

Players are eligible for the QO as long as they spent the entire 2022 season with one team and did not receive the QO previously. That means a not insignificant number of high profile free agents are not eligible for the QO this offseason. Here are the notables:

The Royals traded Benintendi for three pitchers who now rank as their No. 9, 16, and 26 prospects per MLB.com, and that’s a much better haul than the one compensation draft pick Kansas City would have received had they kept Benintendi all year and made him the QO. Anyway, these free agents are not eligible for the QO for one reason or another this offseason. Onward.

Locks to get QO

I count nine players who are stone cold locks to receive the QO this offseason: Chris Bassitt (Mets), Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), Willson Contreras (Cubs), Jacob deGrom (Mets), Aaron Judge (Yankees), Brandon Nimmo (Mets), Carlos Rodón (Giants), Dansby Swanson (Braves), and Trea Turner (Dodgers). Edwin Díaz would have received a QO as well, though he already re-signed with the Mets

Bogaerts, deGrom, and Rodón officially opted out of their contracts this week and the QO represents a significant pay cut for all three. They opted out because they’re looking for more money than what was on their previous deal, so they’ll obviously reject the QO. Rodón, it should be noted, did not receive the QO last offseason. The White Sox messed up there. Now if Rodón signs with a new team as a free agent, the Giants will get the compensation draft pick, not Chicago.

For these nine players, accepting the QO won’t be a serious consideration. They’re all in position to sign lucrative multi-year contracts. If any of these players accept the QO, their teams would welcome them back with open arms. It must be noted players who accept the QO can not be traded until June 15 without their consent. So if, say, Contreras accepts the QO, the Cubs wouldn’t be able to turn around and trade him immediately without his approval. They’d have to wait until next summer.

Likely to receive QO

I would stop short of calling these players locks to receive the QO, but I think they’re more likely than not to receive it: Tyler Anderson (Dodgers), Nathan Eovaldi (Red Sox), Martín Pérez (Rangers), Anthony Rizzo (Yankees), and Taijuan Walker (Mets). Anderson and Pérez both had the best seasons of their careers in 2022. They were excellent and deserving All-Stars, and both are journeymen poised for the largest paydays of their careers. I could see these being “make your best offers quick or I’m accepting the QO” free agencies, if that makes sense. (This is what lefty Will Smith did before signing with the Braves three years ago.)

Walker has already used his opt out clause and the Mets could lose a lot of starting pitching this offseason, namely Bassitt and deGrom. Walker comes with an injury history and the surface numbers are more impressive than the under-the-hood numbers, but there’s a lot of value in 150 league average-ish innings. The Mets can afford a one-year deal with a big salary and need the rotation stability. I think it’s more likely than not Walker gets a QO.

Rizzo can opt out of his $16 million salary for 2023 and is expected to do so, and I think the Yankees would happily take him back at $19.65 million. It’s a relatively small raise and still just a one-year commitment. That said, I have Rizzo in the likely category rather than the lock category only because he’s had career long back trouble that flared up to the point where he needed an epidural in September. The only potential hang up here is how comfortable are the Yankees with his ongoing back issues? As long as the back checks out (and he looked good late in the season), Rizzo will get a QO.  

Eovaldi’s late-season shoulder trouble and his overall injury history (including two Tommy John surgeries) makes him a bit more of a question mark, but the Red Sox badly need rotation help, and Eovaldi remains their sturdiest performer. Like the Dodgers with Anderson and the Rangers with Pérez, they can afford a high-salaried one-year deal for a pitcher who’s performed well for them. Ultimately, quality starting pitching is very hard to find. As long as the medicals check out, I think everyone here gets the QO.

On the fence      

There are a few players on a QO bubble each year and this offseason is no different. Seven players stand out as QO bubble candidates: Zach Eflin (Phillies), Mitch Haniger (Mariners), JD Martinez (Red Sox), Joc Pederson (Giants), Jurickson Profar (Padres), Ross Stripling (Blue Jays), and Jameson Taillon (Yankees). Teams tend to be conservative with $19.65 million decisions, and there are pro-QO and anti-QO arguments to be made for each of these players.

Martinez, the biggest name of the group, did not play a single inning in the field in 2022 and had his worst 162-game season in a decade. A 35-year-old DH with a declining bat is not exactly a hot commodity on the free-agent market, and the fact Martinez did not opt out of his contract after 2019 and 2020 suggests he has some concern about free agency. The Red Sox can certainly afford a pricey DH, but I think they pass on a QO. If anything, they’ll look to bring him back at a lower salary.

Pederson and Stripling, two former Dodgers teammates, have limitations but are very productive players in their roles. Pederson is a lefty platoon bat who should never ever face lefties, and his defense is increasingly questionable. The fact he’s settled for one-year deals worth $7 million and $6 million the last two offseasons suggests Pederson will not receive a QO. The market is generally unkind to corner players who are defensively challenged and need a platoon partner.

Stripling has never thrown as many as 135 innings in a season, though he’s as good a No. 5 starter/swingman as there is in the game. With his 33rd birthday coming up next month, this is likely Stripling’s only chance at a nice free agent payday. Then again, taking the guaranteed $19.65 million would be awfully tempting. The Blue Jays could certainly afford the high-priced one-year deal. Ultimately, I think they value the flexibility and won’t make Stripling the QO.

The Yankees are in an interesting spot with Taillon. He was a solid mid-rotation starter the last two years and those guys will cost you $12 million or more per year in free agency, plus Taillon’s had no arm trouble since returning from his second Tommy John surgery last year. At the same time, the Yankees would only receive a compensation pick after the fourth round for Taillon because they exceeded the CBT threshold this season. I’m not sure that’s enough of a reward to gamble $19.65 million on a good but not truly great starter, particularly one with a scary injury history. My hunch is Taillon gets a QO, but it’s far from a lock.

Eflin was in the bullpen during the postseason because of a late-season knee injury and, similar to Taillon, he’s a solid mid-rotation starter more than a frontline guy. That he’s shown he can have an impact in the bullpen helps him moving forward. Teams know the bullpen is a viable fallback plan. Also like the Yankees and Taillon, the Phillies would only get a compensation pick after the fourth round because of their CBT status. The fact Eflin turns only 29 in April (Taillon turns 31 in November) combined with the fact World Series teams tend to re-sign their players at a higher rate than non-World Series teams leads me to believe Eflin will get a QO.

The No. 1 prospect in baseball shine wore off Profar long ago but he’s turned himself into a league average to slightly better than league average left fielder. He opted out of his contract and is unlikely to get a $19.65 million salary next year, but he could receive a contract in the three years and $36 million range, perhaps four years and $60 million. This might be Profar’s last chance at a significant free-agent deal. There’s something to be said for taking the $19.65 million in 2023 and trying free agency again next year, but there is risk too. My guess is the Padres will pass on the QO. I also don’t think Profar getting one would be completely crazy.  

There was a point earlier this year in which Padres righties Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea appeared to be on their way to a QO, but their last season fades likely take them out of the running. San Diego will need to fill out the back of its rotation this winter, so bringing back either guy would make sense, but not at $19.65 million in 2023. The Padres have some needs to fill and their projected payroll is already north of $210 million. I think they see the QO as too big a risk with Clevinger and Manaea, especially when they were over the CBT threshold and would only receive a draft pick after the fourth round as compensation.

The Kershaw question

Adam Wainwright would have fit here too had he not recently signed a new contract with the Cardinals. Clayton Kershaw is a legacy player and legacy players get special treatment. Kershaw is leaning toward playing next season and surely the Dodgers would love to have him back, but that was the case last offseason too, and they did not make the QO. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said they declined to make the QO out of respect for Kershaw, and to not rush him into any kind of decision.

“I think just with our respect for him and for what he’s done for this organization, that wasn’t something that we wanted to do and put him on that kind of clock when he wasn’t ready for it,” Friedman told MLB.com at the time. “If he wants to come back, we will absolutely work together to make that happen. If he doesn’t for whatever reason, that’s his right. He is going to drive a lot of what he wants to do next year.”

I would expect the Dodgers to treat Kershaw the same way this offseason, so no QO. He’s obviously worth it — even at this point in his career, Kershaw’s production is easily worth $19.65 million — and the smart baseball move would be making Kershaw the QO. There are players who transcend the usual decision-making process though, and Kershaw’s one of them. 

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