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This offseason, Major League Baseball’s qualifying offer will be set at $18.9MM, reports Evan Drellich of the Athletic (via Twitter). The value, which is determined by taking the average of the game’s 125 highest-paid players, represents a $1.1MM raise over last offseason’s $17.8MM figure.

Any team wishing to receive draft compensation for the loss of a free agent will first have to make that free agent a one-year offer worth that $18.9MM value. Qualifying offer recipients will have 10 days to decide whether to accept or reject the offer and are free to talk with other clubs during that window as they get an early sense of their market value. If a player accepts, he’ll have signed at that rate for the 2021 season. Like other free-agent signings, that player would be ineligible to be traded, without his consent, prior to June 15 of the following season.

Only players who spent the entire 2020 season with the same organization are eligible to receive a qualifying offer; midseason trade acquisitions and signings cannot receive one. Additionally, the 2017-21 collective bargaining agreement also added the stipulation that players can only receive one qualifying offer in their career. Twins DH Nelson Cruz, for instance, will hit the open market unencumbered after receiving a qualifying offer from the Orioles in 2014. That also rules out Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was tagged last year by the Cardinals.

In past offseasons, teams deployed the qualifying offer rather liberally. Doing so ensured the club would receive draft compensation if a player departed, and the player accepting the QO would only lock them in on a short term, albeit at a relatively lofty rate. With the pandemic-driven revenue losses that plagued MLB in 2020, it’s likely that teams will be more reluctant to put those large single-year salaries on the table for borderline players.

Turning to the upcoming free agent class, a few players stand out as obvious QO candidates despite the broad financial uncertainty. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, Reds starter Trevor Bauer, Astros outfielder George Springer and Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu are all established players coming off strong to elite seasons. All four appear to be locks to receive and reject the QO.

More interesting are the potential borderline cases. As Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle points out (Twitter link), Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien would’ve been an obvious QO candidate in a typical offseason. Between the aforementioned revenue losses and Semien’s disappointing abbreviated season, that no longer appears to be likely. Starting pitchers Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman seem unlikely to receive offers from the Giants and Mets, respectively, but they’re plausible candidates. So too is Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, among others.

As a reminder, the parameters for teams signing or losing qualified free agents are as follows:

For teams that signs a qualified free agent…

  • A team that received revenue sharing the previous season will forfeit its third-highest selection upon. Signing a second qualified would result in the loss of that team’s fourth-highest selection. Signing a third would result in the loss of its fifth-highest selection.
  • A team that did not receive revenue sharing and also did not pay any luxury tax penalties would lose its second-highest selection as well as $500K of the league’s allotted international bonus pool. Signing additional qualified free agents would result in forfeiting the third-highest selection and another $500K of international allotments.
  • A team that paid luxury tax penalties must forfeit both its second- and fifth-highest selections in the 2019 draft and forfeit $1MM of international funds. Signing a second would result in the loss of that team’s third- and sixth-highest picks, plus another $1MM in international funds.

For teams who lose qualified free agents…

  • A draft pick after Competitive Balance Round B will be awarded if the team losing the free agent did not receive revenue sharing or if the free agent in question signed a contract worth less than $50MM in guaranteed money.
  • A draft pick after Round 1 will be awarded if the team losing the free agent received revenue sharing and the free agent in question signed for more than $50MM.
  • A draft pick after Round 4 will be awarded if the team losing the free agent paid luxury tax penalties in the preceding season.
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