The AP released the information today that a qualifying offer in 2015 will be worth $15.3 M (via MLBTR). That’s up from the $14.1 M figure last year.
A qualifying offer is made to departing free agents, and is made within five days of the end of the World Series. If a player accepts the offer, he receives that amount on a one year deal. If he rejects the offer, his former team is eligible for a compensation pick after the first round. A player has seven days to decide on the offer.
This process was significant last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they decided not to extend A.J. Burnett an offer. He ended up signing a one year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which guaranteed him at least $23 M, due to his option in 2015 (which he may or may not pick up). This time around, the Pirates have two players who are candidates to receive qualifying offers, and you could argue that both players are easier decisions than Burnett was last year.
The issue with Burnett was that he was debating between retiring and returning to the Pirates for another year. Or at least that’s the information he was giving at the time. The Pirates took him at his word, which resulted in them not making a qualifying offer, since that would heavily influence the one-year negotiations.
This won’t be the case with Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano. Both are in positions to get one last huge payday, especially coming off their 2013-14 campaigns. Neither player will be looking for a one year deal, and both are candidates to receive far more in guaranteed money than the qualifying offer.
Martin’s case is simple. He’s projected to receive $15 M per year at the least, over multiple seasons. It’s a no brainer to extend him a qualifying offer, because there’s no way he takes this. The Pirates can still try to re-sign him if he declines that offer, but they’d get a draft pick if he signed elsewhere. It would be a gift if Martin accepted the offer, which he won’t do.
Liriano is in a bit of a different situation, but still in a situation where he should reject the offer. Last year saw three pitchers getting four year deals in the $48-50 M range. Two of the pitchers — Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco — either didn’t receive offers or weren’t eligible to receive offers. However, Ubaldo Jimenez received four years and $48 M, despite getting a qualifying offer from the Indians. The other big qualifying offer situation was Ervin Santana, who signed late in Spring Training for $14.1 M, which was the same as the qualifying offer amount.
That looks to be the scenario for Liriano. He could either sign for less money per year, but more guaranteed overall, or he could end up getting that one year deal if things don’t work out. Considering his last two seasons, he should have no problem getting the long-term deal. He has ranked 19th in xFIP out of 86 pitchers with 300+ innings over the last two years. That’s better than Jon Lester and James Shields, and not far behind Max Scherzer.
The only way it would make sense to avoid a qualifying offer with Liriano is if he is hurt. There was never really a definitive answer given as to why he was held out of the Wild Card game on short rest, and Clint Hurdle said he wasn’t considered in a relief role. He also imploded in his final start of the year. There’s no reason to believe that he isn’t healthy, but the way he finished the year definitely leaves it open as a possibility. Basically what I’m saying is that if there is a chance he is hurt, that would be the only reason I’d see the Pirates not making him an offer.
Neither of these cases are A.J. Burnett. This year the Pirates have two players who are looking to cash in with long-term deals that will offer them a lot more guaranteed money than they’d get with the qualifying offer. Both players are young enough, and have been productive enough that they should get those deals, even with the loss of a draft pick. This year there is no doubt that both players should get qualifying offers, and I’d be shocked if the Pirates don’t make offers to both players.
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