Sunday brought the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to their top free agents. Six teams extended such offers to star players, but the Oakland A’s chose not to do so with either shortstop Marcus Semien or closer Liam Hendriks.
A qualifying offer is worth $18.9 million this year. If a player accepts the offer, then he gets a one-year contract at that salary. If he declines and then signs elsewhere, then his new team loses a future draft pick and his old team gets some draft pick compensation, which can vary based on how much he signs for and how rich his new team is.
For the A’s, there seemed to be little question that they would sit out this process. They’ve never extended a qualifying offer to anyone even in a normal winter, and there are extraordinary complications this year. With revenue down around the league due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, many clubs are expected to slash budgets accordingly, including potentially Oakland. This probably wasn’t the time to offer what would be the highest single-season salary in franchise history.
However, none of this precludes Semien or Hendriks from re-signing with the A’s. They are still free agents who are allowed to sign anywhere, including Oakland. The lack of a QO just means that if they do leave, the A’s won’t get any compensation for it in the 2021 draft.
Six players were given QOs by their teams:
- RHP Trevor Bauer, CIN
- RHP Kevin Gausman, SFG
- IF DJ LeMahieu, NYY
- C JT Realmuto, PHI
- OF George Springer, HOU
- RHP Marcus Stroman, NYM
The players have 10 days to decide whether to accept or reject their qualifying offers.
This was the right move by the A’s, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, I still hope (not optimistically) that they can re-sign one of their stars, but a qualifying offer wasn’t the way to do it.
In a normal winter, I might have gone for it with Semien. He built an MVP-caliber pedigree and then flopped in his contract year, in every category across the board from box score stats to advanced metrics to Statcast. Between that and turning 30 at the end of the season, his best move was probably going to be a one-year show-me deal to rebuild his value and then land the long-term payday he deserves, conveniently right as the new (and potentially favorable) Collective Bargaining Agreement takes effect.
In such a situation, the A’s may as well hang on to him for that extra year, at a reasonable raise over the $13 million he was scheduled for in 2020. It would keep the band together a little longer, and help maximize the current window, but without costing future flexibility. They’ve always been open to big short-term spending, just not long commitments, and I think everyone on Athletics Nation fully believes in Semien’s ability despite a small-sample off-year. He could have been the perfect storm that finally drew the A’s first-ever QO.
But now? If the payroll has to go down (which seems likely but not definite yet), then there’s no room for such a splurge. At a lower price point, perhaps the A’s could shuffle enough chairs to make it work, but that will depend on how this unpredictable market shapes up.
As for Hendriks, the corona-altered market already gave its clear sign days ago, when the Cleveland Indians chose not to exercise their $10 million option on closer Brad Hand. The left-hander is as close as Hendriks has to an equal right now — Hand was an All-Star from 2017-19, and was just about as good as Hendriks in 2020, including a 2.05 ERA, 1.37 FIP, and an MLB-best 16 saves, with zero blown.
If Hand couldn’t command $10 million, then Hendriks wasn’t going to get offered nearly twice that amount. Remember, Cleveland could have kept Hand and then traded him, so letting him go suggests they weren’t even confident in a wealthy team seeing surplus value in a top-notch closer at that price.
It comes down to this: Nobody knows quite what the market will look like this winter, but the exceedingly smart bet is that spending will be way down and neither Semien nor Hendriks will be able to find $18.9 million in 2021. Whatever you feel about whether the A’s should re-sign them, and whatever the team may want to do about them, the answer was not to give them these big offers.