The 2020- 2021 off season is barely underway and already there are strong signs that teams are heading into the winter with tightened budgets and checkbooks stashed away. Just six potential free agents will receive qualifying offers of $18.9 million, and only three potential free agents had their club options exercised for the 2021 season.
Five days have passed since the end of the 2020 World Series, which marks the deadline for clubs to make qualifying offers to potential free agents if they hope to receive compensation should those players sign with a new club. The same deadline applies to clubs who wish to exercise club options.
Here are the six players who will receive one year qualifying offers:
- Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds RHP
- George Springer, Houston Astros OF
- DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees 2B
- Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants RHP
- J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies C
- Marcus Stroman, New York Mets RHP
Ten players received qualifying offers a year ago, with just two, Twins’ pitcher Jake Odorizzi and White Sox’ slugger Jose Abreu, accepting the offer while eight others opted to test the free agent market in search of a multi year contract. The six players now have ten more days to either accept or decline the qualifying offers from their current clubs.
Once again, most of those receiving qualifying offers play for larger market clubs with the Reds being the lone exception. Those clubs stand to receive a supplemental first or second round pick as compensation should the players sign with a different franchise for more than $50 million.
A team that signs a player who declines a qualifying offer stands to lose a draft pick. The top ten picks are protected, so the Tigers or any club holding a top ten pick would lose their next highest draft pick. For Detroit, that would be a Round A competitive balance pick.
Players who were traded during the previous season, or any player who previously received a qualifying offer, such as outfielder Marcel Ozuna, can not be given another qualifying offer, and would not be subject to compensation should they sign with a new club.
Players not given qualifying offers who will be free agents include shortstops Andrelton Simmons of the Angels, Oakland’s Marcus Semien, and the Phillies’ Didi Gregorious. Astros outfielder Michael Brantley, Dodgers’ outfielder Joc Pederson, Yankees’ pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. and A’s closer Liam Hendriks were not given a QO and will enter free agency unencumbered by any compensation.
One of the perks that MLB owners put on the table to get players to agree to terms for the pandemic shortened 2020 season was to eliminate compensation entirely for 2021, which is the final season covered by the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). It seems likely that at least the payment of compensation will be on the chopping block in the next round of negotiations. Although very few players are affected, the compensation tied to them can have a chilling affect on their free agency.
21 of 27 Club Options Declined
Another, even stronger sign that we’re in for a chilly winter market is the fact that just six potential free agent players had club options exercised for the 2021 season, while 21 others had their club options declined, making them free agents.
The most notable, and surprising of those is Indians’ closer Brad Hand, who would have made a very reasonable $10 million. One of the game’s most efficient closers cleared outright waivers and was given his release. The Indians will instead pay Hand $1 million to go away.
Other players had club options exercised, but that just means that their club found the price tag more favorable than going to arbitration. Still others had their club options declined and will go to arbitration, or they could be non tendered, making them free agents by December 2nd. The list of non tendered players promises to be the strongest sign yet that clubs are intent on slashing payroll for the 2021 season whether justified or not.
Springer and Bauer figure to be at the top of the class of free agents this off season, while Detroit area native and Birmingham Brother Rice graduate D.J. LeMahieu figures to draw strong interest. Some of these players may opt to sit still and take the offers for another season, hoping for a stronger market with a new CBA in 2022.
One player, catcher Steven Vogt of the Giants had his team option vest during the season based on the pro rated number of games played.
Players staying put
Some notable players have a chance to opt out of their lucrative contracts this off season, but so far all of them are staying put. J.D. Martinez will not opt out of the final two years on his contract, which will pay him $38.75 million. Nicholas Castellanos could opt out of the remaining three years and $48 million on his deal, but he’ll pass up the chance. Dellin Betances will take the $6 million remaining on his contract with the New York Mets, while Giancarlo Stanton seems highly unlikely to opt out of the final seven years and $218 million left on his sheet.
Players who had their options exercised
- Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the biggest name, $16.8 million for the 2021 season.
- Indians’ catcher Roberto Perez who will earn $5.5 million,
- Arizona pitcher Merrill Kelly who is a bargain at $4.5 million, the
- White Sox will pay Leury Garcia $3.5 million
- Jose Iglesias will remain with the Orioles on a $3.5 million salary.
- Zack Britton, Yankees reliever will make $14 million
Players who had options declined:
- Carlos Santana, Indians, $17.5 million ($500K buyout)
- J.A. Happ, Yankees, $17 million
- Edwin Encarnacion, White Sox, $12 million (2M buyout)
- Jon Lester, Cubs, $25M (10M buyout)
- Charlie Morton, Rays, $15M (no buyout)
- David Robertson, Phillies, $12M ($2M buyout)
- Ryan Braun, Brewers $15M ($4M buyout)
- Cory Kluber, Rangers, $17.5M ($1M buyout)
- Chris Archer, Pirates, $11M ($250K buyout)
- Starting Pitchers Martin Perez, Jimmy Nelson, Gio Gonzalez, Chase Anderson
- Relief pitchers Brandon Kintzler, Steve Cishek, David Phelps, Brad Hand
- Brett Gardner, Jed Gyrko, Daniel DeScalso, Mitch Moreland, Mike Zunino
Several of these players are well worth their option price tags, and could have been traded for value- at least saving their current club the buyout price, but no other teams stepped up to pay even reasonable prices for them. Another stagnant market this winter will only make the next round of CBA negotiations more acrimonious, threatening a lockout or a strike before a new deal is reached for the 2022 season.