Ken Rosenthal's column on qualifying offer winners and losers highlights a point I briefly alluded to on Monday morning. The last winners listed:
Yankees, Red Sox: The rich get richer.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox made qualifying offers to three players — the Yankees to Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda and Curtis Granderson, the Red Sox to Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew.
Both clubs possess large enough payrolls to absorb one-year, $14.1 million hits; Granderson and Drew are perhaps the most likely of the six to accept — and Drew, like most Scott Boras clients, still would probably prefer to determine his value on the open market.
The Yankees wound up with the Nos. 32 and 33 picks last season as compensation for Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano. (They re-signed Kuroda.) This year, they might re-sign all three of the players to whom they made offers. But they also could wind up with extra picks between the first and second rounds.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, could hit the compensatory-pick jackpot. They are almost certain to get one for Ellsbury, and it’s not of the question that they could get two more for Drew and Napoli.
Not quite how the system is supposed to work.
The White Sox certainly weren't able to join the fun. Paul Konerko and Gavin Floyd's contract years looked more like swan songs (although the latter seems like a strong possibilty to return), and barring a made-for-the-movies reversal by Adam Dunn and a similar turnaround for Alexei Ramirez, the next couple of seasons don't look so hot, either. That doesn't make it easier for Rick Hahn to build a self-sustaining organization in a hurry.
But when you look at the 14 players who did receive qualifying offers, not all of them were established stars waiting for Nov. 5 like they were waiting for Santa:
- Carlos Beltran
- Robinson Cano
- Shin-Soo Choo
- Nelson Cruz
- Stephen Drew
- Jacoby Ellsbury
- Curtis Granderson
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Brian McCann
- Kendrys Morales
- Mike Napoli
- Ervin Santana
Sure, some of those qualifying offers were years in the making. Cano, Choo, Cruz, Ellsbury, Jimenez and McCann had all reached some level of stardom in the past, and it was evident before the season that they stood to cash in at or among the tops of their classes.
But the other eight players on the list didn't need years to develop their open-market value. You can rope them into three categories.
Starting pitchers: If a pitcher does enough to earn $14 million in his contract year, teams usually don't have a problem extending themselves for a one-year re-up. It doesn't take much time to build such stock, either. Santana, for example, had a lousy 2012. The Angels dumped him merely for the salary relief, but it turned out to be an outstanding move for Dayton Moore. That rebound puts Santana in line for a contract that will presumably encourage him to turn down the offer.
In White Sox parlance, had the Edwin Jackson timetable been shifted back a couple years, they probably could have gotten a draft pick out of him. The Nationals didn't give him a qualifying offer last offseason, and Mike Rizzo would probably want to have that one back.
Shorter commitments for track records: The Cardinals signed Beltran on a two-year, $26 million deal, and nobody doubted his ability to earn it if he could stay healthy. He just had problems staying in the lineup in two out of the three years before, and at 34 years old, the market decided to not extend itself too far. St. Louis jumped in and reaped the benefits, and Beltran may have one last gift in store if he turns down the qualifying offer.
Likewise, the Mariners effectively acquired Morales, a Boras client, on a two-year contract. They traded Jason Vargas to the Angels in a depth-chart exchange of two players with two years remaining. The White Sox pulled off a similar immediate-need/no-future move with Jon Garland and Orlando Cabrera in 2008, and Cabrera left two picks that turned into Trayce Thompson and Josh Phegley.
The Red Sox' success will probably make a quick free agent/draft pick conversion harder to come by. They won the World Series with a lot of help from non-premium free agents like Napoli, Drew and Shane Victorino, which may embolden other teams to target the second and third tiers with a little more gusto. If that's the case, then the best one-year turnarounds have a lot of work cut out for them -- we're talking Justin Morneau, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren. I'd throw in Scott Kazmir, but he'll probably get two from somebody.
So that leaves trades, but that doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense right now, either. Hahn has repeatedly prioritized 2015 and beyond, so it doesn't seem likely he'll be in the mood to acquire an expiring contract (especially since the Sox don't have an appealing one of their own to shed). In other years, Ramirez might've fit the bill, but he's likely considered an integral part of the Jose Abreu integration project.
If the qualifying-offer system continues to benefit the big spenders more than the little guys, the system might be reworked before the Sox are able to net a draft pick from it. That's one reason why Hahn is loath to give up any of the picks he has.
Then again, the Sox could've gotten one from Jake Peavy last year, and they're much better off with the way it worked out.
Had Peavy wanted out after last season, he would have turned down Chicago's qualifying offer, and the Sox would've received a draft pick somewhere in the No. 27-34 range. Following this alternate scenario through the draft, maybe the Sox beat the Yankees to Aaron Judge, an outfielder whom New York selected with the No. 32 pick.
Instead, the Sox signed Peavy for two years below market, flipped him after four months and received a first-round-quality outfielder in Avisail Garcia -- except the Tigers took care of that whole advancing-through-the-minors thing for them. That's pretty much the best of both worlds, and if Garcia manages to lock down right field for years, Peavy's loyalty will have played a major part.