Qualifying offer surprises
November, 5, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Jae C. HongTorii Hunter had a big year, and many execs wonder why he didn't get a qualifying offer.When baseball executives and scouts critique decisions by other teams, it really is part of their self-evaluation process. They try to put themselves in the war room of another team and determine what they would have done, had they been faced with a similar decision.
This is why, in the aftermath of a major decision, some executives will routinely ask colleagues they respect: What did you think of the move we just made?
Some of them probably prefer to have verbal ticker tape and rose petals thrown their way, to be reassured that the right choice was made. Others prefer 100 percent brutal honesty, regardless of whether their colleague thinks the decision was good, bad or ugly.
Over the weekend, there was a lot of debate within the industry over the decisions made to give qualifying offers to particular free agents -- offers of one year and $13.3 million -- a required step for teams to receive a compensation draft pick in return.
I heard a lot of surprise from evaluators that offers weren't made to four veterans:
1. Torii Hunter, RF
He is 37 years old, but he is coming off a year in which he hit .313 with 16 homers, and Hunter ranked seventh in wins above replacement -- ahead of Albert Pujols, Edwin Encarnacion, Prince Fielder and Josh Reddick.
Hunter and the Angels had some conversations about an extension, but the team decided to move on. "I wasn't surprised at all," Hunter wrote in a text Sunday. "I've been down this road before, and prepared for whatever happens. There are no hard feelings. Love that organization."
Hunter made $18 million in 2012, in the last year of a five-year, $90 million deal. A lot of rival evaluators thought the Angels were in a great position to gamble on a one-year qualifying offer for Hunter, in an effort to get an additional draft pick.
"He's probably going to get at least some two- or three-year offers from other teams, because he's a good player and takes care of himself," said one highly-ranked executive. "They probably would've gotten the draft pick. And the worst-case scenario for the Angels was that he would've accepted their offer -- and then they'd have a good player on a one-year deal that isn't all that expensive."
Not in the current market, when great players - like Pujols - make $25 million annually, and good players make half of that.
2. Edwin Jackson, RHP
After seven years in the majors, he has shown that he is not in the Matt Cain or Zack Greinke class of right-handers. But Jackson is healthy, and the 29-year-old has been relatively steady and durable, with five straight seasons of more than 180 innings. He is not close to dominant, but he has been decent pitcher.
The Nationals signed him to a one-year, $11 million deal last winter, and Washington officials say they want Jackson back. In the eyes of rival evaluators: If the Nationals were willing to pay him $11 million on a one-year deal and they still value him, why not make the tender offer and set themselves up for a possible draft pick?
In what is a weak market for starting pitching, Jackson is likely to get multiyear offers from teams other than Washington. If he accepted the Nationals' qualifying offer, he'd be paid slightly above market price -- but not much, given what Washington paid him for the 2012 season.
3. Angel Pagan, CF
Timing is everything, and Pagan, 31, had a strong season in 2012, accumulating 61 extra-base hits, 29 steals and some good defensive metrics. General managers and agents predict that he will get multiple offers of at least three years, and that the tipping point in his talks could be whether some team offers him four years or (don't be surprised) five years. If that sounds crazy, given that Pagan has only two seasons of more than 123 games played, well, keep in mind how much cash is available this winter and how few options there are in the market. There is supply and there is demand and Pagan is in a great spot to take advantage of the market forces, because he will be viewed as the cheaper alternative to the likes of Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn.
So it was a surprise to some industry folks that the Giants didn't make Pagan a qualifying offer -- not necessarily to keep him, but to set themselves up for a draft pick.
"Even if you think he's overpaid at $13.3 million [for one year], and you think he's a $10 million player," said one NL official, "the difference isn't that much. I know the draft picks aren't as highly valued as they used to be, [but] I thought they would take a shot at getting [the draft pick]."
Said another official: "At best, you get a draft pick. At worst, you get a good player on a one-year deal."
4. Mike Napoli, C
No position has been more jumbled by one signing than the catching market was last spring, after Yadier Molina signed his five-year, $75 million deal with the Cardinals. Executives and agents have very different opinions on how players such as Napoli and Russell Martin should be impacted by Molina's deal. In the weeks ahead, we'll know for sure.
Napoli, 31, hit 24 homers and batted .227, with production that was similar at home and on the road. Some rival officials thought that the Rangers -- fast becoming one of baseball's most affluent teams -- would gamble on the one-year qualifying offer on Napoli, in what could be a win-win bet. If he had signed elsewhere, they would've gotten the pick, and if he had taken their qualifying offer, they would've locked in a one-year solution to their catching without having to pay out a huge contract.
By the way: The free-agent prospects of these four players are probably helped by the fact that draft-pick compensation is not attached to them, like an anchor. While the cost in terms of draft picks when signing a free agent isn't as steep as it used to be under the old collective bargaining agreement, a team still must forfeit a pick when signing a free agent from another team who has been given -- and turned down -- a qualifying offer.
Hot skipper prospectBrad Ausmus has emerged as one of the top managerial candidates in the industry, finishing a close second to John Farrell in Boston's managerial search before turning down the opportunity to interview for other jobs. I e-mailed this question to him: Going forward in his work as a special assistant with the Padres, what does he feel he needs to build on as a managerial candidate?
"Clearly, the one area I am lacking with regards to managing is experience -- although Mike [Matheny] and Robin [Ventura] have shown that may be secondary," he responded. "Staying involved with the game can help this, but there's no real replacement for experience."
"I do firmly believe a manager must never forget how difficult it is to play this game. The managers who understood the patience involved are the managers who have related to the players best on teams I have been a part of, and garnered their respect.
"The role I have in San Diego has allowed me to see the other side of the baseball operations department, and allowed me to be involved in the decision-making process from a different perspective. I have learned a lot about the importance of the front office/GM-clubhouse/manager relationship, the integral role that the development team plays, and how interwoven all these departments are. For the time being, I hope to stay right where I am and continue to be part of both the on-field and front office sides of the game."
The Padres have had some conversation with third baseman Chase Headley about a multiyear contract, but it's unclear whether the current climate is the best to make a deal. Headley is clearly a player the Padres would like to keep, and Headley is open to a deal.
But you couldn't blame the 28-year-old Headley if he wanted to get paid more like the player he was after the All-Star break, when he was sixth in the majors in OPS and No. 2 in homers (23), despite playing in the Padres' cavernous home ballpark.
And you couldn't blame the Padres if they were inclined to pay him more like the player he has been for most of his time in the big leagues -- a very good player, rather than the second-half superstar.
So it may be that for both sides, more information is needed. With Headley still two years away from free agency, and with the Padres set to bring in the fences in different parts of Petco Park, they could wait to make a deal.
The Padres' priority this offseason will be adding starting pitching, and as they assess trade and free-agent possibilities, they do have a lot of depth to work with, in the eyes of rival executives. San Diego filled its disabled list during the 2012 season, but besides Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland, San Diego expects to have many injured players back and ready to go by spring training, such as Anthony Bass, Nick Hundley, James Darnell and Kyle Blanks.
The Padres' current plan for Andrew Cashner is to have him as a starting pitcher, but the right-hander is still in the process of building up innings, so he could spend some time in the bullpen. He accumulated just under 80 innings in 2012.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Ryan Madson wants to be a closer again.
2. The Pirates probably are in the market for a starting catcher and a pitcher.
3. Kevin Correia probably won't be back with the Pirates, says his agent.
4. The Yankees have had brief conversations with Russell Martin's agent, writes Anthony McCarron.
5. The Orioles are heading into free agency in a different place than they were a year ago, writes Dan Connolly.
6. The Mariners' payroll could grow, writes Geoff Baker.
• Why did the deal between the Cubs and Angels for Carlos Marmol and Dan Haren fall apart? It's unclear, but it's worth remembering everything that must happen to complete a deal, including the review of medical information.
• The Tigers are pumped for the return of Victor Martinez, writes Lynn Henning. From Lynn's story: