By Tyler Thornton
The snow on the ground is finally melting away, the leaves are returning to the trees and the birds are chirping. All of which means one thing — professional baseball is returning. It all starts at spring training, in either Florida or Arizona, where the players will spend the next month preparing themselves to compete at the highest level.
Yet all is not well in the baseball world, at least not for everyone. The recent qualifying offer system, put in place in the 2012 season, has left some players without a team even at this late hour. With workouts already beginning for the Major League teams, no player wants to still be without a contract.
The system was put in place in order to compensate teams who have productive players sign with other clubs. At the end of the season any player about to become a free agent can be offered a one year salary from their club worth the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball the previous year. For 2013 this amounted to about $14 million. If the player declines the offer, then whichever team signs him will give up a first round draft pick and the team the player had been on will receive a first round draft pick.
In the system’s two-year existence not a single player has accepted the qualifying offer. However, their refusal can end up diluting the market of potential buyers (since that team would have to give up their first round draft pick). Average-caliber players find themselves waiting a long time to finally sign with a team, often at reduced prices because the teams are valuing that draft pick they would lose higher than ever.
During the 2013-14 offseason, 13 players received a qualifying offer. Of those 13 players, two signed after spring training began and three still remain unsigned even though spring training is well underway. Before the advent of this system players almost never signed this late into the offseason as teams want their players involved in spring training in order to be properly prepared for the games ahead.
There are good players being left out in free agency, evidenced in part by their previous team’s willingness to extend them a $14 million offer. The three remaining players are Stephen Drew, the starting shortstop for last year’s World Series-winning Boston Red Sox; Ervin Santana, who last year pitched 211 innings to a 3.24 ERA for the Royals; and Kendrys Morales, who last year hit .277 with a .449 slugging percentage for the Seattle Mariners. Each one of these players could provide a significant contribution for a playoff contender yet finds himself without a home at the moment.
It may seem a simple solution to this issue would be to encourage more players to accept the qualifying offers from their original teams, but there are strong reasons to desire a longer commitment than a one year contract, even if at a lower salary. Players may not want to move around year to year or may simply be tired of their current club and want a new setting but are finding this harder to achieve.
Clearly there is a problem with the system when quality players are left without options through no fault of their own. In baseball, your first six years in the majors come at a cost-controlled rate for your club with no free agency involved. After this point players are free to test the market and cash in on their skills. However, by refusing the qualifying offer these player’s rights are impaired and above average players are going unsigned well into spring training.