Barber: Could Will Smith, Madison Bumgarner accept Giants' offers?
Tuesday, 10 impending Major League Baseball free agents received qualifying offers from their teams. Two of those players, pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, happened to be San Francisco Giants.
The Giants didn’t surprise anyone with those moves. No, the surprise is that at least one of the players might accept his offer.
First, a little background on qualifying offers. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you are well versed on the subject.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, MLB teams can offer most of their new free agents a one-year contract based on the average of the leagues’ top 125 salaries. There are exceptions. You can’t tender a player if he has received such an offer in the past, or if he was an in-season acquisition the previous year. The qualifying price this time around is $17.8 million.
A player has 10 days to accept or reject the offer. If he rejects it, he is free to sign with any team, including the one that made him the offer, for any amount of time and money. But if he does, the club that signs him must forfeit one or two draft picks, depending on the team’s payroll; these can include the team’s second- or third-highest available pick, so the cost is significant. International bonus pool money also might be at stake. Meanwhile, the team victimized by the player’s move gains a compensatory pick, also based on payroll.
It’s a complicated system. And before revisiting the Giants, allow me a moment to state how backward it is. The general idea of professional sports allows a player to explore his or her full market value when his/her contract expires. MLB’s qualifying-offer process stymies player movement by penalizing teams hoping to lure free agents. In effect, it creates a disincentive.
We saw the effect of that last offseason, when two prominent free agents, starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel and reliever Craig Kimbrel, rejected their qualifying offers (from Houston and Boston, respectively), then languished for months on the open market. Maybe they were asking too much. Certainly, the compensatory draft picks were part of the equation.
Keuchel signed with the Braves on June 7, the same day Kimbrel joined the Cubs. They had to wait until after the draft, when their qualifying offers expired. How did the players’ union ever agree to this?
OK, back to the Giants. At first glance, you would expect Bumgarner and Smith to reject their offers, for the simple fact that almost everyone does. Since 2012, 80 MLB players have received qualifying offers; 74 have rejected them. The past two offseasons, just one of 16 guys (Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu) has said yes.
Only top-level players get such offers. Most of them believe they can draw bigger deals on the open market.
Will Smith might be a rare exception.
Different positions command different dollar figures, and though this is in many ways the Era of the Relief Pitcher, non-starters rarely attract huge money. That $17.8 million figure, the average of baseball’s top 125 players? Only three relievers will exceed it in 2020. The gold standard is the $22 million Miami will pay Wei-Yin Chen.
Smith, who is 30, made $4.225 million in 2019, his highest salary ever. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman reported that when he informed Smith of the qualifying-offer figure for 2020, “his eyes lit up and he said, ‘That’s a lot of money.’” It is for a relief pitcher.