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Qualifying offer for 2020 to be $18.9M, per report

Evan Drellich is reporting that the qualifying offer this offseason will increase from $17.8 million to $18.9 million

Colorado Rockies v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The qualifying offer to MLB free agents this offseason is increasing from the $17.8 million amount that was used for players becoming free agents after the 2019 season to $18.9 million for players after 2020, according to Evan Drellich on Twitter.

This most likely doesn’t impact the Rangers — the one player coming into the season who would be a free agent after 2020 and who might have received the qualifying offer was Mike Minor, who had a disappointing 2020 season and was dealt to the Oakland A’s for a pair of players to be named later before the deadline. He’s now ineligible to receive the QO, since players traded mid-season can’t be tendered the QO.

This is potentially meaningful for this year’s free agent class, however. The qualifying offer is based on the mean salary of the 125 highest paid players in MLB, and the amount of the qualifying offer by year has been:

2012 — $13.3M

2013 — $14.1M

2014 — $15.3M

2015 — $15.8M

2016 — $17.2M

2017 — $17.4M

2018 — $17.9M

2019 — $17.8M

After pretty decent sized annual increases from 2012-16, the qualifying offer has stayed largely static the past few years, actually going down slightly last year.

This year we are seeing a a sizeable leap in the qualifying offer — however, with the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic having de-railed the 2020 season, and with there being a decent chance it impacts the 2021 season, there is widespread expectation that the free agent market will not be player-friendly this offseason, and salaries may very well go down. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a drop in the amount of the qualifying offer after both 2021 and, if it is still around (because the CBA expires after 2021), after 2022.

The financial hits teams have taken* during the pandemic, the increase in the amount of the qualifying offer, and the uncertainty surrounding the offseason free agent market will most likely impact the decision-making by teams as to whether or not to tender the qualifying offer to players, and the decision-making by players on whether or not to accept the offer.

* Yes, the owners are billionaires and can afford to take the financial hits they’ve had this year and still pay the players, should they choose. Most will choose not to.

The top handful of free agents — J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, George Springer — would seem almost certain to be tendered the qualifying offer and to reject it. They aren’t likely to be impacted.

For someone like Marcus Semien, however, both the amount of the qualifying offer and the uncertainty surrounding the offseason complicate things. Oakland has, of course, been notorious for maintaining low payrolls — Semien’s $13 million in his final arbitration year in 2020 is the second-highest salary the club is paying in 2020, behind only Khris Davis, who the club inked to a 2 year, $33.5 million extension last year.

Semien had been solidly above-average from 2016-18, putting up 3.5 bWAR, 1.7 bWAR (in 85 games), and 4.7 bWAR those years, before breaking out with an 892 OPS in 2019, giving up an 8.9 bWAR, and landing him a top 3 finish in the MVP balloting. This year, however, Semien has struggled, slashing .223/.305/.374, with a 0.4 bWAR in 53 games.

Semien is the type of player who is going to see his value be impacted by a qualifying offer anyway, and heading into his age 30 season, coming off a bad year, he’d have an uncertain market in the best of times. In the time of COVID, however, it is going to make his market even more difficult, and teams are going to be much more reluctant to spend big on him right now.

So Semien is the type of player for whom it makes a ton of sense to accept the qualifying offer — make $18.9 million for a year, restore value in what should be a much more normal 2021 season, and then re-enter the free agent market when teams should be more willing to spend, and (theoretically) coming off a year that has increased what he can command.

But the fact that Semien is the type of player that would be more likely to accept the qualifying offer would seem to make Oakland less likely to make a qualifying offer. Oakland is a low payroll team in good times — coming off the COVID year, they may cut back even more. Semien at $18.9 million may represent a bigger portion of their budget than they are willing to commit to him. And thus, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they declined to make the qualifying offer to Semien.

Marcus Stroman is considered the second best starting pitcher who is expected to hit the market. He also missed most of 2020 due to injury and then opting-out due to COVID-19. Stroman has had a couple of great seasons, several middling seasons, and didn’t pitch in 2020. He turns 30 in May, and while he benefits from the dearth of starting pitching on the free agent market, he could also potentially benefit from a pillow contract for 2021, making him a candidate to accept the qualifying offer. Under the Wilpons, I’d say the Mets would decline to tender the qualifying offer, but with Steve Cohen appearing set to buy the club, they’d seem to be more likely to be willing to bring Stroman back for one year at $18.9.