The new collective bargaining agreement brought qualifying offers into the free agency mix, and a few teams handed them out before Friday's deadline
Before re-signing David Ortiz to a two-year contract, the Boston Red Sox submitted a one-year qualifying offer to him before Friday's deadline, ensuring that, even in a worst-case-scenario, the Red Sox would receive a compensation first-round pick should they loss their designated hitter.
Let's pretend, for a moment, that Ortiz and Boston had not negotiated an extension yet. Ortiz would be eligible to sign with one of the other 29 teams, as of Saturday. He also would have until November 9 to accept the qualifying offer of one-year, $13.3 million -- essentially, he'd get a week to talk to other clubs, and see how competitive that one-year offer was. Should he have signed elsewhere, Boston would receive a compensation pick in the sandwich round. While Ortiz only had a week to accept the qualifying offer, the compensatory effects of it will last the entire off-season.
Ortiz did sign an extension, though, so just eight players who received qualifying offers remain on the market. The rules stated above will continue to apply to them -- November 9 deadline to accept, compensatory draft pick for their previous team should they move elsewhere. Boston might very well be interested in one or two of these players, especially since they won't lose their first-round pick as compensation, given their record earned them a protected first-rounder. Their second-round selection would be lost, sure, but both from a budgetary and potential talent point of view, a second-round pick is no first, especially when we're talking about a top-10 selection.
The Yankees offered three of their players qualifying offers: Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Hiroki Kuroda. The Braves extended the offer to their major free agent, Michael Bourn. Texas, unsurprisingly, attached one to Josh Hamilton, as he's sure to sign somewhere this winter, giving Texas a bonus pick. The Nationals gave Adam LaRoche one, likely to keep other teams away while they work out an extension for him. The Cardinals qualified Kyle Lohse, who they expect to leave in search of a multi-year deal. Last, the Rays gave B.J. Upton a qualifying offer. Any hesitance they might have had in regard to giving him one likely vanished when word got out that the Phillies wanted Upton in Philadelphia badly. It's just an easy decision once you know the Phils are involved.
Boston isn't likely to even negotiate with Soriano, Hamilton, Upton, or Lohse. Swisher would be more intriguing, if he weren't seeking a deal that exceeds even what Andre Ethier is pulling in for Los Angeles. Bourn might be an option, but since the Jacoby Ellsbury situation hasn't been sorted out, signing a different center fielder long-term isn't going to happen. Upton is in the same boat, and maybe Boston doesn't want a Tampa Bay free agent again anytime soon, either. That leaves Kuroda and LaRoche.
LaRoche is not an obvious option, nor is he a particularly appealing one. But, contextually, there might be something to him. He hit .271/.343/.510 for the Nationals, setting career-highs in just about everything. But, that's double-edged appeal, as those same things are the reason he's sketchy, and likely not worth the sacrifice of a draft pick in conjunction with the money it would take to pry him from a guaranteed $13.3 million. LaRoche was healthy in 2010, too, and hit .261/.320/.468. Over the last four years, he's at .262/.335/.470. That's good enough, as LaRoche has nearly always been. But is it worth the big dollars and a second-round pick? That's a bit more questionable, especially since if Boston's hand was forced, they could start the year with Jerry Sands at first, and upgrade in-season as necessary. It's not optimal, but neither is LaRoche as an alternative in this world of qualifying offers.
As for Kuroda, once you get over the idea of giving the Yankees a compensation pick, he's a far more appealing target. Kuroda would have led the Sox in innings last season, as well as ERA+, and punched out 3.3 times more batters than he walked. The right-hander also gave up just a homer every nine innings, despite the move to a park that helps out lefty power significantly. He would be the stabilizing force Boston has been wanting in their rotation for the last two years, helping to round out a staff that has potential to be more than just solid.
There's a problem, though, in that Kuroda's current negotiating tactic is essentially Yankees or a return to Japan. Of course, in the past, he's used that same line with the Dodgers and Japan, and he's yet to head back home. Legitimate negotiating tactic or empty threat, the point remains that he prefers a return to the Yankees. And, as much as they'd like an additional first-round pick, they'd love Kuroda back even more. If they gave him the offer, then there's room in the budget for him in case he ends up accepting, meaning someone would need to outbid -- possibly significantly -- to get him to move elsewhere.
If that means a two-year deal, Boston should be in. If it means two years at $30 million, you're starting to get into a tougher realm. That being said, Boston needs pitching, and like with Ortiz and his bat, giving Kuroda a little too much money to get him in town for 2013 could be worth it. Maybe it isn't a must-have, but if Boston is going to give up a pick, it might as well be for a player who is worth that cost.
Overall, the fact so few players received qualifying offers, and even fewer players that Boston should have interest in, is good news for the Red Sox. They can sign just about anyone, or at least negotiate with them, without having to give up their second-round pick, thanks to the reluctance of general managers to extend qualifying offers.