Friday marks the first date of importance of the MLB offseason, with this evening representing the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to impending free agents. Before we get into the Red Sox-specific portion of this, a primer. The previous CBA was the first to introduce the concept of a qualifying offer to MLB, and it replaced the old Type A/Type B free agent compensation system from last decade. Under the qualifying offer system, teams can offer any player who is set to hit free agency and who spent the entire season with the team a one-year deal worth the mean salary of the top 125 highest-paid players in the league. This year, for example, the qualifying offer is worth $17.9 million for one year. A player can accept, and he will be play under that one-year deal for the upcoming year before hitting free agency. This is exceedingly rare. More common is that the player declines the offer and hits free agency. In this scenario, the team that signs said player loses draft pick(s) and international pool money, while the team that loses said player gains draft compensation.
As far as the Red Sox go, they are almost certainly going to give one, and only one, qualifying offer to their departing free agents. For one thing, all three of Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi and Ian Kinsler are ineligible to receive offers as they were acquired midway through the year. I would suspect none of them would have received one either way, though maybe Eovaldi could have been an interesting case. I have zero read on his market right now. Joe Kelly and Drew Pomeranz are eligible, but neither are realistic choices to be extended an offer even after the former’s huge postseason performance.
Craig Kimbrel, however, is another story. He didn’t end his season on the best of terms, but he is basically a slam dunk to be extending the $17.9 million offer, and he’s just about as big of a slam dunk to decline the offer. Despite the magnification of some of his short comings, at the end of the day we’re still talking about one of the best closers in the game as well as one of the best relievers of all time who is still in his prime. The market is trending down for everyone but young stars, but Kimbrel is still going to want multiple years and he has every reason to expect it at this point. I don’t want to guarantee anything because last winter has made me even more gun-shy than before, but I’ll say I’d be surprised if he regrets declining the qualifying offer.
So, let’s just say he does get an offer and he does decline it. What comes next? Well, for one thing, the Red Sox are still well within their rights to re-sign him. Kimbrel may test the market and see that Boston’s offer is competitive enough that he wants to stick around the city he’s called home for three years. Whether or not that would be a smart decision for the Red Sox? Well, we’ll talk about that more if/when he gets and declines the offer.
There’s also the possibility of him declining the offer then eventually signing with another team. This is worth discussing now, if for no other reason than to make ourselves familiar with the compensation rules. This is the first time the Red Sox have had a qualifying offer free agent since the rules changed in the last CBA. Under the latest CBA, assuming Kimbrel signed for at least $50 million (I’d think he would), they would gain a draft pick after the fourth round because they exceeded the luxury tax in 2018. It’s still better than nothing, but it’s not as nice as it was in previous years. It’s also worth noting for down the road that if the Red Sox decide to sign a free agent who declined a qualifying offer (other than Kimbrel), they would give up their second- and fifth-highest draft pick selections and they would lose $1 million in international pool money.
We’ll fill you in when the qualifying offer decisions become official later today.