The cost of the qualifying offer for eligible free agents has risen from $14.1 million this season to $15.3 million for 2015, as per an agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association. (as reported by the AP) The cost of the qualifying offer is determined by averaging the 125 highest paying contracts (per year), so as other contracts continue to grow, so too will the QO.
Teams have the option of extending the QO to any pending free agent players on their roster. If a team makes a player a QO and he declines it, the team receives draft pick compensation, should he sign elsewhere. The more significant aspect of qualifying offers, as they have played out in recent years, is that in order to sign a player who has been made (and declined) a QO, a team must give up its first pick in the MLB draft (except for teams with a pick in the top ten overall, those teams forfeit their second draft pick).
For baseball's best players, this hardly matters, because other teams will be willing to lose a draft pick in order to secure the free agent, but for second tier free agents, the draft pick cost can be a major obstacle to finding a new team. Nelson Cruz, for example, turned down the $14.1 million QO, and eventually had to settle for a 1-year, $8 million deal. Stephen Drew turned down the QO and didn't sign until late May, and for only a prorated share of the QO he'd turned down. A total of 22 players were given a QO during the last two offseasons, and not one of them accepted it. Given what happened with players like Cruz and Drew, I tend to think we'll see someone accept the QO this year.
Top players eligible for qualifying offer this offseason*:
Max Scherzer, James Shields, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Hiroki Kuroda, David Robertson, Nelson Cruz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Victor Martinez, Russell Martin, Aramis Ramirez,
J.J. Hardy (Hardy already signed an extension), and Melky Cabrera
*(Jon Lester and Brandon McCarthy are other top free agents, but because they were traded midseason, their current team is not allowed to make them a QO)
You'll notice that none of those players are with the Indians, so they won't have to worry about whether or not to extend anyone a QO. You'll also notice that none of those players are Justin Masterson or Asdrubal Cabrera. I didn't want the Indians making either of those players a QO, and their having been traded ensures that they won't be.
How many of those guys would you be willing to pay that kind of money and lose a draft pick for? For me that cuts the list down to about five players. However many players are on your list, how many of them can you actually see the Indians making a serious offer for? I don't expect the Indians to seriously pursue any of them, even though guys like Sandoval and Cruz would represent a sizable upgrade, without forcing a team to absolutely break the bank the way Scherzer and Lester will.
We'll have more on this year's free agent class, including more modestly priced players who might actually end up in Cleveland, in the weeks to come.