The ‘Qualifying Offer’ Circle and Chase Headley

Yesterday morning Ervin Santana signed a 1-year contract for $14.1MM with the Atlanta Braves. It’s a good deal for Ervin Santana. He didn’t have a job before yesterday. It’s a good deal for the Braves who have seen injuries to pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, the latter of which, may require Tommy John surgery. Ervin Santana has a contract and the Braves filled a hole in their rotation, and everyone wins. Or do they?

Ervin Santana didn’t want a 1-year contract. Ervin Santana wanted a Many-year contract. This is an understandable desire. Averaging 210 IP over each of the previous 4 seasons, Ervin Santana has shown himself to be a reliable starter, and at 31 years of age, was seeking what could be his last chance to get a big payday. But because the Kansas City Royals gave Santana a Qualifying Offer at the end of the 2013 season for 1 year at $14.1MM there were restrictions to the right-hander’s impending free-agency. Santana could either accept the offer or seek a multi-year offer elsewhere. Once he rejected the Qualifying Offer any team that signed him would be required to forfeit its first pick in the 2014 June Amateur Draft. This caveat to signing Santana appears to have scared off a good many suitors but when teams get desperate they make deals happen – and along came the Atlanta Braves. By signing Santana the Braves will add payroll and forfeit their 28th pick in the 2014 June Amateur Draft (Don’t feel too bad for the Braves – they have a pick at #31 as compensation for the loss of Brian McCann).

It took more than 200 words but we’ve finally arrived to Chase Headley. He of the expiring contract at the end of 2014, Chase Headley. Is a Qualifying Offer in Chase Headley’s future?

The other morning Dave Cameron of Fangraphs ran some cost projections for next year’s crop of free agents and determined that Chase Headley would likely see a 6 year contract with a $16MM AAV.

How does that look to you?

When I consider the windfall in television money, both locally and nationally, $16MM per year for a player like Chase Headley appears reasonable. Am I crazy about seeing that money paid to guy in his age 31-36 seasons? Not really. But what are the alternatives? If Chase walks there’s no immediate solution at 3B for 2015. Oh sure, the Padres could move Jedd Gyorko back to his natural position, but what becomes of 2B? Corey Spangenberg isn’t ready to step into that roll and there are no guarantees that he ever will be ready. Fill the needs through free-agency? By not signing Chase Headley the Padres have already shown little interest in paying premium prices for free-agents*.

*Excluding a couple of expensive exceptions at the hot corner, the 2015 free-agent pickins’ are pretty slim.

With the Padres unlikely to sign Chase to an extension and the clock to free-agency slowly winding down, the Padres are faced with dwindling options. They could trade him if they fall out of contention or they could just hold on to him. And 5 days after the World Series ends they could make him a Qualifying Offer.

Without any options to replace Chase Headley at 3B, and barring an extension, isn’t a QO the only way to go?

As a player who has more than 6 years of Major League service and will (presumably) play for the Padres the duration of 2014, Chase will be eligible to receive a Qualifying Offer. And the Padres would be on the hook for somewhere likely between $14-15MM (The QO is the average of the 125 highest paid players which in 2013 was $14.1M). Hey, that’s less than Dave Cameron’s projection and the Padres don’t have to commit to those ugly years of the middle-thirties.

This Qualifying Offer business is a two-way street though and Chase would have to accept the QO to be a Padre in 2015. Would Chase be willing to sacrifice his age 31 season to go for a multi-year deal the following year? My guess is no. Under my “no” scenario Chase Headley ends up in another uniform and the Padres receive draft pick compensation from a winning team at the bottom of the draft order who could probably afford to forfeit it anyways. That was a long way of writing the Dodgers or Yankees.

Of course, Chase Headley could have been closely watching the Ervin Santana situation and decided that the stress of circling around to the same 1-year offer from a team other than the Padres just isn’t worth it. A Padres fan can dream.

I asked a lot of questions in this post. Feel free to answer them.

*Under the QO system Chase Headley would only truly break the shackles that bind him if he were to get traded during the season, which would mean that he does have 6+ years of Major League service time but that he did not play the entire season beginning on Opening Day with the same organization. Thus the receiving team would not be able to offer him a QO next fall and Chase would truly be free.


I contribute to Padres Public on Thursday mornings and when I’m feeling particularly inspired by Juan Uribe. I can also be found on twitter at @AvengingJM. The dusty archives of AJM are located at

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  • GoldenBoy

    I don’t think the QO / draft pick loss will affect Chase’s free agency much. Dependable, above-average thrid basemen are a hot commodity right now. And 96 mill over 6 sounds about right for Headley.

    The Padres should have negotiations with Chase at the very end of the season. If a deal can’t get done quickly, a QO compensatory draft pick isn’t the worst consolation prize. And the Padres might even look to fill the 2B/3B hole with a trade. A guy like Nick Franklin could be a possibility.

  • ballybunion

    That qualifying offer limitation, doesn’t that mean the Padres have until the season opener to trade Headley and get the most for him (which would have to include some sort of 3B replacement)? So the choice is a trade before opening day or the QO draft pick, since a mid-year trade, basically a 2 month rental, has less value to the buyer than a full year and possible draft pick if they can’t keep him.

    BTW, I remember Padres manager Dick Williams asking Tim Flannery if he could play third and he said sure. Williams put him out there and Tim had never played third before in his life. It was his first time, but not the last. An athlete is an athlete, and if he’s got the arm, he should be able to adjust. My candidate to replace a traded Chase Headley: Chris Denorfia! The outfield is crowded, and he’ll get the hang of it. As Flannery proved, defensive experience is overrated.

    • Change the Padres

      While the first part is sorta true, it ignores that when a team makes a trade at the deadline, it is doing so with additional knowledge about their team – and therefore, adding that player has additional leverage to their playoff hopes. What matters isn’t absolute WAR (including the implied value of the QO), but implied championship odds. If the extra 2 WAR by acquiring him at the beginning of the season plus the value of QO does less towards championship odds than acquiring the right piece at the right time, the value of the player to the buyer is higher in the latter scenario. It is also lower to the seller, but that plays a tertiary role.

      Good article.

    • Teams will sometimes give up a ton in July if they think a particular player is the … … Final Piece.