There are incentives for teams to send qualifying offers to good departing players, first because those teams get draft pick compensation if the player elects free agency and second because, even if the player accepts, it’s usually not a bad thing: $15 or $16 million for–let’s say–Justin Upton, that ain’t so bad. In fact, it’d be a terrific one-year, low-risk deal for a star player.
That’s why the Padres will skip and jump down to the qualifying offer office next month and file one for Upton, who will almost certainly counter by rejecting it while skipping and jumping to the land of free agency. The Padres, however, will happily accept their draft pick and use it to start restocking the farm system. Everybody wins–sort of, anyway.
But what about Ian Kennedy? Should the Padres offer him a QO? They’d probably like to, if only they knew Kennedy would reject it, which would allow the Padres to add another draft pick to the stockpile for next June.
Here’s the thing: Kennedy’s a soon-to-be 31-year-old starting pitcher coming off a season where he surrendered 31 home runs in 168 and one-third innings, 19 of them in still-pitcher-friendly Petco Park. He’s an aging pitcher and he’s coming off a down year, and he hasn’t had a real rock-solid year since 2011. Send him a QO and he’ll probably accept the dang thing.
For a team with a big budget, that might not be a bad thing. Kennedy has positive attributes, you know? You can pretty much pencil him in for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of three or so, and that’s pretty good. His career ERA+ hovers near league average, and so too do his fielding independent measures–while his ERAs have fluctuated dramatically at times, his cFIP, for example, has trended near the league average of 100. His cFIP was actually better in 2015 than it was in 2014. He’s durable, too, as he’s started at least 30 games in each season since 2010. For a team with money to burn and depth in the rotation on the offseason to-do list–the Dodgers, let’s call ’em–offering Kennedy $15.8 million for one-year might make sense.
For the Padres, though, it probably doesn’t. Say Kennedy accepts:
|James Shields||$21 million|
Sheesh, that’s over $80 million to five players, and none of them, outside of Kimbrel (and he’s a reliever), project as sure-fire above average players going into next season. Not the greatest situation salary-wise, especially for a team that spent last offseason ramping up payroll only to lose 88 games in front of (shockingly!) modest crowds.
Maybe Kennedy’s a lock to decline a qualifying offer because Scott Boras is his agent, but as Matthew Trueblood points out at Baseball Prospectus, Scott Boras was also the agent for Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales in the 2013-’14 offseason. Both of those players declined their qualifying offers and faced a free agent market that never materialized: Drew sheepishly re-signed with the Red Sox in May of 2014 and Morales inked a deal with the Twins in June, both one-year flyers. Boras is stubborn, sure, but he’s also smart, and there’s a decent chance he’d advise Kennedy to accept the QO and rebuild his value for a 2017 payday.
Who knows, really, but a $16 million tab on Kennedy would significantly limit the Padres’ offseason flexibility, and with the current roster and salary commitments, additional limits on flexibility should probably be avoided.