Ian Kennedy and the Qualifying Offer Quandary

Ahh, the good ol’ qualifying offer. Of the 34 players that have received a qualifying offer since new rules were implemented in 2012, not a single one has accepted the deal.

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:

Player 2016 Salary
James Shields $21 million
Matt Kemp $18.25
Melvin Upton $16.05
Ian Kennedy $15.80
Craig Kimbrel $11.25

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.

You are encouraged to comment using an exisitng Twitter, Facebook, or Google account. Upvote comments you find helpful, and only downvote comments that do not belong. The downvote is not a 'disagree' button.

  • Sac Bunt Chris

    Oh man, everything you’re saying makes sense, but I hope this was a decision made at the trade deadline this year. Otherwise why would the team keep him?

    • Yeah, I didn’t even really consider this, for whatever reason, but it definitely makes sense. If they don’t get anything out of him and he walks with no QO attached, it makes keeping him down the stretch this year look really strange.

  • Shaqapopolis

    This is his first time entering FA and he ain’t getting any younger. I say you take the risk and make the offer. This will most likely be the only time he can cash in on FA and he will most likely decline. If he doesn’t, he’s hoping he has a solid year and can enter as a 32 year old pitcher, might as well eek that value out of him.

    *I’m not a believer that players play better on contract year’s – case in point…

    • Sac Bunt Chris

      I agree, but it’s not my money being risked here.

    • I still think it might make sense for him to take it, rebuild his value with a good season, then score a solid deal in 2017. He’d likely get more money overall that way, though it’s a little added risk for him.

  • Pat

    I think an important question is, if we don’t make a QO, are there internal candidates to replace his production. If not, then you have to pay market value anyway, so might as well give him the QO and take the draft pick if he turns it down, but use him for one year rather than paying comparable money for 3-5 years.

    • Good points. Just think $15.8 million might be over market value for Kennedy at this point, but if you consider it’s only one year, maybe it’s fine. I guess it depends on how the Padres intend to attack the rest of the offseason.

      • Pat

        Depends on which Kennedy you get, 2014 or 2015. If he comes back to 2014 production, it’s probably only a small overpay, but another year like 2015 and it’s quite a bit over. Probably worth a shot at the draft pick unless I’m missing a really obvious, qualified replacement in the minors.

  • ballybunion

    I think it’s settled that the Padres make the QO, and as much as he might like to stay, the pitcher’s manager Bud Black is gone and Balsley might be too. Kennedy should be looking for a 3 year contract that begins a bit less than the QO, otherwise his age will limit him to a 2 year contract next time, and maybe one year/option deals the rest of his career. I’ll put up two Canadian pennies Kennedy leaves it to his agent who will put out a slick brochure that compares Ian to Cy Young as an innings eater and gets him a 3-year contract elsewhere.

    • You guys are probably right.

      I still think the QO attachment might hurt Kennedy’s free agency to the point where he doesn’t get a significantly better deal than 1/$16. Will be interesting to watch.

  • Grumpy Friar

    Oh jeez, the Padres extended a QO to Kennedy today. Here’s to hoping he rejects!

    I’d much rather have the likes of Wei-Yin Chen or John Lackey, even if they end up costing more than Kennedy.