The KC Royals won’t be making any qualifying offers. Could other clubs’ offers affect the team’s offseason efforts?
Reports Wednesday that the cash price of qualifying offers is going up could have little impact on the KC Royals. But that doesn’t mean they can ignore the issue.
The reports predict that this year’s qualifying offer, the mean of the top 125 major league salaries, will be $18.9 million, up from last year’s $17.8 million. Under certain conditions, big league clubs must offer the new amount to some of their free agents.
Although qualifying offer rules included in the Basic Agreement that regulates most of the terms and conditions of players’ employment are complicated, here’s the condensed version: Teams must offer certain free agents the $18.9 million amount to guarantee they receive draft-related compensation if the player signs with another club; the specific compensation turns in each case on variables including the revenue sharing and luxury tax status of the involved clubs and how much the signing team pays the player signed.
For the KC Royals, only three of their higher profile 2020 players—Ian Kennedy, Greg Holland and Matt Harvey—seem relevant at first blush to the qualifying offer discussion.
Kennedy, the starter-turned-reliever who’ll forever be remembered in Kansas City more for failing to measure up to his $70 million contract than for the excellent 30-save 2019 season he turned in after moving to the bullpen, is a free agent after playing out his five-year deal. Trevor Rosenthal quickly replaced him as this year’s closer and Kennedy struggled to an 0-2, 9.00 ERA record and gave up seven homers in 14 innings.
That record alone makes the case for the Royals to say farewell to Kennedy, something they should do anyway. And even if owner John Sherman lets general manager Dayton Moore explore a Kennedy return, the club won’t have to risk a qualifying offer—a player is only eligible to receive one qualifying offer over his entire career, and Kennedy received and rejected the Padres’ QO after the 2015 season. He and Kansas City then did their ill-fated deal.
Some may wonder about Harvey, who helped pitch the Mets into, and then out of, the 2015 World Series against the Royals. He’s never received a qualifying offer and signed a one-year minor league deal with the Royals, then made the club but pitched badly. The deal was announced July 28, but may have been made a bit earlier; if Harvey signed after Opening Day—July 24—the Royals won’t have to give him a QO because only players who spend the entire season with an organization are eligible.
Even if Harvey is eligible for an offer, the Royals aren’t about to make one and risk him accepting and extracting almost $19 million from a payroll that can be better used on a more solid bet.
That leaves Holland, by far the likeliest of the three pitchers to hear from the Royals when free agent season begins five days after this year’s World Series ends. Despite Holland’s stellar comeback 2020, a 3-0, 1.91, six save effort that restored his top reliever status, Kansas City probably isn’t interested in paying him $18.9 million for one year, the duration of any deal resulting from a QO acceptance.
The KC Royals won’t have to risk that kind of money if they want Holland for even one season more. Holland’s situation matches Kennedy’s—he spurned Colorado’s qualifying offer after leading the National League in saves in 2017, so isn’t eligible for another.
But what about the other side of the qualifying offer coin? Are the Royals willing to risk another high draft pick (per Baseball America, they’ll probably have the seventh selection in next year’s amateur draft) to sign another club’s free agent? It’s still early, but it’s safe to assume Moore will explore the market for a starting pitcher and some offense; another rotation piece could stabilize the staff and bridge the gap between the present starters and the young phenoms nearing their time, and the Royals desperately need hitters.
And therein lies the rub. Good players come with a cost, and the price will be loss of a draft pick for each player the Royals sign who rejected a qualifying offer. It’s classic risk-reward analysis.
Will Sherman and Moore take the plunge? It all depends on what’s out there…and that’s a story for another day.
The KC Royals won’t have to make qualifying offers. But they’ll have to bear the draft cost of signing any free agents who reject other clubs’ QOs.