The Rays Tank: Qualifying Offers Fire Up The Hot Stove

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

As the Hot Stove fires up, BJ Upton was one of nine players to receive a qualifying offer over the weekend.

Qualifying Offers were finalized on Friday. Any team that signs a player that was extended such an offer must surrender a first round pick in the following draft - unless the signing team was in the bottom third of wins, then a second round pick.

As expected, B.J. Upton was one of nine players extended a qualifying offer - along with position players Michael Bourn (ATL), Josh Hamilton (TEX), OF/1B Nick Swisher (NYY), and 1B Adam LaRoche (WAS). Qualified pitchers were Hiroki Kuroda (NYY), Kyle Lohse (STL), and former Rays closer Rafael Soriano (NYY). David Ortiz was extended an offer by Boston, but the two have already renewed their vows at two years, $26M.

Having produced 4.0+ WAR seasons in four of the last six years, Upton is poised to receive a decent longterm contract on the open market. Accepting the one-year tender from the Rays would certainly be a home-town discount, and Upton is expected to decline.

Players have one week to decide, ending Nov. 9th.

***

Every off-season the industry seems to be fixated by one player. Front offices seem stuck until the biggest domino is the first to fall. Last year that player was Albert Pujols. The year before that, our own Carl Crawford. In 2009, John Lackey. Maybe it's all fumes from the Hot Stove, but I think there is something to this trend.

So, which free agent is the industry waiting on this year?

1. Josh Hamilton, CF

The strangest free agent story I can think of is one we will watch this winter. Yesterday it was reported that the 5-time All Star and 2010 MVP has an asking price of 7 years, $175M. In other words, $25M per year, which would match Ryan Howard for the second highest annual salary in baseball history. Note: A-Rod wins.

In contract terms, comparing Hamilton to Ryan Howard can seem reasonable. Both contracts come at age 31 to an all-star power hitter with significant risks. Hamilton lacks the injury and fielding concerns of Howard, but has personal failures regarding addiction and an ample need for supervision. There is speculation that intense-media cities like New York and Boston would be too much scrutiny for Hamilton to handle. Still, Hamilton is a guaranteed 4.0 WAR outfielder with an aggressive swing and potential to be an MVP, given the perfect storm of a healthy mindset and pitches near the strike zone.

Perhaps a similar price at 5 years would be reasonable - but could the industry be waiting on Josh Hamilton? I think not. The deep pockets will duke it out, and in the mean time their bank accounts will be frozen, but Hamilton may not be the first outfielder to find a home, given his unique situation. This passes the burden to...

2. Michael Bourn, CF

A true center fielder with WAR of 4.7, 4.9, 4.1, and 6.4 over the last four years. With career strikeout averages above 20% and an ISO below .100, Bourn is likely to keep his production at 4.0 WAR per season, but he is two years younger than B.J. Upton and highlights a class of center fielders that is only challenged by Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, Upton and Hamilton. We may find that where Bourn lands will dictate the rest of the market for center fielders - and thereby outfielders in general. Or maybe I'm looking in the wrong place, and this elusive first domino will be...

3. Someone Else.

I have made the assumption that teams are waiting for outfielders before the market picks up steam, but outfield is a position of sufficient depth this season: 50+ players stack the free agent market, including Swisher, Cody Ross, Torii Hunter, Melky Cabrera, Ryan Ludwick, and Jonny Gomes. An infield position - specifically 1B or Catcher - could be in much higher demand as the off-season continues. If that is the case, the Rays will need to make quick work finding their replacemt for Carlos Peña before the market panics, raising prices dramatically.

Who do you think that player will be this season?

LINKS!

- Nick Cafardo reports the Twins have an interest in James Shields. Could a package involving Chris Parmelee and Ben Revere be worth a trade? 1B prospect Parmelee was the 20th overall pick in 2006 and has hit well in the minors (AAA: .338/.457/.645 with 17 HR), but was rocked in his 64 game stint with Minnesota last season (.229/.290/.380 with a 25% K-rate). What would it take to send off Big Game James?

- Could the once-touted prospect Rick Ankiel return to pitching? Please?

- Houston unveiled their new uniforms, including a new logo and mascot.

- The Cubs were this close to trading Carlos Marmol to the Angels for Dan Haren's $15M option, but Anaheim quickly wised up - opting to pay Haren $3.5M to leave instead of spending $9.8M on one year of Marmol. Nice try, Theo.

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