UPDATE: In the last CBA a player that signs a qualifying offer can’t be traded until July 15th without the player’s consent. Haven’t seen confirmation if that is still the case, but there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t.
In years past, the decision to give Alex Cobb a qualifying offer would likely be an easier choice. In previous seasons, if you extended the qualifying offer the team would receive a compensation pick after the first round and the signing team would give up their highest unprotected pick.
Instead, this is the first year of the new rules, and it’s complicated.
Teams will now receive a compensation pick ranging from after the first round to after the fourth round depending upon the team’s revenue sharing status. The signing team will have to give up a pick ranging from the team’s second and fifth highest picks (as well as relinquishing $1 million in international free agency pool money the following summer for those who are above the luxury tax threshold), down to a team’s third highest pick if that team receives revenue sharing money (with no international spending allotments surrendered).
For the Rays, if departing player declines the QO, this means they would receive a pick after the first round just like in the recent past. If they sign somebody who declined, they will have to give up their third highest pick.
But here’s the wrinkle.
The biggest change to the compensation pick is you not only must give the player the qualifying offer, but the player must sign a contract for more than $50MM in guaranteed money. Otherwise no draft picks will be awarded.
This year the qualifying offer is expected to be around $18MM.
So with these new rules in place, what is the downside of offering Alex Cobb a one year deal worth roughly $18MM?
Say he declines the offer
Players in the past that were borderline candidates stuck around and ended up having to sign one year contracts that many times were less than the original qualifying offer.
This rule change allows more flexibility for players and their agents to get something between $18MM and $50MM by working with multiple teams on a deal.
So does a team offer Alex Cobb a contract worth $50MM+ while having to give up a lesser pick in the past, but potentially some IFA signing pool money?
Let’s dive into the details.
In the recent past what starting pitchers have gotten $50MM+ contracts? In 2016 there wasn’t a single one. In 2015 there were seven such contracts led by David Price ($217MM), Zach Greinke ($206.5MM), Johnny Cueto ($131MM), Jeff Samardzija ($90MM), Mike Leake ($80MM), Wei-Yin Chen ($80MM), and Ian Kennedy ($70MM). In 2014 three qualified with Jon Lester ($155MM), James Shields ($75MM), and Ervin Santana ($55MM).
How does Cobb compare to those who did get $50MM+ deals in the last three years?
Stats entering off-season of SP who received $50MM+ contracts
While Alex Cobb has been able to be on the mound he compares very favorably in both age and quality of innings once you get out of the top tier of players who received $100MM+ contracts. The big thing that sticks out is that teams really pay for innings and not just quality.
Wei-Yin Chen is the only other guy even close to Cobb’s 700.0 innings pitched, and Chen is a special case. Chen was a free agent after four years due to a clause in his contract he signed after he came from the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan. So his 706.1 IP came in two plus years fewer of team control.
Is it possible some team out there signs Cobb to a deal for more than $50MM guaranteed, and give up some draft picks and international free agent spending money? Sure. There are worse pitchers that did sign contracts for that amount, but Cobb’s issue will be the lack of innings.
The second issue is the pending free agent bonanza of next winter. How many teams are going to want to lock up money for multiple years and potentially impact their ability to sign impact talent next winter? This could make it a particularly interesting year especially for one year deals handed out by teams.
My guy feeling is he’ll get somewhere around $15MM a year for three or four years. If he gets the four year contract $50MM is definitely in play and likely to occur. If nobody steps up and gives the extra year I think he comes up just short.
Say he accepts the offer
At $18MM, the Rays would clearly have to trade Cobb.
Does Cobb have value with a 1/$18MM deal? Likely, but probably something more in line of low minors lottery ticket, as the acquiring team will be taking on a significant salary commitment. Cobb would likely have to approve any deal before July 15th.
Publicly it probably looks bad, but that hasn’t and shouldn’t stop the Rays from making the best decision for the franchise.
Having a trade chip is still better than letting Cobb walk for nothing, but it’s in Cobb’s court if he would want to move and you could be stuck having to pay about half of the $18MM.
Should the Rays extend Cobb the qualifying offer?
If he accepts, Cobb is too expensive for the Rays, but besides the optics of having to trade Cobb, they’ll have more than they might have otherwise.
If he declines and he gets a deal worth $50 million that allows you to pick up another pick just after the first round, the upside is far more significant.
If he declines and can’t find a $50 million deal, the Rays have an opportunity to try and convince Cobb to stay for a more reasonable contract, but if he walks, it costs the team nothing to have tried. It’s possible the QO puts a damper on Cobb’s market, but that’s an advantage to the Rays in trying to retain a quality arm.
There’s not much downside here at all.
UPDATE: The downside is more if they are potentially stuck paying half of $18MM until they are able to trade Cobb, but I do think it’s pretty unlikely he would accept. The front office will have to decide if the small chance that he accepts and wouldn’t consent to a trade is worth more than the chance he declines and gets a $50MM+ deal.