Like I said in my feverish live coverage, there will be a whole lot to unpack from the Jed Hoyer end-of-season presser in the days and weeks ahead. Sometimes, you don’t even realize what you really heard until some other things happen (or don’t), and you can look back and see with greater clarity what was actually being suggested. There’s a long tail to a lot of this stuff that isn’t immediately “news.”
One thing Hoyer said that does qualify as “news” for today’s purposes, however, was his confirmation that the Cubs are going to make catcher Willson Contreras a Qualifying Offer after the playoffs. The words “obviously” and “definitely” were used. So it’s not even a close call for the Cubs.
For those who don’t know, or those who need a refresher: the Qualifying Offer is a one-year contract at a certain price level – this year’s figures to be around $19 million – that the impending free agent can accept or reject. The offer must come within five days of the end of the World Series, and then the player has ten days to make his decision.
If the player accepts the Qualifying Offer, it’s simple enough: he just signed a new one-year deal with the team.
If the player rejects the Qualifying Offer, however, two things become true: (1) if the player signs with a new team, his former team will receive draft pick compensation (the level of which depends on market size and luxury tax status); oath (2) the player’s signing team will lose certain things (again, the level of which depends on market size and luxury tax status – as little as a third round pick for small-market clubs, ranging up to as much as a 2nd and 5th, plus $1 million in international free agent bonus pool space , for teams over the luxury tax).
For the Cubs and Contreras: if he signs elsewhere after rejecting a Qualifying Offer, the Cubs would receive a compensatory draft pick after the second round in the 2023 draft (note: for a large-market team like the Cubs, the size of the contract Contreras signs does not matter at all).
The team that signs Contreras will have to weigh what they are losing in signing him, however, which affects the price tag they would be willing to pay. It is conceivable that, once attached to draft pick compensation, many teams will decide a large, multi-year deal for Contreras is not desirable. If enough teams project to feel that way, then Contreras and his advisors may well be wise to accept the Qualifying Offer from the Cubs.
I think that is an unlikely outcome, but given the questions about Contreras’s value that popped up at the Trade Deadline, it does have to be preserved as a possibility. As I wrote before on this topic:
Contreras has one of the best bats behind the plate in baseball, but heading into his age 31 season, it does concern me that we’re getting these signals – these kinds of comments, and also the way the trade deadline played out – that Contreras doesn’t do the receiving/game-planning/working-with-pitchers stuff well enough to be seen as a dead-bang obvious star starting catcher for any team.
And again, if that’s a real perception out there, it’s going to be a real issue for his market.
It is not impossible to imagine a scenario where (1) the Cubs decide they value Contreras, at a minimum, on a one-year, $19-ish million deal (the anticipated value of a Qualifying Offer), and (2) Contreras’s agent surveys the landscape and determines there is not going to be a clearly better offer out there *when attached to draft pick compensation.* If that were to happen, as much as it would suck for Contreras, he would be advised to accept the Qualifying Offer .
The Cubs, in that case, do not get an extra draft pick, but they do get Contreras back on a reasonable one-year deal. Even in a world where the Cubs prefer to give more of the catching starts to Yan Gomes and PJ Higgins, it’s not like Contreras can’t still be quite valuable in a reduced catching role, and then getting a majority of his at bats between DH and 1B, for example. It might not be the Cubs’ preferred or ideal set-up, but there aren’t too many bad one-year contracts like that.
Would it really come to that?
There’s an argument that, even as a Designated Hitter, Contreras is worth way more than 1/$19M, even with the draft pick compensation attached. When I think about it that way, I have trouble seeing him completely unable to find a, say, three or four-year deal out there at a solid AAV.
Of course, that’s where you start to wonder about whether there’s a sweet spot for an extension, where the Cubs could sign Contreras for less than “market” price (because of his risk of draft pick compensation being attached), and Contreras could get more from the Cubs than he would realistically get elsewhere. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but there are some inefficiencies being created by the Qualifying Offer system here.
That is all to say: that ten-day period after the Cubs make the Qualifying Offer is probably going to be a hectic one for Contreras and his reps, as they try to figure out what the market would bear for him, and whether there are indeed inefficiencies that push them in one direction or the other.