Forecasting The 2022-23 Qualifying Offers: Pitchers

Yesterday, we took a look at the pending free agent position players who could be candidates to receive a qualifying offer this winter.  Now, let’s turn our attention to what free agent pitchers might be in line for a QO, with the caveat that players can only receive one qualifying offer in their careers, and a player must spend the entire 2022 season with his team to be eligible.

Easy Calls: Chris Bassitt (Mets), Jacob deGrom (Mets), Edwin Diaz (Mets), Nathan Eovaldi (Red Sox), Carlos Rodon (Giants)

DeGrom has already said that he is opting out of the final guaranteed season of his contract, leaving $30.5MM on the table in 2023 to seek out a longer-term pact.  Rodon is also sure to opt out of the final year (and $22.5MM) of his two-year contact with San Francisco, as Rodon earned his opt-out by triggering a vesting option at the 110-innings threshold.

Even with Eovaldi’s injury history, retaining him for one year at roughly $19MM seems like a pretty good outcome for the Red Sox, particularly given all the other question marks in Boston’s rotation.  So there’s little risk for the Sox in issuing Eovaldi a QO, though it would seem like Eovaldi will probably reject it.

Face-of-the-Franchise Veterans: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)

With Kershaw considering retirement last winter, the Dodgers opted against issuing him a qualifying offer as a free agent, as a nod towards giving the longtime ace all the time he needed to make a decision on his future.  It stands to reason that the Dodgers will take the same path this winter, unless Kershaw gives them advance notice of his plans for 2023….though in that scenario, the two sides might just work out an extension before free agency even officially opens.

The same could be true of Wainwright, who has signed one-year contracts to rejoin the Cardinals in each of the last four offseasons.  In three of those cases, Wainwright inked his new deal either just after the start of the free agent period or before it altogether, so it’s safe to assume the two sides will work out a new pact without the QO coming into play.  Of course, this assumes that Wainwright will come back for an 18th Major League season, but even as his 41st birthday approaches, the right-hander is still going strong.

Easy Contract-Option Calls: Carlos Carrasco (Mets), Sonny Gray (Twins), Aaron Nola (Phillies)

These starters could be free agents if their club options are declined, and thus are technically qualifying-offer candidates.  However, the trio are all virtual locks to have their options exercised, and their respective options are all worth less than the projected cost of the qualifying offer.

Borderline Cases: Tyler Anderson (Dodgers), Mike Clevinger (Padres), Zach Eflin (Phillies), Sean Manaea (Padres), Martin Perez (Rangers), Jameson Taillon (Yankees), Taijuan Walker (Mets)

Walker is yet another Mets entry on this list, as he is very likely to decline his $6MM player option for 2023 and instead take a $3MM buyout into free agency.  Advanced metrics paint a less-flattering picture of Walker’s performance than his bottom-line numbers, and he has battled both injury and consistency problems over his career, though Walker has been relatively healthy in his two seasons in New York.  It would seem likely that the Mets will issue Walker a QO, and 2022 has been enough of a platform year for the righty that he will probably turn the qualifying offer down.

The Padres are another team with multiple QO candidates, as while Joe Musgrove was kept off the open market with a $100MM extension, Manaea and Clevinger remain.  Due in part to two particularly disastrous outings against the Dodgers, Manaea’s ERA is an ungainly 4.76 over 119 innings.  Clevinger has a solid 3.47 ERA in his return from Tommy John surgery, but that is only over 70 innings, due to both his TJ rehab as well as a triceps strain and a week on the COVID-related IL.

Right now, Manaea and Clevinger could possibly be candidates to accept a qualifying offer, if they don’t feel they have enough of a platform to maximize their free agent market.  Solid performances over the final month and a half of the season would make it an easier decision for either pitcher to reject a QO, and easier for the Padres to decide whether or not to issue the offers.  San Diego could be facing a third consecutive year of luxury-tax overage in 2023, especially if Manaea and/or Clevinger are on the books for a $19MM-ish salary.

Eflin is another player who needs to post some solid numbers down the stretch, but first and foremost, the Philadelphia right-hander just needs to get healthy.  Eflin has been on the IL since late June due to a kneecap bruise, and his continued knee soreness is a red flag for a pitcher who has undergone multiple knee surgeries in the past.  When healthy, Eflin has been a quietly solid pitcher for the Phillies over the last five seasons, yet his lingering knee problems are certainly a concern.  There is the interesting wrinkle of a $15MM mutual option between Eflin and the Phils for 2023, and while mutual options are rarely exercised by both parties, this could be a rare situation where it would make sense for both the player and the team.  Paying $15MM for Eflin would also represent some risk for the Phillies, but it would be less than the value of a qualifying offer.

After a great start to the season, Taillon’s numbers have come back to earth a bit, with a 3.95 ERA over 120 2/3 innings.  A below-average strikeout pitcher, Taillon has relied on excellent control and spin rates on his fastball and curve to limit damage, and he also doesn’t allow too much hard contact.  Perhaps most importantly given Taillon’s injury history, he has been healthy in 2022, which should make offseason suitors more open to giving him a longer-term contract.  For now, it seems probable that the Yankees would issue Taillon a QO rather than let him potentially walk away for nothing in free agency.

The idea of Anderson or Perez as QO candidates would’ve seemed quite farfetched heading into the season, yet the two veteran left-handers are each enjoying career years that resulted in All-Star appearances.  Their underwhelming career histories could prevent the Dodgers and Rangers from issuing qualifying offers, since either pitcher would likely take the big payday, and $19MM is a lot to invest in basically one season of evidence (even for a Dodgers team that is comfortable blowing past luxury tax thresholds).

However, it would certainly make sense for either club to pursue re-signings, even if a qualifying offer isn’t involved.  The Rangers have already been vocal about their desire to retain Perez, so it is quite possible he signs an extension before even hitting the open market.

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