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Decision day for qualifying offers

Nov 6, 2015, 11:14 AM EDT

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Having hired their manager and filled a couple of positions on their coaching staff, the Nationals can begin shifting attention to the biggest task of the offseason: Adjusting their roster.

That process, in many ways, begins later today when one of baseball’s first key offseason deadlines arrives. By 5 p.m. EST, all clubs must decide whether to extend qualifying offers to their free agents. This often amounts to nothing more than a procedural move, but this is a particularly big deal this time around for the Nationals, who have four prominent players now reaching free agency: Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Denard Span and Doug Fister.

A quick primer on how this works…

— Clubs may extend a qualifying offer to any free agent, which amounts to an offer of a 1-year contract worth roughly $15.8 million.

— Players then have one week to either accept the offer (and thus return to their original teams for another season) or decline it (in which case they become free agents and the club is guaranteed to receive draft-pick compensation if and when those players sign elsewhere).

— If a team doesn’t extend a qualifying offer, it doesn’t get any compensation whether that player signs elsewhere.

— This system has been in place the last three years, with 34 MLB players given qualifying offers. None of them has accepted the offer.

Asked Thursday if the Nationals were still figuring out what to do with their four free agents, general manager Mike Rizzo said the club has already made those decisions in each case. (He wouldn’t reveal what those decisions are.) He didn’t, however, rule out a chance of retaining any of the four players in 2016.

“It’s a possibility,” Rizzo said. “It’s something we’ve discussed. At this point, we haven’t made any final decisions about it.”

As we count down the hours to 5 p.m., let’s run through each of the four cases and make a prediction on what will happen…

Though the right-hander is coming off a down year by his standards, he still went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA over 201 2/3 innings. That’s hardly a bad season. And combined with his longstanding track record of consistent effectiveness (career 3.32 ERA) and durability (he has made at least 32 starts each of the last four seasons) Zimmermann is going to get a nine-figure contract this winter. The Nationals all but gave up trying to re-sign him over the last 12 months, staking their future to Max Scherzer instead. But they’ll want to make sure they get some kind of compensation for losing the best pitcher in club history. Interestingly enough, the Nats were able to draft Zimmermann way back in 2007 with a compensation pick they got for losing Alfonso Soriano to free agency.
Prediction: Yes, they’ll make a qualifying offer to Zimmermann, and he’ll sign a major contract (something in the range of 6 years, $120 million) elsewhere this winter.

Desmond won’t get the nine-figure deal he and the Nationals discussed two years ago, not after a hugely disappointing season that saw him post career-lows in batting average (.233), on-base percentage (.290) and steals (13) while posting a career-high in strikeouts (187) and committing 27 errors (most since he was a rookie in 2010). But he’s still 30-year-old shortstop with three Silver Slugger Awards, three 20-20 seasons and a sterling reputation as a clubhouse leader and stalwart in the community. Desmond could, in theory, decide to gamble by accepting a qualifying offer and then re-establishing his value before becoming a free agent again one year from now. But we saw how he struggled under the pressure of a contract year. And by the final week of the season, his words, actions and emotions certainly conveyed he knows he’ll be playing somewhere else in 2016.
Prediction: Yes, the Nationals will make a qualifying offer to Desmond, and he’ll sign a medium-length contract (something in the range of 4 years, $60 million) elsewhere this winter.

One year ago, there was reason to wonder if the Nationals would be wise to lock up Fister to a long-term deal, banking on his consistency and ability to induce weak contact. But then came a disappointing season for the tall right-hander, one that saw him battle forearm tightness, diminished velocity and a complete lack of consistency. The Nats had no choice but to demote him to their bullpen down the stretch, and though he was more effective in that role, Fister did nothing to re-establish his value. After going 5-7 with a career-high 4.19 ERA and 1.40 WHIP while throwing his fewest innings since 2009 (only 103), he isn’t going to get near the contract everyone figured last year.
Prediction: No, the Nationals won’t make a qualifying offer to Fister. If they did, he’d undoubtedly accept it, leaving the club to pay $15.8 million to a 32-year-old pitcher coming off a disappointing season.

This is by far the toughest decision facing the Nationals. In some respects, they would love to have Span back for one more year, recognizing how important he has been to their lineup and outfield defense. On the other hand, $15.8 million is a lot to guarantee a 32-year-old coming off back, hip and core muscle injuries that required three surgeries. And given the uncertainty surrounding his market in free agency, Span might just be inclined to accept the offer. If he didn’t, other clubs might be discouraged to sign him, not wanting to lose a draft pick in the process. This one truly could go either way.
Prediction: Yes, the Nationals will make a qualifying offer to Span. He’ll think long and hard about accepting it, but ultimately will take his chances on the open market, likely signing an incentive-laden deal with another club, possibly not until spring training has begun.

  1. natsguy - Nov 6, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    I guess we should ask Ted what he is going to allow Rizzo to do.

    • jfmii - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:07 PM

      How long are you going to keep banging that drum?

      • Doc - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:10 PM

        It’s the only drum that natsguy has. LOL

      • natsguy - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:22 PM

        How long you got. I guess you and Doc don’t like to hear the truth.

    • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:42 PM


      Clearly every one knows your position because you repeated it 500 times. That’s fine we all know how you feel. Why do you feel the need to keep repeating it? Are you related to JayB?

      • chaz11963 - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:41 PM

        That’s funny jd

      • natsguy - Nov 6, 2015 at 4:04 PM

        Keep laughing chaz I reported your filthy mouth yesterday. At least I keep it civil and don’t have to resort to the F word for someone I don’t agree with. What I was talking about turned out to be true didn’t it.

  2. jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    Fister will still get 3 – 4 years at a minimum of $12 mil a year. I don’t think that he’l undoubtedly accept the QO. In fact I’d bet against it.

    • texnat1 - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:12 PM

      Disagree. A team would be crazy to offer him 3 to 4 years at that price. He wasn’t good enough to start last year.

      I agree with Mark’s predictions and think they are also the best moves for the Nats.

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:16 PM

        I guarantee you someone will make that move (Toronto?). Fister was a model of consistency until last year and to the best of my knowledge he didn’t have arm problems. Just one bad year. In fact I think him accepting a QO is not a bad outcome for us either. Gives us a bridge to Giolito.

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:18 PM


        Dan O’Dowd who is an ex GM in the MLB predicts 3 – 4 years at $45 – $60 mil for Fister.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:20 PM

        If Fister is worth 4/$60M, he’s probably worth QO-type money from somebody.

      • Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:56 PM

        jd, does that estimate of Fister’s contract assume the offering team is giving up a draft pick or not? That’s an important consideration, right?

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:03 PM


        Here is the article. Fister is no. 23.

      • Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:19 PM

        Thanks for the link jd. Well, for some of the guys on this list, there is obviously a draft pick attached to them (Greinke, JZnn, Fowler, Heyward), and for some there isn’t because they were traded midseason (Cespedes, Price, Cueto). For the guys lower on the list it makes a difference. Is someone really going to pay 4yrs/$55 million and a draft pick for Ian Kennedy? Maybe.

        I think he overestimates the contract length for Span given the health concerns.

    • thisizit - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:28 PM

      If the numbers here are realistic for him, he turns down the QO. It is a risk to offer it, but it could be worth taking if the Nationals believe he is healthy. If he accepts, he can slot into the bullpen or be trade bait when someone is looking for a short term #5 starter to address an injury. Or, maybe Mike Maddux can fix him.

    • texnat1 - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:15 PM

      Keith Law has him as the 46th best free agent, which seems more reasonable to me given that he couldn’t beat out Tanner for a starting spot at the end of the season. Given that, why would you want him back? He is past 30 and he fell off a cliff last year. Maybe it was temporary, but he lost velocity.

      If the Nats medical staff thinks he will get it back, fine. But otherwise I don’t think you QO him.

      Frankly, a one year chance to rebuild his value while making more than he has ever made in his career would be perfect for Fister.

      I’d rather the Nats spend that $16 million elsewhere and go with Roark for that spot in the order.

      • Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 3:16 PM

        +1 texnat. And I don’t think the Nats medical staff is even reconstitued yet, much less able to opine on Fister’s health. Last time anyone saw him he was pitching an inning of garbage time against the Phillies during the last weekend at Nats Park. He pitched a total of five times in September. And this is a guy some want to offer $15.8 million to try again next year?

        I’ll pass.

  3. Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:13 PM

    (in which case they become free agents and the club is guaranteed to receive draft-pick compensation if and when those players sign elsewhere).

    If the player does not sign elsewhere in the requisite amount of time (mid-season the following year, yes?), don’t they still get the draft pick?

    • virginiascopist - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      Great question. I believe the answer is no, and I think the only team that would apply to would be the Seattle Mariners in regards to Morales in the 2014 draft. The Twins signed him after the draft and from what I can tell, the Mariners did not get a compensation pick for him.

      • DaveB - Nov 6, 2015 at 3:54 PM

        Correct … If the player waits until after the draft to sign, the signing team does not have to give up a pick, and the team that lost him does not get the extra pick.

  4. Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:19 PM

    I’m still predicting no Q.O. for Span, but otherwise Mark’s predictions seem solid and non-controversial.

    Even if Span doesn’t get a Q.O., Rizzo could make him another offer (even for 2 years) if he wants him back.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:24 PM

      My only real hangup with a QO to Denard, and I’d be happy to see him back otherwise, is that giving him that much is going to tie up the money they’ll need to get another outfielder at the deadline if (and it’s not a big if) both Span and Werth are on the DL again.

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:29 PM

        I think Gordon re signs with KC and I think Heward’s contract will be in the stratosphere so do we can probably land Parra who is a nice piece but not really a game changer. I think Denard is a no brainer QO.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:39 PM

        Heyward will get big money, no doubt. But so did Scherzer, and so did Papelbon. Would they do that again?

      • NatsNut - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:42 PM

        jd, Gordon already declined the option. He’s a free agent.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:47 PM

        “… giving him that much is going to tie up the money…”

        Yes, but only if he accepts the QO, which I can’t believe he will (not after signing with Boras).

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:43 PM


        Rejecting the QO is a no brainer for Gordon. Doesn’t me he won’t re sign with the Royals though (I think he will).

      • jd - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:45 PM

        Paplebon is not in the same conversation I mean he is $11 mil for 1 year essentially. Heyward will be in Scherzer territory and I am not sure he is worth that much.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 1:54 PM

        Yes, but only if he accepts the QO, which I can’t believe he will (not after signing with Boras).

        Well, if he doesn’t accept the offer, they don’t have to give him the money.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:00 PM

        Papelbon is not in the same conversation

        Not in years or budget-busting, no, that’s true, but I threw him in there because a) $11MM is a lot of money for a closer, even for one year, especially when one year becomes 2 weeks, and 2) reportedly, the Lerners wouldn’t let Rizzo spend that much, or less even, on somebody like Parra, so in context, it was a surprising bit of a splurge, I think.

      • Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:04 PM

        NN and jd, Gordon declined the option in his contract to remain with the Royals for 2016 and be paid $12.5 million.–will-become-a-free-agent-013234250.html

        As I understand the process, he’ll become a free agent today if the Royals decline to make him a qualifying offer, or as soon as he rejects it if they do, which they most certainly will. Gordon is going to get paid. But the player option on a contract (or a team option for that matter, like the Nats had with Janssen) is a separate decision from the qualifying offer.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:08 PM

        Heyward will be in Scherzer territory and I am not sure he is worth that much.

        I agree, he will be expensive like that, if not moreso. I’m not sure Scherzer is worth it. A lot of folks thought Werth wasn’t worth it, from a purely on-the-field-baseball ROI. But the guy is only 26 next year, and if one WAR (just for the sake of argument) is worth $6MM/year now, and that’s only going to go up, then how much is a reasonable gamble (or “investment” if you prefer, which is what all of this is; there are no guarantees to the team) for the next, I dunno, eight to ten years?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:11 PM

        I’m reminded of Bill Veeck saying, it’s not the high price of stars that kills you, it’s the high price of mediocrity.

  5. Mrsb loves the Nats - Nov 6, 2015 at 12:20 PM

    I say YES to everyone but Fister. We will see how this works out.

  6. Section 222 - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    Jon Heyman’s latest info on who’s getting a QO.

    • jfmii - Nov 6, 2015 at 2:35 PM


  7. janebeard - Nov 6, 2015 at 3:53 PM

    I will be happy for Ian to sign a longer deal with a team that believes in him. And I will be so, so sad for me to see him go. Don’t even begin to diss him. I know that he has fans and detractors here. I’m just saying I will be heartbroken.

  8. sunshinebobby - Nov 6, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    Philosophical question: Does anybody think Dusty had any input on these decisions?

  9. Jeff - Nov 7, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    Interesting to see Baker effect in taylor
    And Moore





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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