Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires in December, and a new CBA could change several aspects of the game moving forward, among them the qualifying offer process, expanded rosters and an international draft.
With the World Series about to get underway this week, we'll take a look at some of those key topics involving a new CBA and how they could affect the Orioles in the not-so-distant future.
Today, we will take a look at the qualifying offer process, which awards draft-pick compensation when free agents who decline the qualifying offer sign elsewhere.
When the process was introduced four offseasons ago, the design was to level the playing field when teams lose their big-ticket free agents. And while it has served its purpose in awarding teams compensation picks, the process has played a major role in dictating the free agent market. Teams have been hesitant to sign qualifying offer free agents because they don't want to lose their highest unprotected draft pick in the process.
In the past, the Orioles have signed free agents attached to qualifying offers to under-market deals, most notably executive vice president Dan Duquette's signing of Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million deal before the 2014 season. In that deal, the Orioles lost only a second-round pick and were content with inking Cruz to a one-year deal because the team had relinquished its first-round pick in signing Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal. One move would not have happened without the other.
Before the wild card game, Commissioner Rob Manfred said that he hoped a new CBA would be agreed upon before the free-agency season begins, and according to a FOX Sports report two weeks ago, the qualifying offer process will remain in place in the new CBA, but there could be some adjustments to the format.
"There have been years -- not this past agreement, but the one before -- where we actually finished the deal during the World Series," Manfred said in Toronto. "I only remember that because it's the only World Series I've missed in the last 25 years. And the last time around in 2011, we actually extended a couple of deadlines in the free agent market in order to allow us to finish up. I do think that there's a natural deadline there. The idea of operating under the new agreement is an appealing one. So let's hope we do it again."
Until further details emerge, we have to go by the existing qualifying offer format. Qualifying offers can be made until five days after the end the World Series, and players have a week after that to decide whether to accept the offer.
This year, the qualifying offer – which is the average of the top 125 player salaries from the previous year – is up to $17.2 million, which is up considerably from last year's $15.8 million offer.
Earlier this month, Duquette said the club hadn't decided whether to make qualifying offers to outfielder Mark Trumbo or catcher Matt Wieters. Last season, the Orioles made the offer to Wieters and he accepted it. Last year was the first season since the qualifying offer process was born before the 2013 season that players accepted the offer.
Making a player a qualifying offer isn't exclusively to get the compensation draft pick, but it has shown in the past that being tied to a qualifying offer muddles a player's market because some teams are unwilling to relinquish a draft pick. And that can lead the player back to his original team, which was the case for Wieters, who will enter the free agent market in a much better situation because he's now shown that he's fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
In all certainty, the Orioles will make Trumbo a qualifying offer. And because Trumbo is coming off the best year of his career – he led the majors with 47 homers – it's a good bet that he will decline it to pursue a multi-year deal.
Wieters' case isn't as clear cut. If the Orioles made him an offer and he accepted it, Wieters would be the team's second-highest paid player. First baseman Chris Davis is the only player under contract who would make more at $21.2 million.
With the Orioles already committed to nearly $96 million in contracts to eight players and facing hefty arbitration raises to up to 10 eligible players that could reach an estimated $50.1 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors, the possibility of Wieters actually accepting the offer again might be too much of a risk.
Wieters will be the top catcher on the free agent market this offseason, especially after Nationals backstop Wilson Ramos suffered a late-season knee injury. He started 111 games at catcher and threw out 35 percent of baserunners, proving his surgically repaired right elbow is healthy. His .243/.302/.409 slash line wasn't great, but Wieters' 17 homers provided rare power for his position and he gave the Orioles some clutch hits throughout the season. That should be enough reason for Wieters to test the market this offseason.
It won't be long until the Orioles have to make decisions on qualifying offers – and again, parts of the process could change over the next few weeks -- but over the past few years, the process has been one of the most uncertain to navigate for both players and teams.