The Orioles will participate in the qualifying-offer process this season to ease the pain of possibly losing some of their big-ticket free agents.
The process, which is in its fourth year, is aimed at ensuring teams that lose free agents aren't left empty handed, giving those teams a compensatory draft pick after the first round if their qualifying offer for a one-year contract is declined and the free agent signs elsewhere. The signing team also forfeits its first-round pick (or its highest remaining pick), which adds another dynamic.
The qualifying offer for this offseason, which is determined by averaging the top 125 annual salaries in MLB, will be set at $15.8 million, according to the SportsBusiness Journal.
That's actually only slightly up from $15.3 million, which is what the Orioles offered Nelson Cruz last offseason before he signed a four-year, $57-million deal. The qualifying offer was $14.1 million two years ago and $13.3 million the year before that.
The Orioles have six free agents, and this process will likely affect three. First baseman Chris Davis will undoubtedly be made -- and likely refuse -- a qualifying offer. Coming off his 47-homer season, Davis will get a multiyear deal that will pay him much more annually, so he has nothing to gain.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will also likely be issued a qualifying offer, and while he's not going to get as much as Davis, Chen should receive a multiyear deal.
Then there's catcher Matt Wieters.
A few months ago, I'd say it was a sure bet that Wieters would also be given a qualifying offer. But Wieters, who made $8.3 million in his final year of arbitration, was looking at the prospect of getting a lucrative multiyear deal in the neighborhood of Russell Martin's five-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays last winter.
That's not so certain anymore. Wieters' return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction was slowed. He didn't return to the Orioles lineup until June and he rarely played behind the plate on back-to-back days.
Wieters could still get a multiyear deal this offseason, but also could benefit from playing an entire season healthy and then testing the free-agent market again this time next year.
So, should the Orioles make Wieters a qualifying offer when they're uncertain whether he will take it? No one ever has accepted a qualifying offer, so there's no precedent for it. And Wieters' agent, Scott Boras, isn't one to settle.
The Orioles would love to have Wieters back in 2016, but how would him accepting a qualifying offer affect what the Orioles can do this offseason. Would that $15.8 million, one-year deal hinder the Orioles from re-signing Davis or dipping elsewhere into the free-agent market, especially when the catching position would otherwise be filled by low-priced backstops Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger?
Also, how many teams will be willing to give up their first-round pick for Wieters without knowing how many games he can catch next year and beyond?
Or will the fact that the qualifying-offer increase was smaller than past years make the decision to issue an offer to Wieters easier for the Orioles, ensuring that the club would get up to three extra draft picks?
It will all shake out soon. Teams have until five days after the World Series to make qualifying offers, and players who receive them have a week to accept or reject those contracts.