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MLB qualifying offer: Brandon Belt accepts Giants’ $18.4 million offer; Trevor Story, Robbie Ray, more decline

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Wednesday is the deadline for the 14 free agents who received a qualifying offer to either accept or reject the one-year, $18.4 million contract. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and players who accept it return to their team on that one-year deal, and players who reject it are tied to draft pick compensation.

Here are the 14 free agents who received the qualifying offer this year. Only six free agents received it last offseason, and the 14 are the most since a record 20 free agents received the qualifying offer in 2015-16.

Free agents who were traded at midseason (like Kris Bryant, Nelson Cruz, and Max Scherzer) are not eligible to receive the qualifying offer, ditto free agents who have received a qualifying offer previously (like Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman). If you’re curious why a big name free agent didn’t receive the qualifying offer, he probably falls into one of those two buckets.

As noted, the deadline to accept or reject the qualifying offer is Wednesday, Nov. 17. Players can — and have — make their decision prior to that date, however. Here’s an update on players who have already made their qualifying offer decision.

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Accepted qualifying offer

Despite indications the two sides would attempt to work out a new multi-year contract, Belt will accept the qualifying offer and remain with the Giants, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. There is no free agent compensation when a player accepts the qualifying offer, so San Francisco will neither receive nor forfeit a draft pick. Belt is back with the Giants on the one-year, $18.4 million contract, and he will be a free agent again next offseason.

Rejected qualifying offer

After opting out of the final two years and $34 million remaining on his contract, Castellanos has rejected the qualifying offer, reports Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Castellanos was always a lock to reject it. No chance he would opt out of $34 million only to turn around and take the $18.4 million qualifying offer. The Reds will receive a compensation draft pick before the third round if Castellanos signs a deal worth less than $50 million, and a compensation draft pick after the first round if he signs a contract worth $50 million or more. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Castellanos the No. 14 free agent on the market.

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Conforto will indeed decline the qualifying offer, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. He appeared to be a candidate to accept it given his down, injury-interrupted season, but some early offseason canvasing by agent Scott Boras presumably revealed enough interest in Conforto to turn down the qualifying offer. The Mets will receive a compensation draft pick before the third round if Conforto signs a deal worth less than $50 million, and a compensation draft pick after the first round if he signs a contract worth at least $50 million. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Conforto the No. 23 free agent on the market.

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No surprise here, as Correa is coming off possibly the best season of his career. He’s fresh off winning the AL platinum glove, awarded to the single best defensive player in each league. The two-time All-Star also had a pretty prolific offensive season as well, posting a 131 OPS+ with 34 doubles and 26 homers. Entering his age-27 season as a stellar offensive and defensive player at a premium position, he’s in for a monster payday. 

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As expected, Freeman has rejected the qualifying offer. The 2020 NL MVP seems likely to re-sign with the Braves, though if he signs with another team, Atlanta will receive a compensation draft pick before the third round.

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Iglesias will indeed turn down the Angels’ qualifying offer and become a free agent, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports. Iglesias, who turns 32 in January, is coming off a 2021 season in which he posted a 2.57 ERA and a sparkling 8.58 K/BB ratio in 70 innings for the Angels. He also converted 34 of 39 save opportunities. For his career, Iglesias owns a strong ERA+ of 142. 

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As expected, Ray has rejected the qualifying offer and will seek a lucrative long-term contract as a free agent. The Blue Jays will receive a compensation draft pick before the third round should Ray sign with another team this offseason.

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Rodriguez turned down the Red Sox’s qualifying offer and wound up signing a five-year, $77 million pact with the Tigers. 

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As expected, Seager has declined the qualifying offer, reports Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times. Seager has a nine-figure contract coming his way this offseason even while attached to draft pick compensation. Because the Dodgers paid luxury tax this season, they will only receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round should Seager sign elsewhere, regardless of contract size. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Seager the No. 2 free agent on the market.

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Free agency the first time around was bad timing for Semien. His career year was in 2019 and then he had a rough 2020 during the pandemic-shortened season. It forced him to take a one-year deal and move positions. His response was to play like it was 2019 all over again in 2021, surely setting himself up for a big, long-term contract this time around. As such, it’s no surprise at all that he declined the qualifying offer. 

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Story not surprisingly turned down the Rockies’ QO and hits the market as part of a deep shortstop class. His underlying indicators at the plate remain strong, particularly by the standards of his position, but his troublesome throwing elbow could be a source of hesitation for some teams. That said, he’s a fine consolation prize for teams missing out on Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.

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Syndergaard turned down the qualifying offer from the Mets in favor of signing a one-year, $21 million contract with the Angels.

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Taylor is expected to decline the qualifying offer, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Taylor has reportedly been a popular target early in free agency, which is not a surprise given his offensive production and ability to play just about anywhere on the field. Similar to Seager, the Dodgers will only receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round should Taylor sign elsewhere regardless of contract size because they paid luxury tax this year. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Taylor the No. 12 free agent on the market.

There was some thought Verlander would accept the qualifying after making just one start the last two years because of Tommy John surgery, but that did not happen. Verlander declined the qualifying offer and will be attached to draft pick compensation. If he signs with another team, the Astros will receive a draft pick before the third round as compensation.

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