The Pirates made qualifying offers of $15.3M to their top two FA's, Russ Martin and Frankie Liriano, the first time that the club has ever made qualifying offers since the this version of free agent roulette began in 2012.
First, a quick QO primer: teams can offer their free agents the average salary of the top 125 contracts in baseball ($15.3M this year); their FA's have a week to accept the salary for one year or try the market. So far, all have elected to enter the marketplace. If they refuse, their original team gets a sandwich pick between the first and second round of the draft if their FA signs elsewhere.
The cost of signing a guy who rejected his QO is a first round pick (the first 11 spots are protected to give struggling teams an advantage in the market; those clubs lose a second round pick). And that pick sometimes counts: while QO's have been
offered 22 times prior to this season and never been accepted,
the addendum that's often forgotten is that five of those players ended up returning to their original team largely due to that draft pick being a deal-buster and others like Kyle Lohse and Kendrys Morales were hung out to dry by the process.
In Russ' case, the QO was a no-brainer. He's looking at up to $15M per yseason on a multi year deal on the market; he's not only an elite catcher, but coming out in a year that's thin for catching. If the Pirates don't get him to ink a deal, and it sure looks like they won't, at least they'll get a sandwich pick as a parting gift.
Francisco is an entirely different situation. His QO is, like Martin's, about the right value. But he's had injury an consistency problems that may make teams leery of singing him over a long term, the loss of a draft pick may scare away a couple more clubs, and so Frankie may be looking at a limited market. The Bucs have three potential outcomes with Liriano.
He accepts, in which case the team has a guy who slots into the upper rather than back end of their rotation at roughly market value for one year, which should fill in the gap before Jameson Taillon and company arrive. He doesn't accept and signs elsewhere, in which case the Pirates get a sandwich pick. Or he turns down the QO to check out the market, and returns to the Bucco fold with a contract that could be configured in several ways. Liriano could easily choose any of the three routes as a solid but not elite player; the Lohse syndrome could come into play for a Liriano-type talent.
It will be interesting, at least in Francisco's case, but the Pirates chose wisely to make him an offer; the FO set up what is pretty much a win-win situation in his situation.