No qualifying offers for A's

By Jason Wojciechowski on November 4, 2013 at 8:01 PM

The A's officially did not extend qualifying offers to Bartolo Colon or Grant Balfour. In other news, the A's officially did not put in a bid on Robinson Cano.

Snark snarkily snark snark, yes, but this really was that foregone a conclusion. Colon had a great year and he stayed mostly healthy, but he'll be 41 in 2014 and was probably preparing his "YES" button to accept a qualifying offer were the A's to be silly enough to make one. A team might in theory offer Colon two years for something in the eight-figure range, but I don't know whether, even in that case, the total contract would top $14 million. Nobody's going three years, and nobody's going one year at Roger Clemens–rates.

Projecting Colon is probably impossible, of course—we can do the usual work, take a weighted average of the last three years and apply an aging curve and boom we've got a number, but how strong is the aging curve on a 41-year-old? Most players who last that long are either marginal types by the time they get there (Omar Vizquel) or are all-time greats (Clemens). Colon, who's settled into comfortable above-average-ness in his dotage, doesn't have many comparables. PECOTA, for instance, set Colon's 90th percentile for innings pitched at 125, which is hardly unreasonable. You don't take someone who's thrown 150 innings at 38 and 39 and pencil him in for 190 at 40. Which, of course, makes it even harder at 41: he's already violated all the rules, so who's to say he won't keep on doing it?

I hope he's back in Oakland next year, but I hope he's back on a one-year contract worth no more than, say, $7 million. Even that figure makes me anxious—as much as Colon seems reasonably likely to be worth the money on a pure dollars-per-WAR basis (especially if we think the present figure is something like $7 million per win), we're talking about 10 percent of the A's payroll on, again, a 41-year-old starting pitcher. And that's before the $8 million the A's will be paying Brett Anderson, who might throw 175 innings or 175 pitches.

Balfour was in certain ways a more obvious player not to give a $14 million offer to—he's a closer, and not a young one at that—and in certain ways almost maybe sorta a legitimate candidate—he's probably searching around for a three-year-deal with total money maybe in the $20s? So in the latter event, which does not seem far-fetched, if his free-agent value is worth more than the qualifying offer, why not make the offer?

I think the problem is in the relatively small gap between the offer and the market value and the value, or at least perceived value, of a first-round pick. It's not inconceivable that his agent could read the market and determine that with a first-round draft choice attached, nobody's going to sign a 37-year-old closer without a steep discount. So then Balfour might well end up shrugging his shoulders and taking the A's offer. Sure, he hoped for more, but hopefully he can pitch well in 2014 and hit the market again and make up the difference at that point. (He'd only need a 2/$11M to come out exactly the same.) And even if he doesn't, even if he suffers a career-ending injury, he'll still have banked probably $7 million net of taxes and agent fees and all that for 2014, which is not bad and a good base to build the rest of your life on.

The A's, of course, cannot afford $14 million for a closer, especially if said closer is kind of on the team against his will. (Has anyone studied whether, in the NBA, restricted free agents whose contract offers are matched by their original team play below expectations?)

I say all this now to hopefully forestall any ideas come December when Balfour does sign a contract for two or three years worth more than $14 million total that the A's should have made the qualifying offer and thus gotten a draft pick. The attachment of the pick changes the calculus enormously, so we should be careful when we watch the free-agent market play out.