History could be made this off-season, as premier starting pitchers David Price, Johnny Cueto, and, barring a change of heart, Zack Greinke will hit the open market Saturday as free agents.
One of the three aces could score a multiyear contract worth more than the record $30.7 million that Clayton Kershaw will average over his landmark seven-year, $215 million deal.
Make no mistake that there will be suitors, the usual suspects, for Price, Cueto and Greinke, who on Wednesday is expected to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and become a free agent.
Further down the free-agent pecking order another kind of history could be made, a first in the era of the qualifying offers.
None of the 34 players the past three years to receive a qualifying offer has accepted one, but Yovani Gallardo could become the first to say yes if the Texas Rangers, as many expect, extend the one-year offer that this year is worth $15.8 million.
The system for draft-pick compensation was altered for the current collective bargaining agreement. Teams must make a qualifying offer worth the average of the top 125 salaries in order to be eligible for compensation.
It’s not just about pitching another season surrounded by his family in his Fort Worth home, either. One more year of pitching for the Rangers could turn into a long-term windfall for Gallardo.
“That’s something we’re going to have to discuss,” said Gallardo’s agent, former Rangers pitcher Bobby Witt.
Price, Cueto and Greinke — along with Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Leake and Jeff Samardzija — are main factors in Gallardo’s decision. Their presence on the market leaves Gallardo overshadowed and possibly available only after the big dollars have been spent.
Stephen Strasburg and Andrew Cashner are just as important in the thought process. Strasburg and Cashner, the former TCU pitcher, would head the free-agent pitching class next off-season, and Gallardo would be a more prominent target in that pool than the one this off-season.
He could take nearly $16 million to pitch another season for the Rangers while enjoying the comforts of home, become a free agent again, and have a better chance at scoring a more lucrative multiyear contract that would begin in 2017.
Of course, the Rangers have to make Gallardo an offer first.
“Deep down, I think they’re going to do it,” Witt said. “That’s the smart play by the Rangers.”
Teams have until Friday to decide if they will extend qualifying offers. If a player declines and signs elsewhere, the team that loses him will receive a either the signing team’s first-round pick or a supplemental pick after the first round as compensation.
The Rangers covet high draft picks and could yearn for an extra selection in the June draft after depleting their prospect pool by trading away multiple top minor leaguers at the trade deadline.
Players who receive a qualifying offer have seven days to decide if they will accept. Some players who have received offers — notably Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew in 2014 — have had difficulty landing big deals because teams didn’t want to part with their high draft choices.
The Rangers paid $9 million of Gallardo’s $13 million contract for 2015, with Milwaukee picking up the rest as part of the January trade that brought the Fort Worth resident to his hometown team.
To be able to pitch in front of his dad and his brother and sister, that was quite an honor for him. To be able to go out there as the local guy, I think that was something that was very special.
Bobby Witt on Yovani Gallardo playing for Rangers
In mulling whether to make a qualifying offer to Gallardo, the Rangers will weigh the importance of restocking the farm system with a top talent against paying Gallardo nearly $5 million more than they did last season or searching for a cheaper option to fill out the rotation.
“I think it’s pretty straight forward,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “There’s not really a bad outcome from the club’s perspective.”
Witt said that a few clubs have reached out to him expressing interest in Gallardo. Daniels said last month that the Rangers will need to address the rotation this off-season, with Colby Lewis joining Gallardo in free agency.
15 Home runs allowed in 2015 by Yovani Gallardo, third fewest among American League qualifiers
Gallardo, who doesn’t turn 30 until February, went 13-11 with a career-best 3.42 ERA in 33 starts. He was the Rangers’ best pitcher in the first half, but he faded some after the All-Star break and didn’t record an out after the sixth inning in any of his 14 second-half starts.
Were he to return to the Rangers, possibly making history in the process, he would join a rotation that will be headed by Cole Hamels and bolstered in May by the expected return of Yu Darvish from Tommy John surgery.