SAN FRANCISCO -- A left-handed ace and All-Star closer waited until the middle of the season in 2019 to sign after the qualifying offer apparently limited their markets. Two former Giants now are in the same position.
The Giants made a $17.8 million qualifying offer to Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith before Monday afternoon's deadline, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported, guaranteeing draft pick compensation for the team if the players leave and potentially impacting each player's free agency market. Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel waited until last June to sign their 2019 contracts, although neither former Giant is expected to do the same.
The announcement was not a surprise for two lefties who were in very different situations. The qualifying offer for Bumgarner, a face of the franchise and longtime head of the rotation, was a no-brainer. There was more internal discussion regarding Smith, but the Giants still felt comfortable making an offer that Smith might actually think about accepting.
Only six players have ever accepted a qualifying offer, and Smith, 30 years old and a free agent for the first time, has 10 days to decide if he wants to play on a one-year, $17.8 million contract and then hit the market a year from now. If he declines, he likely will be in line for a three-year deal as a free agent, although he could find that some suitors are unwilling to give up the draft pick -- a second-rounder for most franchises -- required to sign a player who rejected the qualifying offer.
While $17.8 million would be a lot for a closer, the Giants felt it was worth the risk of Smith accepting. He was one of the best relievers in the NL in 2019 and team officials have noted that the qualifying offer salary is not too much more than what you would expect to pay a high-end closer in annual salary.
If Smith is back, the Giants also could use him as a trade chip.
The most likely scenario is that both Smith and Bumgarner hit the open market, and neither seemed all that worried about a Keuchel or Kimbrel scenario. Those two waited until after draft pick compensation had been lifted to sign with the Braves and Cubs, respectively, but Bumgarner always has been confident that his market will be there and Smith is a different case than Kimbrel, who reportedly sought around $100 million before signing a three-year, $45 million deal with the Cubs.
A contract of that type should be enough to get Smith to sign somewhere this winter.
Bumgarner's market should be closer to the nine-figure range, and he's expected to have several contenders among his suitors in a market led by Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. The Giants will be part of the chase, but for the first time in a dozen years, they'll talk to Bumgarner knowing he's free to just as easily sign elsewhere.