Only six players were extended qualifying offers this offseason, and only two accepted them.
But the White Sox free-agent pursuits could still be affected by those decisions.
Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman, two of the more notable free-agent starting pitchers, both accepted their teams' qualifying offers, returning to the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, respectively, on one-year, $18.9 million deals. Meanwhile, Trevor Bauer, George Springer, DJ LeMahieu and J.T. Realmuto all rejected their teams' qualifying offers, staying free agents.
So where does that leave the White Sox?
Well, Bauer and Springer are perhaps the two top players on this winter's free-agent market, and they both play positions the White Sox are looking to upgrade. Bauer is far and away the best free-agent starting pitcher, who could top the rotation alongside Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, giving the White Sox a championship-caliber 1-2-3 pitching punch. Springer is one of the best position players in the game, capable of playing multiple positions in the outfield and a key cog in the Houston Astros' dominance over the past several seasons. He'd do the job of plugging the White Sox long-term hole in right field.
But there's a little extra that comes along with both players' free agencies. After they rejected the qualifying offers, the teams that sign those two will be forced to yield a draft pick and international signing money. That might not strike as a big deal, especially for the win-now White Sox, who set their championship expectations by swapping manager Rick Renteria for Hall-of-Fame skipper Tony La Russa.
But this is shaping up to be an offseason unlike any other, following a season without paying customers in the stands. Teams have already made moves that could signal they're planning on cutting costs and saving anywhere they can. And so the cost, however small it might seem to fans and outside observers, is another element to keep in mind.
Meanwhile, with Stroman and Gausman taking themselves off the market, the number of attractive options after Bauer shrinks. Stroman and Gausman might have been the two best non-Bauer options, meaning that if Bauer ends up signing elsewhere, the White Sox best free-agent options for their rotation might be the likes of Jake Odorizzi, Charlie Morton, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ, among others.
It was already a worthwhile question whether any of the available starting pitchers after Bauer would be a significant upgrade over what the White Sox already have on the roster, promising but unproven young arms like Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Michael Kopech. Now even that pool has gotten smaller.