Why qualifying offers make top FAs too costly for Nationals

Corey Seager

Fourteen players across Major League Baseball received the $18.4 million qualifying offer ahead of Sunday’s deadline. With recipients ranging from no-doubters like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager to surprises such as Noah Syndergaard and Eduardo Rodríguez, the qualifying offer will shape the free-agent market while MLB and the players union determine its future in CBA negotiations.

The Nationals enter this offseason with more roster holes than they’ve had at any point in the last 10 years. Yet as much as they could use Nick Castellanos in the middle of their lineup or Robbie Ray anchoring their rotation, the presence of the qualifying offer likely takes the Nationals out of the running for their services.

A quick rundown on the QO: Any player that receives the qualifying offer has 10 days to either accept or reject it. Players that accept it return to their former club on a one-year deal worth the average salary of MLB’s top 125 highest-paid players. Those who reject it may sign with anyone, but the team that gets them is subject to loss of draft capital and, in some cases, international bonus pool money.

For the Nationals, signing a player attached to the QO would cost them their second-highest pick in the 2022 MLB Draft and $500,000 in international spending money. If they were to sign two such players, they would have to forfeit their third-highest remaining selection as well. Washington, which finished 65-97 last season, owns the fifth pick of next summer's MLB Draft.

Though the Nationals don’t plan to endure a lengthy rebuild, dipping into the pool of players that received the qualifying offer doesn’t align with their current direction. With a farm system that ranked among the worst in baseball before orchestrating a series of prospect-laden trades at the trade deadline, the Nationals aren’t in a position to be giving up valuable draft picks.


“We started this thing in 2009 way below where we’re at today, as far as organizationally, and it took us three years to win 98 games,” Nationals President and GM Mike Rizzo said after the July 31 trade deadline. “So, we have a great plan in place, we’ve got great people out in the field, scouting and developing our players, and we’ve got a great major league staff, and a good stable of players that are going to impact the majors in the near future.

“You never put a timetable on it, but I’m a restless person and I don’t like to lose, and we’re not going to put up with losing for too long.”

The 2022 season will be a critical one for the Nationals. They’ll find out who they really have in young pieces such as Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Carter Kieboom, Luis García and Lane Thomas. Players like Victor Robles and Patrick Corbin will be coming off down years looking to show some improvement. Stephen Strasburg, who’s owed $35 million each of the next five years, will return from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery with hopes of pitching a full season for the first time since 2019.

Washington could use a building block to pair alongside Juan Soto as they rebuild their roster. Stars like Correa, Seager, Castellanos and Marcus Semien would certainly improve the team’s outlook both this season and beyond. But the Nationals are already feeling the effects of making win-now moves to improve their major-league roster for the last decade. Eventually, the bottom fell out from underneath them and they were suddenly left with a star-laden roster that had no depth and little prospect capital.

Rizzo has preached the Nationals’ intention of not just building a contender, but sustaining one. By taking the patient route now, Washington may save itself later by padding its farm system as much as it can while it’s still at the bottom of the standings.