Last month’s Dexter Fowler saga was rather interesting. It was reported that he had agreed to a three-year deal worth “about $35 million”. The deal never came to fruition and Fowler instead surprised the baseball world by agreeing to a one-year, $13 million contract with the Cubs.
Fowler’s agent, Casey Close, issued a statement in which he was very critical of the baseball media and the Orioles’ front office. Fowler later criticized the qualifying offer system, which was partially why he remained unsigned into February. Then MLBPA executive director Tony Clark also expressed his displeasure with how the media handled the situation.
But wait, there’s more. Peter Gammons recently spoke to Fowler about how negotiations with the Orioles broke down.
“We never really were close,” says Fowler. “They wanted me to pay them what they said the draft choice I was costing them was valued at. They wanted me to pay them for the pick. So we said, OK, then give me an opt-out after one year, and they said that’s something they won’t do.”
That pretty much confirms the complaints made by critics of the qualifying offer system, which could be altered when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated this coming winter.
For readers who aren’t familiar with how the system works, when a player is to hit free agency after a season, his team — assuming he has been with that team for the duration of the prior season — can make a qualifying offer, which is the average of the top 125 salaries. In the case of the 2016 qualifying offer, it was $15.8 million. The potential free agent player can accept that offer, in which case he re-ups with that team for one more year at $15.8 million. Or he can decline the offer to become a free agent with draft pick compensation attached. Teams that finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball have protected first round picks, so they would give up their second-highest pick. The Orioles did not have a protected pick, so — for example — they gave up their 14th overall pick in the first round in order to sign pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo’s former team, the Rangers, does not get that pick; rather, they got the 30th overall pick. Essentially, the Orioles’ pick just vanished and everyone else moved up a spot.
Furthermore, that this is a negotiating tactic for teams against players illustrates just how poorly set up the system is against players. Players are often portrayed as greedy, but the Orioles were valued at $1 billion, according to Forbes last year. The 27th pick in the first round is worth around $8 million, per research done by Matthew Murphy at The Hardball Times back in 2014. It’s unknown how close that figure is to the Orioles’ internal calculations, but it’s a good reference point at the very least. The QO system essentially took $8 million out of Fowler’s pocket. More, really, if you subtract the $13 million from the Cubs from the supposed $35 million he had negotiated with the Orioles.
While team owners want to haggle over every penny paid to the players, the sport overall is much better off when the players are well paid and receiving a fair percentage of revenues. As Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs illustrated last year, the players have been receiving an ever-decreasing percentage of revenues. It stood at 56 percent in 2002, but fell to 38 percent last season.
The Fowler issue is simply a symptom of a much larger problem, one that will hopefully be addressed after the season.