Jason Heyward set the bar for outfield contracts this winter with his 8-year, $184 million contract with a first opt-out after three years that could potentially guarantee him $26 million per year during those first three seasons. Since that time, the outfield market has yet to develop. While pitchers, including Mike Leake, have flown off the board of available free agents, outfielders, and first base including Chris Davis, remain plentiful. While John Mozeliak previously ruled out a "dynamic" outfield signing, the market could be coming back to a level the Cardinals might feel more comfortable with.
Consider the following outfielders (and Davis) after Heyward, per the FanGraphs crowdsourcing project at the beginning of the offseason (median years, dollars):
- Yoenis Cespedes: 6/$132 M, unsigned
- Justin Upton: 6/$120 M, unsigned
- Chris Davis: 5/$100 M, unsigned
- Alex Gordon: 5/$90 M, signed with Royals for 4/$72 M
- Dexter Fowler: 4/$56 M, unsigned
- Denard Span: 3/$36 M, signed with Giants for 3/$31 M
- Austin Jackson: 3/$30 M, unsigned
- Gerardo Parra: 3/$24 M, unsigned
The Cardinals have a ton of money, but that does not mean they should waste it, or spend top dollar on marginal increases. There is a dollar value where I would take Upton, Davis, Cespedes (who has expressed a willingness to play right field in the past), or Gordon (maybe $80 M for Gordon, $100 M for Davis or Cespedes, and $120 for Upton), but unless the market drops, those players are unlikely to be decent values.
A team could sign a QO'd player this winter to a one-year deal, slap that player with a QO next winter, and both parties bank on benefitting a year from now. The outfielder gets the multi-year windfall he couldn't in this market, and the team gets that pick back, just for 2017. This is reasonable. The subtle catch is this: The current Collective Bargaining Agreement that governs these things - the qualifying offers, the draft, the draft bonus limits - expires this year. Negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players' union are set to take place throughout this year, and one of the things that the union wants addressed is ... qualifying offers. The CBA expires on Dec. 1, 2016, so just after the deadlines for such things as qualifying offers. It would take an early agreement, one sliding into place ahead of the next offseason. But, there could be new directions in place.