Among the many points in John Mozeliak's wide-ranging press conference yesterday was confirmation of what we all knew anyway: Lance Lynn will be a free agent.
But before Lynn hits the open market, the Cardinals have the opportunity to extend him a a qualifying offer, a guaranteed $18.1 million for 2018. If Lynn rejects the offer and signs elsewhere, the Cardinals will receive a draft pick after Competitive Balance Round B, which comes between the 2nd and 3rd round of the drafts.
That's a change from the rule that was in place from 2012-2016, whereby clubs who lost a player they had offered a QO were given a draft pick at the end of the natural first round.
Mozeliak said that change might impact how the club considers qualifying offers.
"It's different math for sure," Mozeliak told MLB.com. "It's not quite as exciting as it once was."
Drafting at the end of the 2nd round vs. the end of the 1st round sounds like a big deal. It isn't.
This recent study by Ryan Nelson does a great job of showing how quickly the value of draft picks flattens out. The average career WAR for a 1st round pick is 6.11. A 2nd rounder drops all the way to 2.48, then 1.61 for a 3rd rounder and 1.02 for a 4th rounder.
In graph form, it looks like this:
So yes, drafting at the end of the 2nd round is less valuable than drafting at the end of the first... but not by nearly as much as you might think.
But the value of that compensatory draft pick seems like a bit of a moot point anyway, because if you get to the point where a player is going to sign with another team anyway, you're comparing getting something to getting nothing at all.
The real potential downside for a team in this system is if a player accepts that offer and that pre-set salary is more than they are worth. I don't think that should be a concern with Lynn.
Our own Ben Markham estimated Lynn might get a deal around 5 years, $75 million. Others have estimated he might get more like $100 million. If you average those two values and divide it over five years, you get an AAV of $17.5 million... pretty damn close to that qualifying offer rate.
But of course, you don't expect Lynn to produce at a steady rate for all five years, and the qualifying offer allows you to just buy Lynn's age 31 season without committing to his age 36 season and everything in between.
Now it's worth noting, Lynn's ERA and FIP parted ways pretty dramatically last season. As a result, Fangraphs valued his season at only $10.9 million, while Baseball Reference put the value closer to his career norm around $25 million. Me? I'm not too worried about it, especially in his first season back from Tommy John. I expect him to be pretty Lance Lynney going forward.
So the only other question is really, do the Cardinals need Lance Lynn? Even if he's likely to be worth his salary, that does St. Louis no good if he's a redundancy.
I don't think the Cardinals need Lance Lynn, but they could really use him. I'm very bullish on the quality of their young pitching, but innings have to be a bit of a concern. Even with Luke Weaver and a returning Alex Reyes (and Flaherty and on and on), the club traded away the Mike Leake 200 Inning Guarantee™, and who knows what (if anything) they will get from Wainwright?
The entire 2019 starting rotation may well be in the organization right now. But for 2018, they could very well use a guy who can give them a solid 200 innings. Sounds a lot like Lance Lynn.
And even if you're maybe a little hesitant, thinking perhaps that Lynn has regressed or that he won't be necessary in 2018, there's still a gambler's argument to be made: There is almost no chance that he accepts the qualifying offer.
Lynn will absolutely be offered a multi-year contract by somebody. Even if the AAV of those contracts don't quite reach $18.1 million, they guarantee him tens of millions of dollars above that figure. He's already entering his Age 31 Season, and teams willingness to offer him that long-term deal will plummet exponentially every season to come.
Extend Lance Lynn a qualifying offer. If he turns it down, it's good news. If he accepts, it's good news.