These Top Players' Futures Are in the Balance with Qualifying Offer Deadline on Sunday

This Sunday is the deadline for teams to offer their free agents a "qualifying offer" (QO), which is set this year at $18.4 Million. By making the QO, teams ensure that they will get draft pick compensation if that player signs with another team. But it also means that the player could simply accept the offer (foregoing free agency), and the team would be forced to (or happy to) pay them the $18.4M for 2022. 

Note that only players who spent the entire season with their current team are eligible to receive the QO (as long as they haven't received one in the past). 

Several players are no-brainers to receive the QO from their teams, including the slew of superstar shortstops Marcus Semien, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story, along with Freddie Freeman (for obvious reasons) and Robbie Ray (who had a breakthrough season as an ace). All of those players are in line to make much more than $18.4M this season on a new deal, so it's expected they'll all reject it and become free agents. 

There are several much more difficult decisions to make, however, both for teams and players (as to whether to accept) as we approach the Sunday deadline. These are the most interesting players (and teams) to watch:

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw is a Dodgers legend, but will LA want to be locked in at $18.4M for the oft-injured starter, or maybe they'd prefer to let him become a free agent, and then attempt to re-sign him for a more reasonable deal. 

2. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros

He hasn't thrown a pitch in over a year-and-a-half, is coming off Tommy John surgery, and is 39-years-old. It's unknown whether the Astros will offer the QO, and also whether Verlander would accept, or take his chances on landing a longer deal in free agency. He's already said he wants to play into his mid-40s

3. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

Another top-flight starter who missed practically the entire 2021 season, the Mets would certainly like to have him back, but must have questions about his health, and do they want to lock in at $18.4M?

4. Michael Conforto, New York Mets

Another tough decision for the Mets, as Conforto had the worst season of his career, and had injury problems. 

5. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

He had a solid season for the Giants when healthy, and they might want to simply sign him to an extension. But if that can't be worked out just yet, they would consider committing the $18.4M QO. 

6. Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners

After a breakthrough first-half that earned him an all-star selection, Kikuchi looked like a key future piece of the Mariners rotation. But he fell off a cliff in the 2nd half, and wasn't even in the rotation by season's end. It's very questionable whether the M's would extend the QO to Kikuchi. 

7. Steven Matz, Toronto Blue Jays

Here's a pitcher that the Jays would very likely love to have next season. The $18.4M is probably fair for what he was able to show them down the stretch. But if he does get the QO, will he accept, or try his hand at a longer-term deal on the market? 

Many of these questions could become clearer by Sunday's deadline. 

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports