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Diamondbacks Free-agent Discussion, #9: A.J. Pollock

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One of the key decisions this winter: offer A.J. a qualifying offer or not?

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Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The other big free-agent from the 2018 Diamondbacks will be outfielder A.J. Pollock. After seven years with the D-backs, the former first-round pick (going #17 overall in the 2009 draft) will get to test the free-agent market, alongside pitcher Patrick Corbin. When we wrote about Corbin, we discussed the qualifying offer system in some detail, and how it can be used by Arizona to obtain compensation for his departure, in the form of a supplemental draft pick. Pollock is the other player to whom the Diamondbacks will be considering the submission of a qualifying offer this winter. But the situation is considerably more cloudy with regard to A.J. Because it’s not a foregone conclusion he would turn it down.

Pollock’s 2018 campaign was a disappointing one. Outside of 2016, when he fractured his elbow and played in only 12 games, A.J. bWAR tally this year (2.5) was the lowest since he made his major-league debut back in 2012. Part of that was the almost inevitable A.J. injury, as he again missed significant playing time - this season losing a month and a half due to a broken thumb. [Over the past five years, Pollock has averaged only 94 games per season, and only once passed 113] But even when healthy, his output at the plate was again less than we’d hope. It looks increasingly like 2015, when he made the All-Star team, batting .315 with twenty home-runs and 39 stolen bases, was peak-A.J, and won’t be repeated.

This year, his OPS+ was 106, well below the 130 figure put up three years ago. Though the power was there, Pollock hitting a career-high 21 home-runs, this came at the expense of other areas. His on-base percentage was only .316, barely more than his batting average in that All-Star season, and A.J.’s stolen-base rate was also down. While his defense in center field still remained above average, he will turn 31 in December. Even with the lack of replacements in our farm system, there would not appear to be much upside to the Diamondbacks re-signing Pollock to a long-term contract, especially if the team decides to go into rebuild mode for the next few seasons.

The D-backs could instead make Pollock a qualifying offer: a one-year contract around $17.9 million. If he declines, we would get an extra draft pick, its position depending on the value of the deal the player eventually signs. However, if Pollock accepts the offer, we will be committed to paying almost $18m to the player, and he can then re-enter the free-agent market next year [the QO can only be made to a player once in their career] The advantages to A.J. of accepting are a) he has a chance to rebound from a down year, and b) next year’s free-agent class will be less stacked. This winter, for example, he’ll be competing with former MVPs Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen for the top outfielder contracts.

There are cases where players declined QO’s, and ended up receiving considerably less that year in free-agency. For example, Stephen Drew rejected a QO from Boston in 2013, and still ended up back there - only in late May, and made about $4 million less than the QO. The same year, Kendrys Morales also declined his QO, and sat on the shelf until after the draft, when the loss of a pick no longer applied to his new team, the Twins. So far, there has been no bigger loser than Mike Moustakas. He declined a $17.4 million QO from Kansas City last winter, and ended up playing for them this season on a one-year, $6.5 million guaranteed contract (plus incentives) instead.

So there’s no guarantee Pollock would get a contract worth $18 million this winter, and yet there is a counter-downside, in that there’s no certainly he’ll be any better off if he waits next year. He’ll be about to turn 32, and without a rebound season, could end up costing himself money by accepting the QO. Jeff Wiser wrote about the perils on both sides for The Atlantic earlier this month, and pointed out that because the QO is now “one and done,” if Pollock accepts it this year, he would become an unrestricted free-agent next year, without any potential draft pick losses attached to teams signing him. This would make him more appealing to potential suitors.

Mike Hazen probably wants to strap down Pollock, inject him with truth serum and ask his soon-to-be free-agent “Would you accept a qualifying offer if we made one?” If Pollock says yes, then the team know not to offer one. However, the fact that the QO has a limited shelf-life may work in the D-backs’ favor. QOs must be made within five days after the end of the World Series, and the player has only 10 days to decide whether to accept or decline it, while simultaneously negotiating with other teams. It’s not as if Pollock can sit on that as a fallback option, and accept it in March if he hasn’t been able to get a better deal elsewhere. With not many better CF on the market, I suspect he’ll accept: but it’s by no means certain.

What would you do, if you were both Mike Hazen or A.J. Pollock?

Poll

Should the D-backs make A.J. Pollock a qualifying offer?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Yes
    (265 votes)
  • 38%
    No
    (166 votes)
431 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Should A.J. Pollock accept a qualifying offer?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    Yes
    (287 votes)
  • 27%
    No
    (108 votes)
395 votes total Vote Now